These are some of the best places to travel to in Japan in 2019.
Revel in a unique range of natural terrain. Explore authentic ways of life in traditional and modern pockets of culture. Each 2019 destination highlights a new trend, event or feature and will completely elevate your Japan experience.
You’ll find this prefecture’s spacious western half sports crystal-blue onsen waters and ornate tea terraces stacked high to the heavens. In fact, Shizuoka is where half of all of Japan’s green tea is produced. Discovering its tea culture is a revelation begging you to sip matcha and forget what you know about fantastical views of Mount Fuji, as the terraces make it even better.
In the southwestern area lies central Hamamatsu, the largest city in Shizuoka that has its own castle, bullet train access, oh, and don’t forget the speed boat races, one of the only sports you can bet on in Japan! That might not be your thing, but gyoza and other Japanese food probably is, so try out the unique food culture in this area. Nearby Fukuroi City will host some of the major 2019 Rugby World Cup games. With Hamamatsu as a home base, there’s also access to Toyota Stadium (90 minutes by car in Aichi Prefecture) for more rugby!
Don’t miss: Check out some of the area’s best summer festivals, including the massive Fukuroi seaside fireworks display and a much less touristy version of Japan’s infamous penis festival! Along the Oigawa railway, you’ll find the bright blue waters of Sumatakyo Valley and south of that are the green tea terraces of Kawane Onsen.
When to go: June to August will be hot, but the festivals at night keep it lively. Catch a romantic view at Nakatajima Sand Dunes for the first sunrise of the New Year. Rugby games are from late September to early October.
Ample hidden beaches, caves and luxury glamping sites dot the rustic peninsula that stretches from Tokyo Bay and juts dramatically into the Pacific Ocean. Seaside getaways in Minami Boso (the southern part) are sure summer delights, but lesser traversed areas await, too.
Thanks to its prime waves on the Pacific, Ichinomiya Beach will host the first Olympic surfing competition site at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Look into the depths of “hell” and pray to Japan’s largest stone Buddha carved in the mountain alongside howling monkeys at Nokogiriyama (Sawtooth Mountain). And in central Boso, catch a moment that will last a lifetime after venturing into the forest to see Kameiwa Cave. Photographers come to witness this scene that invokes the whimsy and mystical feeling of a Studio Ghibli anime film (like Princess Mononoke) — but in real life.
Don’t miss: Chiba has some of Japan’s best surfing on its eastern coast at Ichinomiya Beach or Onjuku Beach and is accompanied by ultra-fresh seafood and sushi. Every September, get wild yet traditional at the Ohara Naked Man Festival.
When to go: Prime surfing/swimming is from late July to early August, but spring or fall has stellar views for hiking and the scene at Kameiwa Cave.
Despite falling under the newer “dark tourism” trend, the mummies of Tsuruoka, actually self-mummified monks held in sacred temples, have withstood the test of time. But “living Buddhas” are just the start of the odd treasures and views into traditional Japanese culture in this northern city that sees hot summers and heavy snowfall in winter.
See a traditional maiko (geisha in training) perform at the restored Edo Period teahouse, Somaro, just north of Tsuruoka along the Sea of Japan Coast. Or you can live tradition while embarking on the pilgrimage into a symbolic death and rebirth at the mystic mountains of Dewa Sanzan with traditions dating back over a century. Here, travelers can stay at a temple lodge and try out the life of a yamabushi (mountain priest).
Don’t miss: Delve into Tsuruoka’s unique cuisine and sake while traveling. Reserve a yamabushi guided tour, which can be arranged through the tourist center of the Dewa Sanzan area or private tour companies.
When to go: The most temperate weather is from late April to early July, while prime outdoor yamabushi training can be done from about June to October.
The No. 1 destination in Mie is the Ise Jingu shrine complex, regarded as the holiest shrine in Japan. With tons of coastline, Mie is rich in seafood and coastal views, but it’s got a few surprises for 2019. This year marks the 65th anniversary of Kaiju, or perhaps you know him by his English name: Godzilla! The film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, will be released in 2019, making it the 35th movie in the franchise.
In fact, parts of the original 1954 cult-classic were filmed almost entirely on the Toho Studios lot in Tokyo, except for the “Odo Island” scenes filmed in the city of Toba on the coast of central Mie, near the entrance to Ise-Shima National Park.
Just north of that, if you’re into cars at all, do not miss the 2019 Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit, Japan’s premier racetrack, from Oct. 10-13. And don’t forget the pop culture glitz of northern Mie at Nagashima Resort, with the awesome winter light up at Nabana no Sato park and the impressive duality of a rollercoaster-and-spa theme park at Nagashima Spa Land.
