Japan Countryside – The countryside of Japan is something often not mentioned in the “Ten Best Things About Japan” lists, or the “Why You Should Visit Japan”, but we really beg to differ. Most people are chasing the pow, the nightlife, and the gastronomical delights of the city of Tokyo, but if you’re also a lover of green grass fields, gorgeous sunsets filling up the sky, rice fields that stretch for miles, and the distinct Japanese touch in the structures and pavements all around you, then the countryside is where it’s at.
Some of what you read may take an entire day to travel to, and yet others are merely a train ride away from Tokyo or Osaka. It’s surprising just how close you can be to somewhere that’s as different as day and night to where you’re based. Read on as we highlight some of the best lesser-known countryside villages in Japan.
Japan Countryside #1 – Kawagoe (Saitama)
Saitama, Tokyo’s friendly prefecture neighbour, has been slept on quite a bit by tourists visiting Japan. For all it’s worth, it’s possibly just as wondrous and inspiring as its (much) more popular counterpart, and the plethora of charming villages that sprinkle across the prefecture are a testament to how unique the area is. Kawagoe is one such village that still retains the unique charm of olden day Japan. A trip here will certainly shine line on the historical structures and old village vibes you definitely won’t get in Tokyo.
Japan Countryside – How To Get to Kawagoe?
From Tokyo, Kawagoe can easily be done as a day trip. It is connected via three different railway companies: Tobu, Seibu, and JR.
The quickest way to get from the city area would be to hop on a Tobu Toju train at Ikebukuro for Kawagoe Station, which is 30-minutes away, and should cost roughly 470 yen per person. There is also the “Kawagoe Discount Pass” which is a only available to foreigners. It’s only valid for one day, costs 700 yen for a round trip to Kawagoe, and can only be purchased at Ikebukuro Station.
From Seibu-Shinjuku, the Seibu-Shinjuku line runs through to Hon-Kawagoe Station, and takes just under 60-minutes, costing 500 yen per person, one way.
Japan Countryside – Where To Stay in Kawagoe?
→ Guesthouse – Kazu-Chan
This quaint little guesthouse is located just 30-minutes away from Kawagoe’s town centre. Its minimal size means that you’ll receive the utmost attention from the lovely host there. All rooms in this guesthouse come with a balcony, and there are shared bathrooms with bidets to use. An a la carte breakfast is provided in the mornings, and you can spend your days cycling around the neighbourhood, or venture out to the hills and mountains nearby for some hiking.
Book It Here: Kazu-Chan
→ Ryokan – Ryokan Matsumuraya
As one of the oldest ryokans in the area, you’ll really feel like you’re transported back to the olden days as you step from the streets of Kawagoe into this authentic traditional inn. Featuring a gorgeous and generous shared lounge, tatami mats in all guest rooms, shoji doors, typical lowered furniture, air conditioning in all rooms, a public bathhouse, and an Asian breakfast provided daily in the dining area, this place is quite the package.
Book It Here: Ryokan Matsumuraya
Japan Countryside – Top 3 Activities in Kawagoe
Kurazukuri District Street – A trip to Kawagoe is simply not complete without a visit here. Some people even travel to Kawagoe just to visit this iconic village filled with charcoal-tiled roof buildings and vendors selling traditional Japanese items. Most of the buildings were built between 1868 – 1912, so they’re quite a sight to see. Expect to see people dressed up in Kimonos walking along the street; ask them for a photo, or get in the action and rent one for yourself!
Kawagoe Matsuri Kaika – This museum pays homage to the extravagant Japanese festival that takes over Kawagoe during the 3rd Saturday and Sunday of October, where massive floats come together in a traditional Japanese orchestra performance. If you can’t make it to the festival this museum holds great insight on how the festival operates, what it stands for, and the festivities that ensue during that period.
Kashiya Yokocho – This is one for all the sweet-tooths out there! Close-by to the main street of Kawagoe is this candy lane that features two rows of old-fashioned candy, gifts, and souvenirs. When it first came about, more than 70 storeowners made their living selling sweets here, but now there are only 14, a ghost number of the past. Despite this, you will find a plethora of varying types of sweets there to satisfy anybody – from wafers in red bean jam, creamy ice cream made from sweet potatoes, locally made rice crackers, and even seasonal cherry blossom candies!
Hours: 10:00am – 5:00pm
More information here: What to do in Kawagoe Japan.
Japan Countryside #2 – Kurashiki (Okayama)
Located not far from the city of Okayama, Kurashiki is a small town that’s best known for the canal that flows through alongside the roads and footpaths. It dates all the way back to the Edo Period, where it was used as an important function of the rice distribution in the area. Willow trees now line the canal, creating the picture-perfect photo opportunity.
