Huw Williams, managing director of travel trade specialist Japan-san, explains why all eyes will be on the east for an off-the-beaten-track escape.

It’s no surprise the Covid-19 pandemic has reshaped attitudes and behaviours. With the closure of shops, restaurants, pubs and gyms, choices on how to spend leisure time have been severely limited.

People across the country have been buying bikes, dusting off walking boots and even taking the plunge and giving ‘wild swimming’ a go. Spending more time outdoors in nature has been one of the few silver linings of this awful 12 months.

This is being reflected in holiday trends, as interest in – and bookings for – locations that are seen as being more ‘rural’ or ‘remote’ have increased in popularity relative to city breaks.

For the trade, this has to be balanced against the fact that the biggest drivers for holidays are cities and beaches. For many, a desire to be cast away from ‘civilisation’ isn’t matched by their actions.

There is one country that has the breadth of experiences to deliver against these contradictory desires. In the 2019 Future Brand Country Index, Japan was rated as the leading country for ‘purpose and experience’, as part of a new move towards ‘living richly, not just living a rich life’.

This gets to the heart of why a holiday in Japan will always be special: it’s about the sum of the experiences you enjoy, not the specific attractions that attract so many to congregate in ‘honeypot’ locations.

At Japan-san, we help the trade offer clients a Japan experience that will live with them for years to come.

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What to see and do in Shikoku Island, Japan

The majority of travellers from the UK take the well-trodden path from Tokyo to Kyoto and Hiroshima. But for a real taste of Japan’s culture, history and natural environments, it’s worth taking the road less travelled.

Shikoku is the smallest of Japan’s main islands. Located just southwest of Honshu, it is perfect for small-group tours and tailor-made travel specialists.

Accessible by plane or a picturesque ferry ride across the Seto Inland Sea, Shikoku offers low-key but world-class attractions, along with the best of undiscovered Japan.

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Its highlights include:

  • Dogo onsen: a quaint hot-spring village that has charm and authenticity but is often overlooked by international travellers.
  • Ritsurin koen: awarded three stars in the Michelin Green Guide, this is one of Japan’s most beautiful and least-visited gardens.
  • Shimanami Kaido: a spectacular 40-mile cycling route across the islands of the Seto Inland Sea to mainland Japan (Honshu).
  • The Art Islands: a collection of tiny islands that are full of fantastically surreal modern art museums and installations.
  • Oku-Iya Ni-jū Kazura-bashi: a leisurely, scenic walk in the secluded Iya Valley, with some surprisingly hair-raising moments crossing the areas’ vine bridges.

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Explore Japan’s culture in Minamicho

The town of Minamicho in Tokushima prefecture sits firmly in the ‘undiscovered Japan’ category. Travel there by car or train from Tokushima city and you’ll be transported into a Japanese way of life that too many visitors miss.

Minamicho is on the domestic tourism map for its conservation work with rare sea turtles, which lay their eggs on the beach each summer, as well as for being the final stop on Shikoku’s famous 88-temple pilgrimage.

What makes it so wonderful for UK travellers is the depth of access and support provided by the local tourism community.

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As with any off-the-beaten-track destination, local expertise is invaluable. With this in mind, Minamicho tourism offers English-language guides free of charge, where possible. Born in the region, they ensure visitors enjoy a real insight into rural Japanese life. They will also support guests in organising a temple stay, where Buddhist monks lead visitors through daily mindfulness rituals.

For travellers keen to embrace and enjoy local culture, guest house and cafe owner Ken Baudet and his family are multi-lingual and hugely hospitable, renowned for going out of their way to ensure visitors enjoy the charm and character of Minamicho.

Tour operators and agents with the confidence to help their clients experience this hidden gem will be rewarded with stories of dining on fresh seafood on the beach, wonderful cycle and walking trails, enchanting villages and the warmth of the welcome.

For more information, contact Japan-san.

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Advertising feature in association with Japan-san.

Picture: yousakana