Don’t miss: Spiritual discovery abounds along the ancient Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes that traverse southern Kansai. Guidebooks will tell you to head straight to Wakayama and the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano, but the Mie portion, known as the Iseji route, offers a more challenging, much less populated journey.
When to go: From November to March, crack open some fresh oysters on the coastlines of Uramuracho of Toba City. From mid-October to early May, Nabana no Sato’s lights display is one of the biggest and best.
Running from Aomori Prefecture to Fukushima Prefecture, the Michinoku Coastal Trail and its dedicated website ensure it is accessible to tourists, but the Tohoku region trail is still a detox from the buzz of modern life. And quite a look into a layer of Japan a lot of tourists don’t see.
The route is part of an effort to revitalize recovering towns and cities along the 700-kilometer stretch that were deeply impacted by the 2011 Great Eastern Japan earthquake and tsunami. Just one example of the affected areas is Ishinomaki, a city east of Sendai along the trail, which suffered more than 3,000 deaths from the disaster.
Whether you hike just a segment for a day or the whole thing for a month, rugged terrain leads you to a vast amount of locations: local fishing villages, forests, staggering rock formations and waterfalls.
Don’t miss: Witness beacons of hope, like the new stadium built in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, that will host two of the 2019 Rugby World Cup games, as well as the “Miracle Pine” tree which withstood the tsunami and has become a symbol of recovery. These are sobering reminders of courageous townships and the unwavering will of the Japanese people.
When to go: A lot of the trail is open, but some areas will not open until March 2019. Each segment has its own map, but the best season to go will vary by location.
If “wine is the only artwork you can drink,” than its harmonious pairing with Japanese cuisine may be this region’s magnum opus. The city of Koshu (that includes the viticulture center of Katsunuma) produces around 30 percent of Japan’s domestic wines. Koshu wine is gaining recognition and prompting international critics to call Japan’s recent wine movement one of the “most thrilling developments on the global drinks scene of this century.”
The delicately light Koshu wine is the area’s masterpiece, and Koshu is host to some major wine events, scenic onsen, hidden cafes and quaint minshuku (bed and breakfast inns). Ideal for a romantic escape, couples can tour and taste the nectar of the gods from nearly 100 wineries in this valley of Yamanashi Prefecture that’s draped in vineyards.
Don’t miss: Catch the all-you-can-drink wine tasting at the Katsunuma Grape and Fire Festival on the first Saturday in October. Looking for a sweet day hike before your wine? You’ll find an exceptional view of Mount Fuji on a clear day by taking a bus or taxi partially up Mount Daibosatsu (2,057 meters) and then hike to the top!
When to go: Spring is when cherry blossoms and peach blossoms grace the area, but in October and November is when Koshu rejoices over the grape harvest. Either way, the wine is fine year-round.
Shodoshima will keep you guessing — in a good way. It steals the spotlight this year as one of the more nature-rich islands hosting the 2019 Setouchi Art Triennale. On ferry tours to the small islands of Shikoku (one of Japan’s most untouched areas), you can experience this event just once every three years, seeing art installations constructed in and out of nature from creators all over the world, including Japan’s own pop-art phenom, Yayoi Kusama.
Outside the event, the island, which is the second largest in the Seto Inland Sea, offers naturally stunning views with its rice terraces, rocky peaks and unforgettable marmalade sunsets. Of course, its unique Mediterranean vibe allows you to experience a different side of Japanese culture by basking in the olive groves — yes, you heard that right — and then reenact a famous scene from the anime film Kiki’s Delivery Service there. Another beautiful natural scene is in the form of a journey to the mysterious disappearing Angel Road, but first, don’t forget to taste soy-sauce-flavored ice cream inspired by the local industry.
Don’t miss: Setouchi Art Triennale at three different times, from Spring: April 26 to May 26, 2019; Summer: July 19 to Aug. 25; and Autumn: Sept. 28 to Nov. 4.
Best time to go: Summer for beautiful beaches, kayaking, boat cruises and cycling. Autumn for sprawling views of the sea and fall foliage at Kankakei Gorge in the center of the island.
Daikanyama encompasses the youthfulness of Shibuya with a touch of sophistication and a sprinkle of quirk. Japan’s capital city is likely at the top of your list already, and so should be an afternoon in this Shibuya neighborhood with pedestrian-only streets and a kaleidoscope of artisanal cafes. (If you need more convincing, Tokyo itself was named the “best big city” (outside the U.S.) this year from readers of U.S.-based magazine Conde Nast Traveler.)