Japan Countryside – How To Get to Kurashiki?
To get to Okayama Station from Tokyo hop on the JR Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen for a 3.5 hour trip that will set you back 17,000. If you have a JR pass, you will need to use the Hikari train, which will add 30-minutes onto your trip, otherwise, the Nozomi train is quicker.
To get to Okayama Station from Osaka, use the Sanyo Shinkansen Line. It will take between 50-70 minutes, and cost 5,500 yen per person. It is fully covered by the JR Pass if you use the Hikari train.
Japan Countryside – Where To Stay in Kurahsiki?
→ Guesthouse – Hostel KAG
Located only 7-minutes away from Shinkeien Garden, and close to other popular attractions such as Kanryuji Temple, Yumiko Igarashi Museum, and Mitsui Outlet Park Kurashiki, this hostel is perfectly priced for budget travelers and perfectly placed for sight-seeing. Take advantage of the free Wi-Fi, terrace, and shared lounge in this clean and modern guesthouse when you’re at home. Staff also speak good English so if you have any concerns, ask away!
Book It Here: Hostel KAG
→ Ryokan – Ryori Ryokan Tsurugata
A gorgeous preserved building built during the Edo period has been transformed into this stunning ryokan for your stay. Located in the Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter, it’s only a 10-minute walk away from Kurashiki Train Station, 2-minutes from Ohara Museum of Art, 5-minutes from Kurashiki Ivy Square, and 5-minutes from Achi Shrine. Free Wi-Fi is available in all public areas, and all rooms feature air-conditioning, tatami flooring, futon bedding, a flat-screen TV, and even come with Japanese Yukata robes for all guests. If you’re after some R&R, head to the public bath for some downtime.
Book It Here: Ryori Ryokan Tsurugata
Japan Countryside – Top 3 Activities in Kurashiki
Kurashiki Canal Boat Ride – What’s a visit to Japan’s most famous canal village if you don’t take a boat ride through the waters? This is the area’s most popular activity, and when you walk along the footpath, chances are you’ll catch glimpses of other visitors to the area enjoying their leisurely boat ride along the canal as well. Try and get a spot during sunset, because the brilliant orange sky will be that much more impressive on a gentle boat ride through the waters.
Access: 10-minute walk from Kurashiki Station
Hours: 9:30am – 5:00pm
Cost: Adult – 500 yen, Child – 250 yen
Visit Washuzan Hill – Beauty is everywhere you look when you visit Washuzan Hill, which is located in Setonaikai National Park. At a height of 133 meters above the ground, the peak, which has been named Shoshuho, gives visitors an expansive view of the Seto Inland Sea and the Seto Ohashi Bridge. It’s also a great spot for those chasing sunsets.
Access: From Kojima Station, take the Shimoden “Tokohai-go” bus for 25-minutes and alight at Washuzan Daini Tenboudai.
Seto Ohashi Bridge – Why not get the view of the bridge, as well as be on the bridge? It’s a funky suggestion, but visitors actually visit this place so that they can drive along one of the largest bridges in the world, which provides transportation lines for both rail and road traffic. The views along this bridge are absolutely stunning – waters crashing on either side, a city in front of you and an island behind you either way. During Saturday nights and national occasions, the bridge becomes lit at night and it’s totally romantic.
Address: Sakaide, Kagawa Prefecture
Japan Countryside #3 – Takayama (Gifu)
Takayama is a small city within the mountainous Hida region of Gifu Prefecture in central Japan. It’s a paradise for those seeking to add an off-the-beaten path rural aspect to their Japan itinerary. It’s wonderfully secluded, and Japan’s old-school charm is prominent throughout its streets as major efforts have been made to preserve it. Aside from being surrounded by gorgeous olden style Japanese structures, the markets here are well worth the travel.
Japan Countryside – How To Get to Takayama?
From Tokyo, hop on the Tokaido Shinkansen to JR Nagoya Station. At JR Nagoya, you will need to transfer to the Takayama Main Line to get to JR Takayama Station. This entire trip will take around 4 hours, and coast roughly 14,000 yen per person, one way. It is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass if you use the Hikari train from Tokyo Station (as opposed to the Nozomi train).
From Osaka, you will need to hop on the JR Tokaido Shinkansen at Shin-Osaka Station to Nagoya, and then change for the JR Hida limited express train for Takayama. This entire trip will take just over two hours, and will cost just under 10,000 yen per person, one way. It is fully covered by the JR Pass if you travel on the HIkari or Kodama trains from Shin-Osaka.
Japan Countryside – Where To Stay in Takayama?
