Hikaru Museum1/8
Photo: Hikaru MuseumHikaru Museum
Villa Santorini2/8
Photo: Villa SantoriniVilla Santorini
Hamanoura Rice Terrace3/8
Photo: 星旅人/Photo ACHamanoura Rice Terrace
Orietnal Trip4/8
Photo: Reoma ResortOrietnal Trip, Reoma Resort
Huis Ten Bosch5/8
Photo: Huis Ten BoschHuis Ten Bosch
Oriental Trip6/8
Photo: Oriental Trip, Reoma ResortOriental Trip, Reoma Resort
Tove Jansson Akebono Children's Forest Park 7/8
Photo: ©(2021)Moomin Characters/R&BTove Jansson Akebono Children's Forest Park
British Hills8/8
Photo: British HillsBritish Hills

8 stunning places in Japan that don’t look like Japan

Forget Zen gardens – these attractions make you feel like you’re in Egypt, Bali, Greece and more, all without leaving Japan

By Youka Nagase

While travelling isn’t on the cards for most of us right now, we’re still dreaming of all the beautiful places we’ll go to when the pandemic is over. Japan is filled with gorgeous nature, spectacular national parks and World Heritage sites, so there’s no shortage of stunning destinations to add to your travel list. 

But it’s easy to find yourself missing the excitement of exploring a new part of the world, especially right now. Luckily, Japan isn’t all Shinto shrines and Zen gardens. You can visit places that look like famous attractions from Cambodia, Egypt, Greece, Mexico and more – all without ever leaving Japan. 

RECOMMENDED: Prefer to stay close to Tokyo? See iconic Japanese scenery that’s all within the capital

Orietnal Trip
Orietnal Trip
Photo: Reoma Resort

Oriental Trip (Marukame, Kagawa)

Looks like: Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Reoma Resort in Kagawa Prefecture is the largest theme park in the Shikoku region, boasting a whopping 22 family-friendly attractions. But besides Ferris wheels and roller coasters, it’s also home to an area called Oriental Trip, which features faithful replicas of famous buildings and landmarks from around South East Asia. 

Enter via the 96m-long Magic Straw escalator and head through the reproduction mosque to reach a re-creation of Cambodia’s famous 12th century Buddhist temple, Angkor Wat, complete with the reflecting pond surrounding it. 

You’ll also find a version of Prasat Hin Arun, an ancient Buddhist Temple from Bangkok, which is lit up in rainbow-coloured lights during the evening. Just beside that, you’ll catch a glimpse of Bhutan with an impressively built replica of Tashichho Dzong Monastery that looks just like the real deal. Plus, Oriental Trip’s spectacular flower field spans over 50,000sqm and is filled with hydrangeas, dhalias, roses and many other seasonal blooms year-round.

Hikaru Museum
Hikaru Museum
Photo: Hikaru Museum

Hikaru Museum (Takayama, Gifu)

Looks like: El Tajín, Mexico

This museum filled with fine art and historical artefacts also has a replicated World Heritage Site from Mesoamerica. You can see a replica of the pyramid of El Tajín in the rooftop courtyard, but the structure is even more impressive from below – when you enter the museum and look up, the pyramid acts as a giant skylight with 365 windows.

The entire building is made of limestone imported from France and decorated in intricate Mayan design, inspired by the Governor’s Palace in Uxmal. The art gallery has rotating displays, but the permanent exhibits include an eclectic mix of traditional Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints, a collection of 13,000 fossils, historical artefacts from Egypt and Mexico, plus calligraphy by Yukei Teshima.

Hamanoura Rice Terrace
Hamanoura Rice Terrace
Photo: 星旅人/Photo AC

Hamanoura Rice Terrace (Higashimatsuura-gun, Saga)

Looks like: The terraced rice fields of Ubud in Bali, Indonesia

The terraced rice fields of Hamanoura in Kyushu Prefecture boast spectacular views of the Genkai Sea. There are over 280 fields of all sizes here, mostly growing Japan’s popular koshihikari rice. The stepped paddies leading down to the ocean are worth a visit in their own right, but they’re also a dead ringer for the famous rice terraces of Bali. 

The stunning views and quiet surroundings make this a popular spot for couples. Hamanoura is especially beautiful from mid-April to May when the fields fill up with water, reflecting the sunset and bathing the terraces in orange and yellow. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has even declared Hamanoura one of Japan’s top 100 terraced rice fields.