A quieter side of Shibuya with chic dessert cafes and boutiques, Daikanyama (or Daikanyamacho) proper and the next-door sidestreets of Sarugakucho deserve a little urban exploration. Newer developments have made it easier than ever to get to here from Shibuya station — a once confusing maze of dead ends now a breezy stroll. A slew of other new urban projects in the area set to open in 2019 will lead travelers beyond the famous Shibuya Crossing intersection area.
Don’t miss: Take a leisurely stroll to Daikanyama via Shibuya Stream partially along Shibuya River walkway. By day, check out T-site — one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores. By night, hit up Spring Valley Brewery’s outdoor terrace for craft beer and one of the many local bars later on.
When to go: Daikanyama is trendy in any season, but the nearby grassy Saigoyama Park has cherry blossoms in spring. Another cool feature nearby coming in July 2019 is the 3,000-square-meter public skydeck at the highly anticipated Shibuya Scramble Square tower.
The focus on traditional Japan sometimes overshadows what’s going on now. With a population of around 1.5 million, Fukuoka’s colorful, lively and open people in the southern Kyushu region are paving the way for progressiveness, whether it’s new ideas (with its genius “Startup Cafe”) or chipping away at the country’s conservative social views.
As one of the most welcoming cities in Japan for the LGBTQ community, it is the biggest and one of the few cities that recognize gay marriage. Where Tokyo and Osaka have well-established LGBT nightlife, Fukuoka’s Sumiyoshi area is on the come up.
For travelers, “Friendly Fukuoka,” exemplifies comfort and convenience in both rural and urban landscapes. Elevating its already stellar list of sightseeing and ridiculously popular tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen, Fukuoka puts its money where its mouth is in 2019. It will be one of the host cities for G20 Summit meetings because of its startup business prowess that even made it easier for foreigners to start companies there. We’re betting this’ll invite more diverse tourism options, too.
Don’t miss: In July, the intense fighting floats of the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival will blow your mind. Head to the Fukuoka’s Hakata district to slurp some heavenly ramen at one of the many establishments in the area.
When to go: The most popular times are in February for a temperate winter, as well as March for cherry blossoms and July for the festival season; the least crowded time to visit is in fall, particularly October.
In 2019, Tottori is finally getting well-deserved credit as an “adventure destination.” Major Tokyo-based travel agency H.I.S. now has a “self-drive” tour package there, and the Canada-based tour company, G Adventures, will include the great Tottori Sand Dunes for its 2019 Japan tour. Despite being one of the least-visited prefectures from overseas tourists, according to stats from the Japan National Tourism Organization, Tottori is showing up in 2019 as a dose of homegrown intrigue outside the Golden Route.
That’s partially propelled thanks to an increased online presence in English, but also to a little taste of fame. In late 2018, an American late-night talk show host featured Tottori’s Manga-themed “Conan Town” on his show and even filmed there. Tottori also gained extra fame when it produced the world’s most expensive crab to date — around $17,000 — which should be all the commentary you need to get how amazing its seafood, particularly the snow crab, is.
That attention might have been short-lived, but proves Tottori’s strong local food and pop culture as a great addition to its exceptional nature. Including… one-of-a-kind adrenaline rushes like scaling boulders on the mountain pilgrimage to Nageire-do, Japan’s “most dangerous national treasure”; fat tire biking, paragliding and sand boarding on Japan’s largest sand dunes; kayaking through rock formations along the San’in Coast geoparks and killer snowboarding on Mount Daisen, one of Japan’s Top 100 mountains.
Conversely, if you just want to experience the cozy countryside, move east of Tottori City for picture-perfect mountains scenes at Wakasa and dine on traditional mountain veggies prepared at a Michelin-Guide level at one of Japan’s most naturally stunning restaurants, Mitakien.
Don’t miss: The first weekend of June, Mount Daisen becomes the stage for a stunning torchlight parade at the Natsuyama Summer Opening festival. Get awesomely nerdy at the Tottori Manga Kingdom as well as the Kurayoshi Figure Museum, located in a historic and quirky backdrop of Kurayoshi.
When to go: The ascent to Nageire-do is often too wet/slippery from December to March. A hike and sand dune visit is recommended in early November for cool temps. Snow sports typically from late November to late April.
See the best snapshots of each location…
GaijinPot Travel selected each 2019 destination strictly and solely for editorial reasons. Locations were chosen based on three main criteria. The destination:
Traveling to one of these destinations? We want to know about it. Tag us on social media with #GaijinPotTravel (Your post may be featured on our site.)