→ Guesthouse – Hida Takayama Relax Hostel Bettei Fuji
In a rustic area like Takayama, you’d be hard-pressed to find a guesthouse as wholesome and generous as Hida Takayama Relax Hostel Bettei Fuji. Located only 5-minutes away from Sakurayamahachimangu, Miyagawa Morning Market, and Old Town, and 11-minutes away on foot from Takayama Jinya, this place is set in the perfect location for those who want to make their most out of their Takayama trip. Go exploring the whole day, and come home to a simple Japanese-style room with tatami mats, shared bathrooms, complimentary breakfast and coffee, and free Wi-Fi.
Book It Here: Hida Takayama Relax Hostel Bettei Fuji
→ Ryokan – Takayama Ouan
This traditional Japanese Inn is the epitome of beauty and authenticity. It’s defining (and arguably most popular) feature is the rooftop open-air natural hot spring bath that overlooks the city. Its breathtaking view is a sight for sore eyes, and coupled with soaking in a hot bath after a long day with exploring, and you’ve really set the standard for the perfect day. This ryokan also features cozy family baths which can be reserved, a homemade breakfast buffet, free Wi-Fi throughout the property, western bedding arrangements, satellite TV, and private bathrooms. Guests can also enjoy complimentary ramen noodles between 10:30pm – 11:30pm at the restaurant.
Book It Here: Takayama Ouan
Japan Countryside – Top 3 Activities in Takayama
Old Town – Visiting Old Town in Takayama is as essential as visiting Takeshita Street when in Harajuku. It encompasses all that is historical, authentic, and golden about the village. Some of the structures date all the way back to between 1600 – 1868, and the town’s wonderful efforts of preserving these buildings means what you see is what was standing in that exact same spot thousands of years ago. Quite an experience! You can rent a rickshaw ride through the streets, grab a coffee at one of the quaint coffee shops, and do a bit of shopping for typical Japanese items.
Hida Folk Village – This village is another area you can visit to catch a glimpse of olden-day Japan. Instead of being preserved in their original spots, they are actually 30 or so traditional houses built in the Hida region, relocated to this museum in 1971 for exhibition. All homes here are open for exploration, but visitors need to be gentle when moving between them.
Access: From Takayama Station, hop on the Sarubobo Bus to Hida Folk Village. It will take 10-minutes. Otherwise, it is a 30-minute walk.
Morning Markets – The morning markets are quite a treat for visitors, although they’re generally aimed at the locals, selling fresh produce from the local farms such as vegetables, pickles, and flowers. However, you will definitely come across a few selling unique local crafts as well as snack foods as well. The atmosphere here is very unpretentious, so you can amber along the markets, taking your time sampling local wares and purchase some fresh fruit without feeling rushed or judged.
Locations: Miyagawa Market (along Miyagawa River in Old Town), Jinya-mae Market (in front of the Takayama Jinya)
Hours: Daily – 6:00am – 12:00pm (Opens at 7:00am in winter)
Japan Countryside #4 – Kawaguchiko (Yamanashi)
The famed Mount Fuji resides in Yamanashi, and Kawaguchiko is one of, if not the, most popular place for visitors to visit to catch a glimpse of the gorgeous, world-wide famous mountain. Aside from the viewpoints, Kawaguchiko is a great place to get out in the open to enjoy almost all the elements of nature: mountains, trees, gardens, lakes. There are activities in and around Lake Kawaguchiko for all kinds of travellers, and there are plenty of attractions surrounding the area to keep anyone busy.
Japan Countryside – How To Get to Kawaguchiko?
From Tokyo, you can catch a bus directly from Shinjuku Station to Kawaguchiko Station for only 1,750 yen per person, one way, and the trip will only take you 1 hour 45 minutes. You can book it online here at Highway Bus. You can also book tickets from Shibuya to Kawaguchiko for 1,800 yen per person, one way, but the trip will take 2.5 hours. If it is a last minute thing, you can try to pop into the bus terminal at Shinjuku to purchase a ticket, but you run the risk of not being able to get a seat.
Japan Countryside – Where To Stay in Kawaguchiko?
→ Guesthouse – Kawaguchiko Crescendo
A guesthouse that welcomes you with a complimentary drink? We’ll say no more.
But if you’re in need for a little more convincing, this budget hostel is located only 10-minutes away from Lake Kawaguchi, the train station is only 12-minutes on a taxi away, free Wi-Fi is available throughout the property, and there’s even a bar and dining area with darts and live music to unwind after a long day of exploring. There’s a private hot spring bath exclusive for guests only, and all rooms feature private bathrooms, a flat-screen TV, and air-conditioning.
