17 Mar 4 Off-the-Beaten-Track Destinations to Escape the Spring Break Crowds
Last Modified on March 17th, 2022 at 03:43 pm
Category: Featured Social & Culture, Travel
Temps are climbing in Tokyo and sakura are just starting to shrug free of their buds. That means spring break is nearly here! Time to shake off the winter doldrums and start thinking about travel plans.
Unfortunately, in Japan, nearly everyone shares the same days off, a clump of national holidays at the end of April and beginning of May called Golden Week. Throngs of people traveling at the same time means popular destinations like Kyoto and Okinawa fill up fast and treble in price. Not to worry, though. If you are looking to escape the crush and discover a lesser-known destination, we’ve got you covered. Read on to see our team’s off-the-beaten-track recommendations, all easily accessible from Tokyo.
Most Tokyoites head to this upmarket mountain resort in Nagano to beat the summer heat, but it has plenty to offer springtime travelers too. Warmer temps make exploring the exploring the area by bike or foot a pleasant way to spend the day, with stops at the horseshoe Shiraito Falls, Kumoba Pond, and the old-school Kyu-Karuizawa shopping street particularly recommended. If you are more inclined to retail therapy, there’s outlet shopping at the Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza and plenty of hot spring options to rest tired tootsies after. If you get lucky, the sakura trees at Tonbo no Yu may even still be in bloom.
Where Karuizawa really shines, though, is in the elevated food scene. The little town has been catering to well-heeled expats up from Tokyo for more than a century, so it punches well above its weight when it comes to tasty treats. Artisanal cheesemakers, Western-style bakeries, European sausage shops, and restaurants by Michelin-starred chefs rub shoulders with the usual small-town soba shops and retro kissaten cafes. Our suggestion: book a hotel that doesn’t include dinner to make the most of this smorgasbord.
Granted, this town on the Sea of Japan coast has gotten a bit less off-the-beaten-track since the Shinkansen line was extended there in 2015, but it’s still a lot less frequented than it deserves. Like Kyoto, Kanazawa was spared large-scale destruction during WWII air raids. Many historic buildings have survived, not only temples and official buildings, but everyday homes and businesses. Particularly in the Higashi Chaya and Nishi Chaya geisha districts, the traditional wooden townhouses and cobblestone lanes have the air of bygone times.
In addition, the city’s sprawling Kenrokuen landscape garden, founded in the early 17th century, is considered one of the finest examples in Japan.
Next door, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art has lots of kid-friendly large scale installations like Leando Erlich’s The Swimming Pool, as well as regularly changing exhibitions.
And as the seaside location suggests, fresh seafood abounds, with the quality at even the average conveyor belt restaurant outpacing some of Tokyo’s best kappo counters.
Sakura fans should follow the cherry front north to this Akita village, which should be in full bloom right around Golden Week. In the the historic samurai district, the roads are lined with weeping cherry trees, creating one of the most beautiful springtime tableaus this author has ever witnessed. Lots of bus tours come from around Tohoku just for this famous view, but if you stay in town, you can beat the crowds by going in the quiet hours of the morning. The banks of the Hinokinai River are also planted with rows of the more common Yoshino variety, and the grassy banks are full of locals picnicking or napping on the sunny slopes. As most of the town is easily walkable, this is also a good choice for families with young children.
Our insider tip: don’t miss Ando Jozo, purveyors of miso, pickles and other fermented goodies since 1883. At their red brick storehouse and shop, you can try before you buy.
Down at the southern tip of the Chiba’s Boso Peninsula, Tateyama is close enough for a weekend getaway. Indeed, the area is dotted with besso or vacation homes. The area has a far more tropical feel than you would expect so close to the capital, offering beaches, surfing and diving. Spring will be a bit too early for swimming, unless you like especially bracing waters, but the dive scene offers a pretty stellar attraction year round: sharknados!
Banded houndsharks gather off the coast of Tateyama at a dive site called Shark City. The artificial reef was constructed by locals to keep the sharks from getting stuck in fishing nets deeper in the bay. During feeding times, the cute little sharks swarm in a swirling circles around the reef, like a gape-mouthed tornado. Red stingrays, bulgyhead wrasses, and longtooth groupers can usually be spotted at the same site, along with brightly colored nudibranchs and soft corals.
So where are you headed this year? Or are you planning a lazy week at home? Tell us in the socials!