The ancient Kumano region — known as the “land of the gods” — topped the list of best places to travel in Japan for 2020 by readers of English-language website GaijinPot.
TOKYO — This year is GaijinPot’s fourth-annual index of Top 10 Japan Travel Destinations for 2020. Voters agreed that Kumano’s unspoiled beauty, well-worn pilgrimage routes and transformative spiritual pull transcended even the modern, neon lit skyline of Tokyo.
Located in the heart of Wakayama Prefecture, Kumano is perhaps most famous for the UNESCO World Heritage Site-listed Kumano Kodo pilgrimage. In this area’s vast natural splendor, Shinto and Buddhist monks worship at mystical forest waterfalls while disciples bathe in the restorative powers of its many natural onsen (hot springs).
“We are very honored to have been selected as the No. 1 travel destination,” says Hideyuki Inamoto, president of the Wakayama Prefecture Tourism Federation. “Kumano in Wakayama Prefecture has long been regarded as a sacred place for worshiping nature where gods live. It is said that the pilgrimage trip to Kumano is ‘the beginning of the Japanese trip.’ We look forward to welcoming you to Kumano.”
As exemplified by Inamoto, Kumano residents have a welcoming spirit and their modern hospitality extends to travelers from around the world. Tanabe City, the gateway to the Kumano Kodo, has a multilingual tourism bureau with a grassroots online reservation platform that matches local guides and businesses to visitors. Regional farms offer green tourism homestays where visitors can take part in the ume (Japanese plum) harvest outside of Tanabe, go whale watching in Katsuura, become a Shinto priest in Shingu or sun themselves on the white sand beaches of Shirahama.
Spiritual travel — like the experiences offered in the Kumano region — is an emerging trend worldwide as millennials search for meaning in far-off lands,” says Randiah Green, editor at GaijinPot Travel. “Readers, it seems, love what Japan has to offer and may prefer a more contemplative retreat before the Olympics begin in Tokyo.”
The capital city did make it to the No. 2 position. In large part due to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympic Games, but also because of sheer variety of experiences awaiting “free independent travelers” (FIT).
Rounding out the top three is the Nakasendo Way. This Edo-period trail bridges Gifu and Nagano prefectures and once ran from Tokyo to Kyoto. It’s ideal for travelers seeking eco-friendly, sustainable tourism. The quaint postal towns and historic inns en route are perfect for those after authentic Japanese experiences.
The remaining destinations chosen by GaijinPot’s nearly one million readers — half of whom live overseas and have a passion for Japan and travel — receive a Top Travel Destination for 2020 Award. These are Niseko, Hokkaido; Minakami, Gunma; Seven Stars Railway, Kyushu; Yokohama, Kanagawa; Nikko, Tochigi; Lake Biwa, Shiga and Sapporo, Hokkaido.
For more information on GaijinPot’s annual travel awards, media availability or to request images, contact the GaijinPot editorial department at via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (English or Japanese) at +81-3-5561-7750.