Book It Now: Kawaguchiko Crescendo
→ Ryokan – Kasuitei Ooya
Located on the quieter side of Lake Kawaguchi is Kasutei Ooya, a stunning ryokan with picture-perfect views of the lake. There are multiple public indoor and outdoor baths with lake views that you can relax in, otherwise you can pay a small fee and reserve one of the private use ones for 50-minutes. There’s also a sauna on-site! All rooms come with a terrace, tatami mats, futon bedding, and some will feature an open-air hot spring bath with gorgeous lake views.
Book It Now: Kasuitei Ooya
Japan Countryside – Top 3 Activities in Kawaguchiko
Lake Kawaguchiko – One of the most famous attractions to Kawaguchiko would be Lake Kawaguchi, a stunning body of water that has viewpoints where you can see Mount Fuji loud and clear on a sunny day. Surrounding the lake are attractions such as the Kawagushiko Music Forest and plenty of hot springs to soak into. You can catch the Kachi Kachi Ropeway up to the top of Mount Tenjo to get even more impressive views of Lake Kawaguchiko and Mount Fuji.
Arakurayama Sengen Shrine – Nabbing a picture of the top of the pagoda at Arakurayama Sengen Shrine with Mount Fuji as the background is a tick off the bucket list for many people. It’s absolutely stunning during almost all seasons of the year, but especially during spring, when cherry blossoms will surely frame your picture. It’s also free to climb (winning!), but there are 398 steps so be prepared for some burning thighs.
Shibazakura Festival – One of the best flower festivals across Japan is the Shibazakura Festival. During this season, the entire flower fields near Mount Fuji come alive with vibrant shades of pink and purple as Shibazakura flowers bloom wondrously for weeks. This festival’s defining feature has got to be Mount Fuji in the background, but this definitely doesn’t take away from the beauty of the flowers themselves. In fact, most people who visit this place will agree that they mountain and the flowers work together in harmony to create the most unique picture perfect opportunity.
Japan Countryside #5 – Kotohira (Kagawa)
In the northernmost region of Shikoku, one of the islands that make up Japan, is the town of Kotohira, which resides in the Kagawa prefecture (not far from Takamatsu). Its most famous feature would be housing Shikoku’s largest shrine complex, the Kotohira Shrine. It also houses the oldest Kabuki theatre in Japan, so if you’re a history buff, you’ll love it here.
Japan Countryside – How To Get to Kotohira?
From Okayama, there is a JR Nanpu limited express train that goes directly to Kotohita. The trip takes one hour, and costs roughly 3,000 yen per person, one way. This is fully covered by the JR Pass. If you’re looking for a more budget friendly option, the local trains also run to Kotohira, albeit indirectly, so you will need to change once or twice. The trip will be under two hours, and cost roughly 1,330 per person, one way.
For details on how to get to Okayama, refer to Kurashiki (#2) above.
Japan Countryside – Where To Stay in Kotohira?
→ Guesthouse – The Marugame Guesthouse Fukufuku
This budget guesthouse has it all: affordable pricing, great convenient location, comfortable beds, and clean bathrooms. The hosts also speak great English so there’ll be nothing lost in translation here! It’s located just a few minutes away from Marugame Station, and is only 900m away from Marugame Castle, a great tourist site with gorgeous views at the top. There’s a bar onsite to unwind after a long day, and if you’re after breakfast, it can be easily arranged at an additional fee.
Book It Now: The Marugame Guesthouse Fukufuku
→ Ryokan – Kotohira Kadan
Nestled amongst the hills in a peaceful area of Kotohira, this stunning traditional Japanese inn leaves nothing to be desired with its spacious and gorgeously decorated bedrooms, large windows which let in a lot of natural light, and multiple open-air baths that will transport you back in time with their historic vibes. You’ll feel at ease as you wake up to the fresh mountain air and gaze out at the trees surrounding the ryokan. There’s also a Thai massage service on-site if you’re looking for an extra stretch of R&R.
Book It Now: Kotohira Kadan
Japan Countryside – Top Activities
Kanamaruza Kabuki Theater – This theatre is the oldest, undamaged kabuki theatre in the entirety of Japan. During most of the year, the theatre is completely open to visitors who can go in and explore the audience hall, the stage, and the dressing rooms. Sometimes, there are still kabuki performances held here, so if you’re traveling during one of these times, you could be witnessing one of Japan’s earliest forms of entertainment.
Kompirasan – Also known as Kotohira Shrine, this is the main shrine of a collection of Kompira Shrines that are sprinkled across Japan, built as a dedication to the the sailors and those who are often at sea. It’s located on Mount Zozu, and takes a whooping 1,368 steps to get to. Despite this, don’t be surprised if you see families, the old and the young, and locals and tourist alike, hiking along side you to the top. Along the way, there are souvenir shops and restaurants if you want a quick break, but make sure you power through to the top, because the expansive views are top-notch.
Access: From JR Kotohira, the start of the ascend is a 10-15-minute walk away.
