Japan’s Countryside Towns and Villages - A Break from the Busy City Life

Japan is home to widely diverse cities, towns, islands, and landscapes. Although its highly developed areas may be the top picks of most foreign travelers, Japan's rural regions are just as lovely and highly recommended for those who want to take a break from the busy city life.

Perks of Taking a Vacation or Living in Japan’s Countryside Towns/Villages

Before diving into the various countryside towns and villages worth visiting in Japan, it is best to first what the country’s rural places have over its urban ones.

Less or no queues

One of the biggest differences that tourists will immediately notice upon moving from urban Japan to countryside Japan is the lack of queues or even none at all. This applies to nearly all places including toilets, restaurants, shops, and festivals.

The lack of queueing lines is great especially for those who find it annoying to have to waste significant amounts of time for every other activity of their itinerary.

Tourists should not be alarmed and misinterpret the absence of people waiting outside of these places to be an indication of poor services. Countryside towns and villages simply have smaller populations compared to cities like Tokyo.

Stunning views

The skyscrapers, stadiums, and grand museums of Japan are undeniably stunning and feature a wide array of architectural styles. However, nothing beats the natural beauty of the country, which includes large expanses of green, hot springs, waterfalls, and the like.

More often than not, hotel rooms in Japan’s highly modernized cities only offer guests with a view of other buildings. In the countryside, however, nearly every kind of lodging has more than its fair share of surrounding landscapes. In fact, avoiding the country’s natural beauty while staying at its rural towns or villages can be quite a challenge.

Friendlier people

The Japanese community has a knack for being friendly and hospitable, even to strangers. There are, of course, a few exceptions but Japan is generally a great place for tourists to visit in terms of interacting with the locals.

However, when comparing the people from Japan’s urbanized and rural areas, it is quite noticeable that those from the latter carry a more relaxed vibe than the former. The reason behind this is because the majority of people that live in cities such as Tokyo and Osaka are busy with work and quite strict when it comes to their schedules.

Less or not at all crowded transportation systems

Foreign travelers who have already gone on a tour around Tokyo know how crowded its trains can get. During rush hour, riding the train can get quite suffocating, with everybody getting pressed against each other due to the number of people going to or from work.

A great advantage of taking a vacation in the countryside is that one will rarely experience having to sit right next to another person on the train or bus. This is because the residents in these areas prefer to either walk or ride their bikes from one place to the other.

In that sense, it is also a good idea for tourists to ditch the transportation systems and try exploring these towns as the locals would.

Events and festivals

One of the things tourists look forward to when visiting Japan is its countless events and festivals that showcase the country’s history and culture. In terms of concept, practice, and traditions, these celebrations are pretty much the same in the different regions of Japan.

However, a lot of people consider the festivals in the countryside to be preferable than those in the metropolitan cities due to the preparations involved and the people attending.

Regardless of whether or not a person is a new resident in the area, he will most likely be asked to help with the upcoming celebrations as a means to unite the whole community. Tourists will rarely get a chance to interact with the locals in this way when in cities like Tokyo.

Furthermore, the majority of the crowds attending the festivals held in Japan’s urban areas consist of foreign travelers, which may not really be a big deal to some but does affect the overall vibe, in a way.

Break from technology

Japan is known for being the leader in innovative technologies. However, it can get quite tiring to always be in the fast-paced world where nearly everything is automated and forming real connections can get quite challenging.

Taking a trip to the countryside is a great way to take a break from everything and simply enjoy some peace and quiet with the locals. However, this does not mean that Japan’s rural areas do not have access to things such as internet or modern amenities. These places are just as equipped but simply prefer the old ways of living.

Cultural immersion

Last but not at all the least, choosing to visit the countryside of Japan is an effective way to instantly immerse oneself in the Japanese culture and lifestyle.

Unlike in places like Tokyo, Japan’s rural towns and villages have fewer residents that know how to speak or understand English, leaving tourists to get a bit creative in understanding the ways of the locals.

