1. Villa Santorini
    Photo: Villa SantoriniVilla Santorini
  2. Akasaka Palace
    Photo: State Guest House, Akasaka PalaceAkasaka Palace

10 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

Youka Nagase
Written by
Youka Nagase
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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

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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 (Nakatsukawa, Gifu)
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.

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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.

Monet’s Garden Marmottan (Kitagawa, Kochi)
Photo: Monet's Garden Marmottan in Kitagawa Village

Monet’s Garden Marmottan (Kitagawa, Kochi)

Looks like: Fondation Monet, France

Art lovers will relish this pond that looks exactly like the famous water lily paintings by French impressionist, Claude Monet. This lush garden at Kitagawa Village is a replica of the artist’s home in Giverny and will transport you to the countryside of France for a day. 

Marmottan boasts three main gardens: the colourful Flower Garden that changes seasonally, Water Garden featuring a large pond with water lilies just like his most iconic painting, and the Garden of Bordighera, which is inspired by Monet’s paintings of more exotic landscapes from his trip to the Mediterranean with Renoir. 

It’s worth taking a break at the restaurant, which serves yoshoku (Japanese-style Western food), while looking out over the Flower Garden from its terrace.

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Akasaka Palace (Tokyo)
Photo: State Guest House, Akasaka Palace

Akasaka Palace (Tokyo)

Looks like: Versailles Palace, France

This neo-Baroque beauty dating back to 1909 was initially built as the residence of the Japanese Crown Prince. After it was restored in 1974, it became one of the main venues for hosting foreign dignitaries in Tokyo. The palace also went through major renovations in 2009, and was designated a national treasure for its beautiful architecture.

The main building is just as luxurious inside as out, decked with marble columns, red carpet, chandeliers, ornate ceilings and classical furniture. The Japanese-style annex, Yushintei, features a Zen bamboo garden, tatami rooms, a koi pond and a bonsai collection.  

This immaculate palace is open to the public and you can make reservations online to tour the Yushintei. Prices can change depending on the buildings you’d like to visit, but bookings must be made in advance on the official website and it costs ¥2,000 (university students ¥1,500, middle school and high school students ¥700) to see the full palace.

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