If you ever come to Japan, don't you ever just do Tokyo and Kyoto, because the true beauty of Japan lies in the countryside. You may be a little lost in translation as many will not speak English, but it's well worth it if you truly want to discover Japan.
Here are some of my favorites!
Nara is the first capital of Japan in 710 and, only an hour from Kyoto.
There are many national treasured temples and shrines in Nara - Todaiji being the main one holding a Buddha statue that is 15m high. There is a beautiful park just outside where deers are freely roaming around.
If you ever decide to spend a night here, I strong recommend the Nara Hotel which opened to its guests in 1909. The decoration is Japanese but with Western influence - what we call in Japan, Showa Modern.
Words probably cannot describe how beautiful this little temple town is. Kobo Daishi - one of Japan's most significant religious figures, built the temple back in 826 and since then Koyasan has become a pilgrimage destination to many Japanese.
In Japan, we bury the ashes of the dead and many important Japanese figures' ashes are buried here because they want to be protected by Kobo Daishi.
I have been going there since I was a child as my family also has a cemetery here and I can see how the number of tourists has significantly increased, while the place has kept its beauty!
If you are interested in religions, staying in a temple, hiking, and overall natural beauty, then Koyasan is a must-visit of your Japan trip.
I suggest Nikko to anybody who wants to do a one-night trip outside of Tokyo 'cause its close by.
Nikko holds a historical sigifinicant as it is home to Toshogu Shrine (東照宮) - the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan for over 250 years until 1868.
Nikko is also the entrance to Nikko National Park which offers hiking trails, hot springs, waterfall etc.
I will first mention that it's a PAIN to get there. You need to take a fast train, then a regional train, then a boat! So I suggest you to combine this with a night in Hiroshima and Kurashiki! But the trip is well-worth it if ART is your thing.
The Bennesse hotel is uniquely modern, and not Japanese style.. It has one of the best French restaurant I have ever been! I hope that it's still as good as I remember!
I am sure everybody has seen Monet's water lilies at one point in their life but not like the way they show on Naoshima! it will take your breathe away!
It's a perfect pit-stop to Naoshima if Hiroshima is too far for you.
I was surprised by the beauty of this historical little town with a preserved canal area dating back to Edo period.
Stay in one of the Ryokan by the canal (I stayed in Ryokan Kurashiki) and enjoy going back in time! A visit to Ohara museum that holds masterpieces from European artists such as El Greco, is a must do.
To many tourists' surprise, Kurashiki is denim-capital of Japan and there are many boutiques that sells super high quality! So don't forget to roam around the town to discover the boutiques!
If you need more advises, feel free to write to me!