British Hills
British Hills
Photo: British Hills

British Hills (Iwase, Fukushima)

Looks like: England, UK

About two and a half hours away from central Tokyo, you’ll find this spot that looks like an old fashioned English village. British Hills was originally built in 1994 by the proprietors of Kanda University of International Studies and Kanda Institute of Foreign Languages, as a way for students to travel to England without leaving the country. 

You can book a stay inside half-timbered guesthouses, visit a traditional English pub and, of course, have a proper afternoon tea. Your accommodation is decked out with antique furniture, ornate rugs and even old-school bathtubs with legs, so you’ll feel like a true aristocrat. The theme is a mix of Tudor and Victorian – keep an eye out for some almost medieval touches, particularly in the castle-like barracks building.

As you walk around, you’ll almost forget that you’re in Japan: there’s a souvenir shop offering a variety of imported British sweets and snacks, tennis courts and even a traditional English garden.

Villa Santorini
Villa Santorini
Photo: Villa Santorini

Villa Santorini (Tosa, Kochi)

Looks like: Santorini, Greece

Catching a flight to Greece might be impossible right now, but you can replicate the experience with a stay at Villa Santorini. This resort hotel on the coast of Shikoku looks just like a collection of the white cubiform houses lined up along the coast of Santorini in Greece. 

The weather here is known for being more temperate than the rest of Japan and it can even get as warm as the Greek islands during the summer. Best of all, you can go for a dip at the nearby beaches or in the rooftop pool to cool down. 

Rooms start at ¥18,700 per person per night and some even come with a private balcony. No matter where you stay here, you’ll always have a sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean as soon as you step outside the door. Plus, every morning, you’ll get to feast on a Greek-style breakfast with scrambled eggs, soup, meat and veggies, all with a superb view of the ocean.

Hakusekikan Stone Museum
Hakusekikan Stone Museum
Photo: fb.com/hakusekikan

Hakusekikan Stone Museum (Nakatsukawa, Gifu)

Looks like: Giza, Egypt

You can even visit the Great Pyramid of Giza without leaving Japan at Hakusekikan in Gifu prefecture. Like many things in Japan, this version has been adapted to the local surroundings. The single pyramid is one-tenth the size of the original one and made from stacks of granite mined nearby weighing at around 5,500 tonnes. 

Best of all, you can channel your inner Lara Croft and walk inside the pyramid, going through an underground maze with walls painted in hieroglyphics and Egyptian art. To complete the maze, you’ll need to hunt down four different stamps, which you’ll get to exchange for an exclusive gift after you’ve collected them all. 

Don’t forget to pay a visit to the exhibition space to learn about gemstones collected from all parts of the world – you can even purchase one to take home at the gift shop.

Huis Ten Bosch
Huis Ten Bosch
Photo: Huis Ten Bosch

Huis Ten Bosch (Sasebo, Nagasaki)

Looks like: Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Amazingly, Japan’s biggest theme park isn’t Tokyo Disneyland or Fuji-Q Highland, it’s this Amsterdam-inspired attraction in Nagasaki. The buildings at Huis Ten Bosch are built with unique European-style architecture and there’s a canal running right through the middle of the park. You can even find its own version of the Keukenhof, Amsterdam’s famed tulip garden, with a windmill in the back.

This family-friendly park is perfect if you’re looking to take a quick European vacation. Be sure to visit the Porcelain Museum, made to look just like the one at Charlottenburg Palace in Germany, as well as the Giyaman Museum, which will take you on a journey through Venice with its beautiful glass exhibits.

Tove Jansson Akebono Children's Forest Park
Tove Jansson Akebono Children's Forest Park
Photo: ©(2021)Moomin Characters/R&B

Tove Jansson Akebono Children's Forest Park (Hanno, Saitama)

Looks like: a Finnish fairytale

Just a 90-minute train ride from Tokyo, this park looks like something out of a Finnish fairytale. It’s a perfect family-friendly spot and best of all, it’s free to visit. 

Tove Jansson Akebono Children’s Forest Park was built after exchanging letters with Tove Jansson herself – creator of the Moomins – and sports unique buildings and architecture that look like they came right out of a storybook. Adding to the fairytale feeling, the whole park is surrounded by greenery, which will make you think you’ve wandered into a Scandanavian forest.

The park is open from 9am to 5pm Tuesday to Friday, but we recommend going on a weekend when it’s open as late as 9pm and the trees and buildings are beautifully lit up.


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