At times, this may get a bit frustrating but finally being able to get the rhythm of things can be incredibly satisfying.

Countryside Towns/Villages Near Tokyo – Karuizawa, Hakone, Etc.

Conveniently enough, there are a handful of places near Tokyo which are considered to be countryside towns. These are great for those who do not want to travel too far away from the metropolis but also not close enough to still feel the busyness of the city.

Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture

At the base of Mount Asama, an active volcano of Honshu, Japan, the charming town of Karuizawa can be located. It can be reached within an hour from Tokyo through the shinkansen (high-speed train).

In 1957, the ward served as the place where Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko met for the first time. As such, it has become a popular retreat place for couples looking to spend a romantic day trip together, away from the busy crowds.

It is also known for being a great place for hot springs (onsen), hiking trails, and viewing koyo (autumn colors) during the months of June, August, and April.

Notable tourist attractions within the town include:

  • Karuizawa Ginza – a shopping street with a romantic atmosphere

  • Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza – an outlet mall for trendy items, sportswear, outdoor goods, and popular local and international brands

  • Kumobaike Pond – a pond known for offering the best autumn colors in Karuizawa from October to November

  • Usui Pass Observation Platform – an observation platform that offers views of Mount Asama and Gunma Prefecture’s mountains

  • Hoshino Onsen – a hot spring resort with indoor and outdoor baths

  • Harunire Terrace – a shopping/dining area that is situated within a forest and stands on a wooden terrace

  • Stone Church – a unique piece of architecture that has become a popular wedding venue in recent years

  • Hiroshi Senju Museum – houses the work of Senji Hiroshi and other artists

  • Karuizawa Taliesin – a massive park that houses museums, recreation facilities, and Lake Shiozawa, among other attractions

  • Sezon Museum of Modern Art – houses a wide array of local and international artwork from the 20th century

  • Shiraito Waterfall – a wide waterfall located within a forest

  • Onioshidashi Park – a rugged park composed of volcanic rocks

Magome, Nagano Prefecture

Magome played an important role during the Edo Period as a stop-over place for travelers going to Tokyo from Kyoto, or vice versa, through the Nakasendo Trail. One of the interesting things that make this post town a wonderful place to visit is that its main street is closed off to any vehicular traffic.

Instead of being lined with signs or light posts, its stone pathways feature restored traditional Japanese buildings on either side. The town is also home to several hiking trails that wind through farmlands, forests, and waterfalls.

Notable tourist attractions within the town include:

  • Honjin/Toson Memorial Museum – a memorial to Toson, an important artist of Japan

  • Wakihonjin Museum – houses various displays regarding the town’s history

  • Tsuchimaya Shiryokan – houses various displays about Toson’s life during the earlier years of the Meiji Period

  • Shimizuya Shiryokan – houses historical artifacts from the residents of Magome such as clothing, pottery, and hanging scrolls

Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture

Just under a hundred kilometers away from the city of Tokyo, Hakone offers tourists with a refreshing break from the fast-paced lifestyle of the metropolis.

Some highlights of the town, which is included within the bounds of the Fuji Hakone Izu National Park, include the Ashino-ko (a lake), the Hakone Jinja (a temple), various art museums, traditional Japanese inns (ryokan), and some of the best hot springs one can find in Japan.

Notable tourist attractions within the town include:

  • Hakone Hot Springs – refers to various hot springs scattered across Hakone

  • Open Air Museum – houses various paintings and sculptures displayed in an open field

  • Owakudani – houses warm rivers and sulfurous vapors

  • Lake Ashinoko – a stunning lake that offers breathtaking views of Mount Fuji

  • Hakone Shrine – the most popular Shinto shrine of Hakone

  • Pola Museum – a museum owned and operated by Pola, a popular Japanese cosmetics company

  • Okada Museum of Art – houses various exhibits about East Asian art

  • Choanji Temple – houses numerous rakan (disciples of Buddhism) statues

Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture

The town of Kamakura is located south of the city of Tokyo, just about an hour away. At one point in time, the beach town played an important role in Japanese politics, serving as the center of various transactions.

