While most travellers flock to Tokyo or Kyoto, there’s a special atmosphere when you travel rural Japan. Those who dare to venture into the countryside will find stunning natural beauty, rich cultural traditions, and warm hospitality from the locals. Plus, it’s easy to get around by train in Japan.
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Why visit Rural Japan?
In this article, we take a closer look at some of the best places to visit in rural Japan, including the majestic mountains of Shirakawago, quaint well-preserved towns, and even an adorable enclave where monkeys are stars in their own right.
The best way to visit these places is with a Japan rail pass, which offers hundreds of destinations across the country, all on one unlimited pass. You can get it sent to your home or to your hotel in Japan. Make sure to validate it at a designated JR Station in Japan to be able to use it.
There’s something for everyone to see on a holiday in rural Japan. So let’s see what’s awaiting you.
Shirakawago Village is a remarkable destination that offers a glimpse into the life of Japan’s mountain villages. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is known for its unique architecture and beauty, and features traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses with steep thatched roofs that resemble a triangle.
These houses are specially designed to withstand heavy snowfall in winter, and look as if they were taken out of a Swiss town.
Visitors can tour the farmhouses still inhabited by locals and learn about traditional farming methods, culture, and local food. The village is also surrounded by mountains and forests, offering breathtaking views all year round.
Some farmhouses have been transformed into museums or guesthouses, providing an excellent opportunity for tourists to get a closer look at local life.
It’s easy to go on a daytrip from Nagoya to see the historic village, especially if you have an active Railpass.
Jigokudani Monkey Park
Jigokudani Monkey Park is home to a large group of more than 160 Japanese macaque monkeys that are famous for basking in natural hot springs. These monkeys are the main attraction of the Jigokudani Monkey Park, and visitors can spend hours watching the monkeys relax in the hot waters and interact with each other.
The best time to visit is during the winter, when the town comes alive with dozens of snow monkeys.
Travelers who want to experience the hot springs of the area can also stay at the nearby Korakukan Jigokudani guesthouse, which has its own onsen. If you’re really lucky, you might see a furry visitor or two outside of your window!
Mount Fuji is perhaps Japan’s most recognizable natural attraction, and one of the main symbols of the country. This 3,776-meter-high mountain is the highest in Japan and is considered a sacred place in Shintoism, and climbing to the top is considered to be an honorary pilgrimage for those who practice the religion.
Of course, regular tourists can also climb Mt. Fuji. The official climbing season lasts from July to September, during which time all four hiking trails are open to climbers from all over the world.
Climbing to the summit usually takes about 6 to 10 hours, with many climbers starting in the evening to reach the summit by sunrise. Despite the ascent being challenging, the views that open up along the way and at the top are definitely worth the effort.
For travellers who prefer to enjoy the beauty of Mount Fuji from afar, it’s worth visiting picturesque Lake Kawaguchiko, especially during the Shibazakura Festival.
Thanks to its location near the foot of the mountain, Kawaguchiko is easily accessible and offers plenty of things to do and see. And it makes for a great base to go on train trips around Japan’s countryside some more.
From the shores of the lake, visitors can enjoy an unforgettable view of Mount Fuji, surrounded by forests and traditional buildings at the Healing Village. Visitors can also take a lake cruise to admire the scenery from the water or hike to the many caves in the forests surrounding the famous mountain.
Tsumago is a quaint postal town that was once a popular stop for those traveling between Tokyo and Kyoto during the Edo period. The well-preserved town offers a glimpse into the past with its traditional architecture and cozy atmosphere, especially since no cars are allowed during the day.
The town is dotted with ryokans (inns) that once provided lodging to weary travelers, and visitors can relive this historic era by taking a stroll through the main street and exploring the teahouses and shops.
Tsumago is also known for its natural beauty, with hiking trails that offer stunning views of the surrounding mountains, dense forests, and sparkling streams. The most popular trail spans 8.5 kilometers and connects Tsumago to the neighboring town of Magome, attracting hikers and nature enthusiasts from all over.
Yakushima Island, an otherworldly slice of nature, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is renowned for its ancient cedar forests. These forests, which date back to over a thousand years, have been protected thanks to the island’s remoteness from civilization.
Visitors can explore the island’s rugged landscape and diverse flora and fauna by hiking along more than a dozen specially designed trails. The island’s highlights include rocky mountain peaks and tranquil coastal forests, all of which can be experienced up close.
To reach Yakushima Island, visitors can take a ferry from Kagoshima, which is only 60 kilometers away.