Japan Countryside #6 – Gujo-Hachiman (Gifu)
Gujo Hachiman is a small town within the Gifu Prefecture that is best known for its waterways which run through the village. It’s located right next to the river, and is a popular destination for local travelers in summer due to its slightly cooler air. It’s a fascinating little village, as you will be able to visually see the waterways flow through as you amble along the quiet streets and main areas. Canals and fountains are often still used for washing food and doing laundry. One of their most famous services is the production of food replicas (the fake food models you see in front of Japanese restaurants) – it’s even been named the ‘centre of food replica production’ in Japan.
Japan Countryside – How To Get to Gujo-Hachiman
To get to Gujo-Hachiman, you will need to first head to Nagoya. Catch the JR Tokaido Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Nagoya Station. It will take just under two hours, and will cost roughly 11,000 per person, one way. It is fully covered by the JR Pass if you hop on the Hikari train (as opposed to the Nozomi train).
From Nagoya Station, head to the Meitetsu Bus Centre nearby to catch a Gifu Bus towards Shirakawago, which will stop at Jokamachi Plaza bus stop, one of the most popular and centrally located bus stops in Gujo. This bus trip should take around 80-minutes and cost roughly 2,210 yen per person, one way.
Japan Countryside – Where To Stay in Gujo-Hachiman
→ Guesthouse – Jogakebo
A small, authentic Japanese inn located 1.3km away from Gujo-Hachiman Station, this accommodation is a no frills, simple and clean, truly Japanese-esque choice for those who are after just the basics of a comfortable home to stay in. The entire place is inherently Japanese, with tatami mats, lowered furniture, shoji sliding doors, and wooden structuring. The futon bedding fluffy and comfortable, and the shared kitchen is just large enough for comfort and small enough for cosiness.
Book It Now: Jogakebo
→ Ryokan – Hotel Gujo Hachiman
A massive public bath overlooking the forest, a perfect fusion of modern and traditional décor, delicious kaiseki cuisine made with fresh local seasonal ingredients – need we say more? This hotel blends the key aspects of traditional Japanese inns with modern creature comforts that will make your stay super enjoyable and memorable. There’s a free shuttle that will transport you from Gujo Hachiman train station (it’s only 5-minutes away), whilst Gujo Hachiman Castle is only 15-minutes away by car, and the Gujo Hachiman Former Government House Memorial Museum is only a 10-minute drive away. The breakfast here is said to be exceptional!
Book It Now: Hotel Gujo Hachiman
Japan Countryside – Top 3 Activities in Gujo-Hachiman
Food Models – Haven’t you always been a bit curious as to how the food models in front of most Japanese restaurants are made? How each cabbage leaf looks so perfect, and how they created such a real looking piece of fried chicken that you just want to take a bite? Well, in Gujo-Hachiman, you can actually go behind the scenes to where the crafters work their hands in creating these super realistic food models. For those who want an even more hands-on experience, you can take simple workshops at certain stores, for example, the Sample Kobo store.
Address (Sample Kobo): 〒501-4227 Gifu Prefecture, Gujo, 八幡町橋本町956番地
Otaki Cave – This limestone cave is located just a few kilometres outside of the town centre, and is a popular activity for tourists in the area. You will need to take a small cable car up to the cave entrance, after which you can walk the limestone cave route at your own pace. There is a waterfall inside that stretches up to 30m!
Access: You will need to catch a taxi to the cable car area, or drive. It’s a 20-minute ride.
Hours: 8:30am – 5:30pm
Hachiman Castle – This castle is a stunning yet simple white structure situated in the northeastern corner of the town. It was built in 1559, and whilst it has been destroyed before, it was rebuilt in 1933. At the top of the castle, it provides expansive views of the town and the valley. Good thing it’s situated on a hill! If you visit Japan during autumn, you will be blessed with the presence of koyo (autumn leaves) which blanket the ground and the surrounding mountains, creating a beautiful sight.
Hours: 9:00am – 5:00pm
Cost: 310 yen
Japan Countryside #7 – Minoh (Osaka)
Minoh (also known as Minoo) serves as one of the best and easiest day trips you can do from Osaka. Its close location means you don’t have to get up during sunrise (although if you’re conscious about crowds and am an early starter, by all means go for it!), and you won’t have to worry about infrequent transport, as its on a main line. If you’re keen to go all in and stay in this wonderfully peaceful town, there are also plenty of options. Here, there are national parks to explore, mountains to hike and waterfalls to trek to. This area is especially gorgeous in autumn, when the autumn ‘koyo’ (leaves) cover the forests and the floors.
Japan Countryside – How To Get to Minoh?
