Every year, the Brand Research Institute in Japan releases a list ranking the country’s 47 prefectures based on their attractiveness. In 2023, Hokkaido secured the top spot once again. However, the list garnered almost as much attention for unveiling the least attractive prefectures as it did for highlighting the most appealing ones.
If you’ve explored Japan, you’ve likely discovered that it’s a stunning country from north to south, and even the areas labeled as “least attractive” possess their own beauty.
Considering this, here are some places worth visiting in these less-celebrated locales. As urban Japan grapples with overtourism in the “Golden Triangle” of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, these “least attractive” destinations may provide more than a pleasant day out—they might offer some much-needed breathing room.
Ibaraki: Hitachi Seaside Park
Often chosen as the country’s least attractive prefecture, Ibaraki is located about two hours north of Tokyo on the edge of the Kanto plain. While its most famous tourist spot might be Kairakuen, one of Japan’s three best gardens, we recommend Hitachi Seaside Park for a real treat.
Hitachi Seaside Park is a massive outdoor space carpeted with beautiful, blooming plant life. It’s most famous for its panoramas of baby blues every spring. With so many varieties dotting the hillsides and woodlands, you will surely encounter jaw-dropping colors no matter the season.
Saga: Yutoku Inari Shrine
One of Japan’s top three Inari shrines, the Yutoku Inari Shrine, is a hidden gem. Its unusual platform-style architecture resembles Kyoto’s Kiyomizudera Temple, while its many vermillion torii gates recall the Fushimi Inari Shrine. While both Kyoto spots are rammed with tourists from morning till night, Yutoku Inari Shrine is decidedly not, allowing you to enjoy its spiritual wonders without getting elbowed in the ribs or banged into by inconsiderate backpacks.
Saitama, number three on the least attractive list, has the bad luck of being not Tokyo. Located next to the more famous metropolis, it suffers because people think of it as a place to sleep, not play. And yet, it has so many beautiful locations, including Kawagoe.
Known to the locals as Koedo or Little Edo (the old name for Tokyo), Kawagoe is a charming town that retains some of its samurai-era charm. Stroll the clay warehouse-dotted streets for a taste of historical flavor, and take in the old-school merchant homes, many now turned into boutique shops. After checking out the Toki no Kane tower, visit the romantic Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine, famous for all things love.
Gunma: Kusatsu Onsen
Gunma is yet another Tokyo-adjacent prefecture with a bad rap. Could it be that Tokyo-ites just think too highly of their city? Whatever the reason, Gunma should not be ignored. It may be landlocked, but that only means plenty of gorgeous mountain vistas and volcanic activity.
Where there are volcanoes, there are onsen (hot springs), and Gunma has several famous ones, including Kusatsu. One of Japan’s best-known hot springs resort towns, Kusatsu Onsen has everything the bather could want: lovely ryokan (traditional inn) onsen hopping, storied outdoor baths, unique traditions and even skiing in winter.
Yamaguchi: Rurikoji Temple
Yamaguchi is a fine place located at the far west point of Honshu Island. While it might not have much to see, it has Rurikoji Temple. Located in Yamaguchi City, the temple is famous for its five-storied pagoda.
Constructed in 1442 and made from multiple layers of cypress bark held in place with bamboo nails, the pagoda is 102 feet tall (31 meters). It’s designated as a national treasure and is considered one of Japan’s top three pagodas (the others are Daigoji Temple pagoda in Kyoto and Horyuji Temple pagoda in Nara). Standing next to a pond in an idyllic garden is astonishingly beautiful. If you’re at all interested in Japanese Buddhism or history, it’s well worth a visit.
Tokushima: Naruto Whirlpools
Next, let’s head over to Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four large islands and home to Tokushima Prefecture. Less known than the other three Shikoku prefectures, Tokushima has the Naruto Whirlpools.
As the tides move in and out of the Naruto Strait between Shikoku and Awaji islands, water from the Pacific Ocean collides with that of the Inland Sea, creating whirlpools. The whirlpools can be seen from shore on Awaji Island, from a tourist boat, or from overhead on the Onaruto Bridge. And yes, the names of the manga and anime were inspired by the vortices.
Tottori: Sand Dunes
Hiding on the Sea of Japan side of Honshu, Tottori is Japan’s least populous prefecture. It’s also home to a unique natural phenomenon: massive dunes.
Formed by strong winds over 100,000 years, the Tottori Sand Dunes stretch along the beach for nine kilometers, offering hiking, paragliding, sandboarding (like snowboarding but on the sand) and beautiful views. You can even ride a camel to feel like you’re in the Sahara.