Japan Off-the-beaten Path!

#throwback to the June hols. Spent a week around Japan on a motorhome RV, and we checked out lots of awesome adventures – scarecrow village in the Shikoku mountains, 123 torii gates by a seaside cliff, 10,000 eternally lit lanterns on Mount Koya, and many more!

A trip that took us off-the-beaten path, read on to find out more!

Posted on 16 Jul 2023 | By Jun

We rented a RV from Tokyo and explored 3,000+km west of Tokyo on wheels. It was super convenient on a RV as we didn’t need to deal with check-in/check-out logistics every day! Better still, the little Beans could entertain themselves during the day or tuck themselves into bed as we continued to cover distance during the nights!

But what really made it memorable was that we could explore remote temples when the tourist buses have left (leaving the whole place to ourselves!) or park ourselves at the destination overnight, allowing us to set foot into the shrines early in the morning.

These were our 7 favourite spots we covered as we journeyed to the west of Tokyo on wheels! (Scroll down for photo reel!)

  Fushimi Inari Taisha

We start off with a common feature on any Kyoto visit – Fushimi Inari Taisha

After driving for 460km and 6 hours, we arrived in Kyoto during sunset and walked into Fushimi Inari Taisha when busloads of tourists were headed out. This shrine is famous for its tunnels of more than 10,000 closely-spaced vibrant orange torii gates.

Each torii gate was donated by an individual or Japanese business in the hopes of receiving good luck or a granted wish. The name of the donor and date of contribution are inscribed in black ink at the back of each gate. Many fox statues can be seen around the shrine as foxes are believed to be divine messengers of Inari, the Japanese God of rice and general prosperity!

We weaved through the torii gates and hiked up Mount Inari where we chanced upon a beautiful bamboo forest and a small old shrine.

Kumano Nachi Taisha

Driving 100+km south of Kyoto along the coastal road, we ended up next at Kumano Nachi Taisha

This is one of three Kumano shrines, and it is said that pilgrims have traveled between these shrines via a network of walking trails, called Kumano Kodo, for 1,000+ years! The shrines are even older, and are infused with deep historical and religious values. It is believed that the Sun Goddess’ great grandson, Jimmu, came to Kumano to unify the country as Japan’s first emperor.

This shrine is also special as it is home to a 133m waterfall Nachi no Taki. It was magical approaching this shrine because we were able to hear and smell the waterfalls long before we reached the place. When we finally reached the shrine, there was NO ONE in the entire area, except for one monk that smiled at us as he headed down the stairway.

Okunoin Cemetery

It was not far from Kumano Nachi Taisha (less than 100km), but it was a very long drive through the mountains (4+ hours)

Okunoin Cemetery sits on Mount Koya and is where Kobo Daishi is enshrined. This is one of the most holy areas in Japan and is a popular pilgrimage spot. Kobo Daishi is a really revered persons in the religious history of Japan and it is believed that he rests in eternal meditation as he waits out for Miroku Nyorai, the Buddha of the Future.

At the Okunoin Cemetery, there are many other tombstones – more than 200,000 which makes up Japan’s largest cemetery. Some of the tombstones are accompanied by small, child-like statues and we read that they represent Jizo Bosatsu that protect the souls of children. Along with the towering cedar trees, this makes for a half magical half eerie, fully tranquil walk with our little Beans.

One of our other highlights was the Torodo Hall (Hall of Lamps) – this was the main hall of worship right before Kobo Dashi’s mausoleum. Inside the hall lights up 10,000 lanterns and they are donated by worshipers and kept eternally lit. At the basement of this hall are 50,000 tiny statues, also donated to Okunoin in 1984, to mark the 1150th anniversary of Kobo Dashi entering meditation.

Shikoku Mountains

Shikoku Mountains were on an entirely differently region.

Travelling from Kinki region to Shikoku region took us 200+km and several hours of drive but we were rewarded with lots of off-the-beaten path adventures!

One of them was Nagoro Scarecrow Village (aka Kakashi no Sato), an isolated village nestled in Iya Valley, inhabited by over 300 scarecrows representing former residents and less than 30 humans.

The scarecrows are all single-handedly created by longtime resident Ayano Tsukimi. She made her first scarecrow in her father’s likeness to keep birds away from their family plot. As more villagers passed away or relocated, she began creating more scarecrows in remembrance of their presence and to repopulate the once lively neighbourhood. Many of them don clothes that once belonged to departed neighbours, making them life-like and creepy at the same time.

The scarecrows are meticulously placed around the village in lifelike positions… some tending to farms, fixing telephone lines, waiting for the bus, students at school, a silent wedding, a festival and so on… With no other humans in sight, exploring the Scarecrow Village makes us feel as if we’re in a horror movie!

Other adventures along the way included whirlpool watching at Naruto Park (whirlpools could reach up to 20m!), hunting down vine bridges (handwoven using thick vines and wooden slats), and sitting on a chairlift up Mount Tsurugi!

Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter

Initially meant as a pit stop between the Shikoku Mountains and Hiroshima, we ended up spending a full day at Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter.

There was a history to this place as Kurashiki was an important point along the distribution route of rice (once known as Japan’s most important commodity). Large amounts of rice was brought into Kurashiki and stored in storehouses before being shipped to surrounding areas. This city was important from this trade and canals were built to facilitate the movement of rice around the city.

Today, this resembles a little Venice as the former canal system, stone bridges, and weeping willows make for a touristy beautiful scene.


This major city needed no introduction.

Our little Beans had always seen Imperial Japan as a big bad enemy – from the suicides of kamikaze pilots in Pearl Harbour, to the horrors of war at our own Singapore Discovery Centre. However, the world war took its toll on both sides and it was important for our little ones to recognize that.

Highlights in this city was definitely the Peace Park – the very target of the atomic bomb. The a-bomb dome was a reminder of what only remained when the ground was laid bare, and there were many many sad tales heard in the Peace Memorial Museum.

I was proud to see our little girl wipe a tear off her face after the video exhibit.

⑦ Motonosumi Inari Shrine

From Hiroshima, we managed a day trip to Motonosumi Inari Shrine – 3 hours away, each way!

This was a remote shrine perched on the edge of a cliff with 123 red torii gates forming a tunnel down and out towards the Sea of Japan.  Absolutely stunning and worthy to be named as one of Japan’s most beautiful places!

Dinner at Nagato (the nearest town from the shrine) was a highlight too – a super friendly old grandpa shopkeeper came out to greet us and it was a valuable lesson for our little Beans that while neither could speak each other’s languages, all we need sometimes is a smile to communicate.


Have fun planning your next epic road trip and share this post with your travel buddies!

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