From Hankyu Umeda Station, hop on the Hankyu Takarazuka Line towards Ishibashi Station (15-minutes). Alight there and transfer to the Hankyu Minoo Line and hop off at Minoo Station. The entire trip will take just under 30-minutes, and cost 270 yen per person, one way. It is not covered by the JR Pass. There are regular trains running between there and Osaka City.
Japan Countryside – Where To Stay in Minoh?
→ Guesthouse – Guesthouse Sai
This clean, hip guesthouse is a great, cheap way to make the most of your trip to Osaka without breaking the bank. It’s close enough to Minoo that you can do it easily as a half day trip, and still enjoy the surrounds of the city. Every room has been fitted with minimal furniture so that you have maximum space, however, it still has everything you need: a comfortable bed, air-conditioning, and a desk.
Book It Now: Guesthouse Sai
→ Ryokan – Minoo Sanso Kazenomori
Located right in Minoo, this ryokan is just outside of the city enough for you to feel like you’re in the countryside, but if you’re ever itching for those famous street side takoyaki balls, they’re just a short train ride away. Otherwise, ease your mind and relax your body at this stunning ryokan located high up in the mountains. The peace surrounding it is indescribable, as is the view of the open-air baths. All rooms come with a TV, air-conditioning, and shared bathroom, and a buffet breakfast is served everyday onsite.
Book It Now: Minoo Sanso Kazenomori
Japan Countryside – Top 3 Activities in Minoh
Mino Waterfall – Minoo Park, also known as Mino Koen, is one of the best places to view the autumn foliage in Osaka, and Mino Waterfall is the prime place to get the best picture – cascading blue water with vibrant oranges and reds surrounding it, simply stunning. Minoo Park is a beautiful forest just on the outskirts of Osaka, and within walking distance from Mino Station. The track to get to the waterfall is easy enough so that the young and the old should be able to get to the end without any issues (half of it is across flat paths!). The fall itself is quite stunning, and there are benches for you to sit on to take it in, as well as mini food and drink stands and vending machines nearby.
Access: From Hanyu Mino Station, you simply need to exit and walk towards the left. There will be signs pointing you towards Mino Park. You’ll pass some shops and vendors along the way. You will reach a map that will then let you know where to start.
Fried Maple Leaf – One of the local specialities of Minoo Park is the delicious snack of maple leaves. Yep, you heard us right! The fragile leaves that crunch as you trudge up the mountains are in fact the key ingredient in this concoction. You’ll see many shops with packages of these fried leaves as you head from the station towards the trail, so stop by and grab a pack to try! They also make great souvenirs.
Momiji Hot Spring Footbath (Ashi-yu) – This is a great way to end your exploration of Mino Falls. Simply pay the small entrance fee of 150 yen, and soak your feet in hot mineral water goodness. You’ll also get a small towel to wipe your feet afterwards.
Access: One you exit the station, the footbath is just located literally outside near the taxi stand.
Hours: 10:00am – 4:00pm
Japan Countryside #8 – Yamaguchi (Yamaguchi)
Hidden all the way on the western side of Japan, just above Kyushu, lies Yamaguchi, a quaint little town that is a great getaway for those who adore beautiful autumn foliage, stunning historic temples, and authentic traditional Japanese festivals. Yamaguchi hosts a lively Gion Festival during July of every year, and a gorgeous Tanabata Lantern Festival every August, and although Kyoto may hold the title of the grandest Gion Festival in Japan, and Tohoku may cover the news with their Tanabata celebrations, there is a genuine vibe in Yamaguchi that may be a little lost in the cities filled with tourists.
Japan Countryside – How To Get to Yamaguchi?
From Shin-Osaka Station, hop onto the JR Sanyo Shinkansen line straight to Shin-Yamaguchi (the closest JR station to downtown Yamaguchi – it’s also directly connected to Yamagushi Station, which is a 20-minute ride away, costing 240 yen per person). The trip from Shin-Osaka will take roughly 2 hours, and will cost around 12,000 yen per person, one way. It is fully covered by the JR Pass if you use the Sakura train.
To get to Shin-Osaka from Tokyo, take the JR Tokaido Shinkansen. Use the Hikari train if you’re holding a JR Pass, as it’s included. It will take around 3 hours. Otherwise, take the Nozomi train, which will take roughly 155-minutes and cost 13,620 yen per person, one way.
Japan Countryside – Where To Stay in Yamaguchi?
