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With its electric cities and contrasting serene wilderness – bamboo forests, bubbling hot springs, mountain temples – it’s no wonder that Japan woos all kinds of honeymooners. Spend a few days immersed in the beer and atmosphere of Tokyo‘s izakaya pubs, the fun of its 24-hour karaoke booths and the thrill of its skyscraping shopping malls. Then strike out for some time à deux at private historic inns hidden in deep-green forest, or Okinawan beach resorts just made for intimate downtime. Whatever the season, whatever your interests, whatever your budget – you name it, this diverse country has it.
While the Unesco-recognised city has an array of temples and shrines to rival Japan’s historic hub Osaka – including Todai-ji, home to a soaring bronze Buddha – Nara attracts only a fraction of the tourists. A compact town, it feels far more intimate, too – which means less time on public transport as you dart between the sights and more fun hours together meeting the friendly local deer (they roam freely around Nara Park) or strolling aimlessly in manicured Isuien Garden.
If, for you, a honeymoon is not a honeymoon without a beach, then factor in time in Okinawa, Japan’s cluster of southerly isles, all white-sand beaches, turquoise surf and superb diving. You can make the most of lazy, sun-drenched days, while a unique culture and cuisine (featuring purple sweet potatoes, bitter gourd and local beef) present an intriguing alternative to travels elsewhere in Japan. If you’re looking for luxurious five-star resorts, focus on the main island of Okinawa. Should lesser-developed idylls sound more enticing, explore the Yaeyama chain.
It’s just a bridge away from Japan’s main island, Honshu, but Shikoku feels a bit like a lost world. One of Japan’s least-explored corners, it’s a land of lush hills dotted with hidden temples (the island is famed for its 88-temple pilgrimage), rushing rivers and photogenic castles. Squirrel yourselves away for a couple of days at a forest-coddled onsen (hot-springs) retreat – staying in a traditional tatami mat-lined room – then summon the courage to cross the Kazurabashi, Iya Valley’s famous wobbly rope bridge.
Japan’s northernmost reaches might not sound like classic honeymoon territory, but if the two of you find romance in the great outdoors, Hokkaido is a distinctly rewarding destination. Winter visits mean guaranteed snow, skiing, dramatic ice-carvings and evenings sipping pints at capital Sapporo’s namesake brewery – the perfect preamble to an evening of lovey-dovey intimacy. Summer is the season for mountain hikes and walks through lavender fields, making the most of your binoculars – there’s a lot of bird life.
This prefecture south of Tokyo is a natural go-to for honeymooners, not least because it’s home to Hakone, one of Japan’s pin-up romantic towns, with bubbling onsen and ryokan inns. Proximity to the Japanese capital makes it perfect for a “rurban” (rural-meets-urban) getaway, so meals in Tokyo’s finest sushi restaurants can be followed (or preceded) by afternoons exploring historic seaside Kamakura, snapping selfies outside Odawara Castle and watching the sun set off of picturesque Enoshima Island. Finally, for the Instagram feed, on clear days you can glimpse Mount Fuji from pretty much anywhere in the prefecture.
Made photo-famous by its traditionally clad geishas scuttling through side alleys, ancient Kyoto – the original capital – is one of the most romantic destinations in the entire country. It is a city of tranquil zen gardens and atmospheric Shinto temples, bamboo forests and time-honoured, low-rise ryokan inns, in which you sleep on the matted ground and sit cross-legged for meals. While in the city, treat yourself one night to the pinnacle of Japanese dining: multi-course kaiseki, which approximates Western haute cuisine.
The little island of Miyajima, just beyond the city of Hiroshima, pulls crowds with its postcard torii gate. The original was raised in 1875 – this is the eighth incarnation; vermilion-lacquered, with a roof of cypress bark, it seems to float on the water at high tide, mirroring itself. The tiny island town has accommodation for all budgets, from traditional inns to waterfront resort hotels. Explore Miyajima’s beautiful shrines and temples, encounter the docile population of wild deer, and hike up Mount Misen for panoramic island views.
One of the best views of Mount Fuji can be had from the Fuji Five Lake region, which lies at the northern foot of the sacred mountain – a still-active volcano. The most developed of the five by far is Kawaguchiko, and the resort town of the same name is a hit among hikers, anglers, canoe amateurs and professionals and other nature enthusiasts. The most interesting museum is arguably the Itchiku Kubota Museum, all about the history of silk-dyeing for kimonos. There are hot-spring onsen for a more leisurely few honeymoon days.
You don’t come to high-tech, 24/7 Tokyo specifically for intimacy, but for newlyweds it’ll certainly be a honeymoon to remember, with its five-star hotels and world-class dining. For all the high-rise concrete and plate glass, the pretty parks and serene shrines will kindle romance. In spring, the pink sakura trees cast blossom like confetti showers. Summer means exciting street festivals, while winter brings gorgeous holiday lighting called “illumination”. And that twinkly nighttime view of this magical city? It’s all yours, all year round.
The idyllic mountain town of Hakone – just a short train ride out of Tokyo on the Odakyu Romancecar – is a beloved weekend getaway destination for the Japanese. It’s an area rich in scenic beauty, and it’s a cinch to explore, particularly if you ride the cable car and try the ropeway over the mountain. There’s even romance in the sightseeing cruise that takes you across the serene lake in a reproduction pirate ship. Enjoy the restorative waters of the natural hot springs and while the day away at one of the many intriguing museums.
It’s a popular couples’ resort town for good reason: picturesque cherry blossoms in spring, lush green swathes of nature in summer, fiery foliage in autumn and snowy horizons when winter blows in. Much of the local architecture is reminiscent of a quaint European hamlet, and the wooden chapels frequently host Western-style weddings. Come the festive season, the town turns into a charming Christmas village – and if you thought it couldn’t get more honeymoon-perfect, there’s the chance to ice-skate hand in hand.
Kyoto doesn’t have the monopoly on traditional charms: the secluded mountain town of Hida-Takayama is honeymoon heaven. Old Town Takayama is one of the best-preserved historic quarters in Japan; wandering through its streets, you’ll feel you’ve stepped back centuries. It’s also one of the few places where you can enjoy Hida beef, a brand of domestic wagyu to rival Kobe’s finest. Just a short distance from Hida-Takayama is the historic village of Shirakawa-go, designated a Unesco World Heritage site for its unique thatched-roof farmhouses.
Christine Bagarino contributed additional reporting to this article.