Given its abundance of well-preserved residences, historical monuments, shrines, and temples, the beach town has also been dubbed as the Kyoto of Eastern Japan. Tourists can also enjoy plenty of rolling forest landscapes, hiking trails, and sandy beaches within the area.

Notable tourist attractions within the town include:

  • Great Buddha – refers to a massive Buddha statue made of bronze

  • Hasadera Temple – a stunning piece of architecture that offers visitors with breathtaking views of Kamakura

  • Hokokuji Temple – houses a charming bamboo grove

  • Hachimangu Shrine – the most significant Shinto shrine of Kamakura

  • Kenchoji Temple – the most significant Zen Buddhist temple of Kamakura

  • Engakuji Temple – the second most significant Zen Buddhist temple of Kamakura

  • Jufukuji Temple – the third most significant Zen Buddhist Temple

  • Jochiji Temple – the fourth most significant Zen Buddhist Temple

  • Jomyoji Temple – the fifth most significant Zen Buddhist Temple

  • Zeniarai Benten – a shrine intended for visitors to wash/clean their money

  • Meigetsuin Temple – dubbed as the Hydrangea Temple

  • Ankokuronji Temple – a temple built by Nichiren, an important Buddhist priest

  • Zuisenji Temple – a temple popular for its beautiful Japanese gardens

  • Myohonji Temple – a temple that belongs to the Nichiren Sect of Japanese Buddhism

  • Tokeiji Temple – previously served as a sanctuary for abused wives

Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture

Nikko is regarded as a mountain resort due to its mountainous terrain and abundance of hot springs. It is located north of the city of Tokyo, about 140 kilometers away.

The ancient town is home to countless Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, the most popular of which is the Toshogu Shrine that houses Tokugawa Ieyasu’s mausoleum.

Notable tourist attractions within the town include:

  • Toshogu Shrine – houses Tokugawa Ieyasu’s mausoleum

  • Taiyuinbyo – houses Tokugawa Iemitsu’s mausoleum

  • Rinnoji Temple – the most significant temple of Nikko

  • Tamozawa Villa – the former residence of the Imperial Family

  • Kanmangafuchi Abyss – a walking trail that passes through a gorge

  • Futarasan Shrine – a shrine dedicated to the sacred mountains of Nikko

  • Botanical Garden – the University of Tokyo’s research garden

  • Shinkyo Bridge – a vermilion bridge that serves as the entrance to the shrines of Nikko

  • Hangetsuyama – a mountain that offers stunning views of Lake Chuzenji

  • Lake Chuzenji – a wide lake located at the base of Mount Nantai

  • Yumoto Onsen – a hot spring resort

  • Senjogahara Marsh – a marshland that offers pleasant hiking trails

  • Akechidaira Plateau – houses several observation decks

  • Ryuzu Waterfall – a popular waterfall that serves as a great place for koyo

  • Kegon Waterfall – the most popular waterfall of Nikko

Real Estate/Homes for Sale in Japan’s Countryside Towns/Villages

It is not hard to fall in love with the countryside of Japan. For tourists who find themselves wanting to purchase their very own house or multi-floor building at an island, rural town, or village of Japan, the companies below offer excellent assistance and deals to foreigners all year round:

  • Real Estate Japan Inc. (https://www.realestate.co.jp/en/)

  • Hachise (http://www.hachise.com/)

  • Century Global 21 (http://www.century21global.com/)

  • Japan Property Central (http://japanpropertycentral.com/)

  • Hakuba Real Estate (http://www.hakubarealestate.com/)

  • Niseko Real Estate (http://nisekorealestate.com/)