→ Guesthouse – Yamaguchi Koukasha
In the rural area of Yamaguchi is this humble guesthouse that serves up a mean breakfast. Rated as one of the most comfortable guesthouses that many guests have stayed in, for the price you pay, you won’t be disappointed with this exceptional package. Being in the countryside, you’ll appreciate the mountain views that you wake up to every morning, and you can go for a walk in the garden to really take in the beauty of nature in Japan. The hosts will make you feel right at home, and you can easily make your way around the area with the bus stop being only a 5-minute walk away
Book It Now: Yamaguchi Koukasha
→ Ryokan – Matsudaya Hotel
Peace, serenity, tranquillity – some of the words most people would use to describe this ryokan. Situated amongst the luscious vegetation and trees, you’ll feel like you’re in another world when you check in here. The rooms are all a comfortable size, and some even feature western style bedding. All guest rooms come with a stunning view, whether it be of the gorgeous garden surrounding the ryokan, or sweeping views of the area around it.
Book It Now: Matsudaya Hotel
Japan Countryside – Top 3 Activities in Yamaguchi
Motonosumi Inari Shrine – This picturesque shrine located right next to the ocean has been featured on many media sites such as CNN for its beauty and uniqueness. There are 123 red tori gates built from the top of a small hill down to the bottom, where rock formations await. It is beautiful in person, as the bright red contrasts with the blue ocean and sky in the most exquisite manner.
Tsunoshima Bridge – Tsunoshima is connected to the mainland via the Tsunoshima Bridge, a long gorgeous bridge that stretches over 1780m over the ocean. The drive over is totally scenic, especially during sunset. The beaches on Tsunoshima beach are white sand, azure blue waters as well, so you may as well spend an entire day basking in the beauty of this place.
Address of Tsunoshima Island: Hohokucho Oaza Tsunoshima, Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture 759-5332
Eat Fugu – Also known as puffer fish, it is one of the most unique delicacies of Japan, Fugu has made a name for itself as one of the dishes that could apparently poison you if not prepared properly. Chefs train for years to ensure they perfect the preparation process, so know you’re in good hands. Fugu is well-known and enjoyed across Yamaguchi, so if you have the chance, give it a try!
Japan Countryside #9 – Ichinoseki (Iwate)
Ichinoseki lies with the the the prefecture of Iwate, which forms part of the Tohoku region covering the northern region of Honshu. The Ichinoseki region is known for its large volume of granite rocks that both run on top and below the ground, which form stunning gorges that are visited by many tourists and locals alike. It’s inland, so it also offers hiking as a major activity, but to get around this area, it would be best to hire a car. Its neighbor Morioka known for a variety of delicious and unique ramen styles.
Japan Countryside – How To Get to Ichinoseki?
From Tokyo, hop onto the JR Tohoku Shinkansen towards Ichinoseki Station. It will take roughly 2.5 hours, and will cost around 12,500 yen per person, one way. This trip is fully covered by the JR Pass.
Japan Countryside – Where To Stay in Ichinoseki?
→ Hotel – Hotel Sunroute Ichinoseki
This is a classic hotel at its best. Conveniently located just 1-minute away from JR Ichinoseki, featuring an on-site restaurant, free Wi-Fi throughout, air-conditioning in all rooms, flat-screen TVs, private bathrooms, Yukata robes for all guests, luggage service, and private parking – this hotel has it all and leaves nothing to be desired. It’s close to attractions such as the Genbikei Valley, Yugen Cave, and Michinoku Hydrangea Garden.
Book It Now: Hotel Sunroute Ichinoseki
→ Ryokan – Kajiyabekkan Ramakko Yamaneko Yado
The best feature of this ryokan is the beautifully served, authentically prepared kaiseki dinner, which you need to select as an option when booking the room. It’s been described as “one of the best meals” certain guests have had across Japan! This ryokan is a quaint, family-run business, and you’ll feel right as home as the family welcome you wholeheartedly into the accommodation. It’s location, being far away enough so that the seclusion is most welcomed, yet close enough to stations like JR Geibikei that you can walk 7-minutes to, makes it a great option for travellers wanting a different experience in Iwate.
Book It Now: Kajiyabekkan Ramakko Yamaneko Yado
Japan Countryside – Top 3 Activities in Ichinoseki
Genbikei Gorge – This gorge perfectly highlights the rock formations that are famous throughout Ichinoseki. There is a trail that you can take that will take you along the gorge, but the highlight of this place is the ‘flying dango’ (sweet rice dumplings) that you get there. Basically there is a store high up on the gorge, where the only thing connects you at the bottom to them at the top is a string with a basket. You place money into the basket, knock on the gong, and the chef will pull up the basket. If you’ve put in the exact amount; he’ll get to work straight away. Otherwise, he’ll hold up his finger to ask whether you want one or two portions. Totally fun!
Cost: 400 yen/box of 3 types of dango
Ichinoseki Hot Spring Area – The Ichinoseki onsen area is a dream come true for people who are after a completely luxury relaxation experience in a unique location in Japan. There are six onsen in total (Sukawa, Matsurube, Sannohsan, Genbikei – Itsukushien, Genbikei – Keisenkaku, and Horyu), each with their own unique charms. Your choice on which onsen you should visit depends on what type of scenery you like, and what type of onsen you prefer. Have a look at the website below to learn more about each one.
Michinoku Hydrangea Festival – if you’re a fan of this adorably fluffy florals, then this festival in Ichinoseki is a must for you. Held for (roughly) one month between the end of June to the end of July, this festival showcases massive fields of hydrangeas for the best photo opportunities.
Japan Countryside #10 – Yoshino (Nara)
Yoshino in Nara is one of the most famous spots in the entirety of Japan for cherry blossom viewing. It’s home to the stunning Mount Yoshino, which features over 30,000 cherry blossom trees at its peak, make it the most picturesque place to enjoy the blooms. Yoshino is also home to a pilgrimage trail that is popular with many locals. If you’re a history buff and can appreciate the beautiful complexities of Japanese shrines, a visit to Yoshino should be in the books. The temples and shrines here all exude unique features and characteristics, and you’ll head home with a better understanding of the Japanese culture.
Japan Countryside – How To Get to Yoshino?
From Osaka, you can travel to Yoshino via Osaka Abenoshi Station, or Tennoji Station
From Abenoshi, take a direct express train to Yoshino. IT will take 90-minutes, and will cost 970 yen per person, one way. There is also a direct limited express train, and this only takes 75-minutes but costs 1,480 yen per person, one way. This is usually booked out during popular seasons such as cherry blossoms season.
From Tennoji Station, hop on the train towards Yoshino-guchi Station. It will take roughly 1 hour, cost 840 yen per person, one way, but will require you to transfer at Oji Station. From Yoshino-Guchi, take the Kintetsu Yoshino Line to Yoshino Station. This will take 30-minutes, and costs 380 yen.
Japan Countryside – Where To Stay in Yoshino?
→ Guesthouse – Machiya Guest House Mimoro
Dark wooden tones and clean white walls give this guesthouse a faithfully Japanese look and feel throughout. Although this place is located in Sakurai, it’s a neighbouring town to Yoshino, and you’ll be able to use public transport to get there quite easily. All rooms feature free Wi-Fi here, with shared bathrooms. There’s also a comfortable shared lounge room that all guests will have access to. It’s only 3-minutes away from JR Miwa train station.
Book It Now: Machiya Guest House Mimoro
→ Ryokan – Chikurinin Gunpoen
Located within the traditional garden area of Chikurin-In temple and the historical Mount Yoshino area, this stunning ryokan is a quite a treat for those seeking a quite getaway amongst nature. The beautifully styled Japanese rooms offer exquisite mountain views, and you can get into the zone by slipping into one of the indoor or outdoor hot tubs. You won’t even want to leave the ryokan as you can put on the the beautiful Japanese Yukata robes provided by the ryokan and walk amongst the garden; you’ll feel like someone out of a historical Japanese drama. Don’t worry about being completely cut off from the world though, there’s free Wi-Fi throughout, and you can even play a game of table tennis in the living room as well!
Book It Now: Chikurinin Gunpoen
Japan Countryside – Top 3 Activities in Yoshino
Mount Yoshinoyama – Most people visit parks and riverside for cherry blossom viewing, but you’ve never truly experienced it until you’ve been to Mount Yoshinoyama during spring. The flowers completely cover the top region during the peak of the season, and when you glance down, you’ll see sprinkles of it everywhere. It’s a beautiful sight to behold, one of the best in the entire Kansai region.
Yoshimizu Shrine – Originally serving as the living quarters for people who practiced Shugendo mountain worship, it was converted to a shrine during the Meiji Period, and now exists as an exhibition, housing various significant artifacts from history, including historic documents, arms, paintings, and art pieces. It’s also a popular cherry blossom viewing place as well.
Hanayagura Observatory – Yoshino is all about the views, and Hanayagura Observatory is no exception. At the top, it offers outstanding views of the entire Yoshinoyama town. To get there, you’ll need to hike up a small yet steep slop from the main town. It’s especially popular during the cherry blossom season and the autumn koyo season, so be prepared for a bit of a crowd. There’s also a small café opened to service the crowds during these seasons.
Hours: 24 hours
It is absolutely insane just how much beauty and culture exists amongst the island of Japan. You can keep traveling to and from this wondrous country throughout your life and still, every single time you visit a new area, you learn a little something new, see a sight you’ve never seen before, and you might even experience something you never even knew existed. That’s exactly what Japan’s countryside does to you. We implore you to build some of these quieter, lesser-known towns into your itinerary because then, and only then, will you have a true appreciation for Japan as a whole.