As the capital of the country known as the land of the rising sun, Tokyo boasts lots of tourist attractions — from historic temples, museums and palaces, to shrines, majestic skyscrapers, parks and shopping districts.
However, if you are looking for a different experience and want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, you can always go to rural areas that are just as breathtaking. To give you an idea of which places to visit once everything normalizes, here are five must-visit rural areas in Japan outside of Tokyo.
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Located in the far southeast corner of the Akita Prefecture, Higashinaruse is one of those mountainous places where you can experience extremely cold weather during the winter. The rural area is home to a wide range of winter resorts that offer different kinds of activities including skiing, snowboarding, and many more.
You can visit some of its beautiful waterfalls, as well as its lovely landscapes filled with flora and fauna all year round. After touring the place all day, take a dip at the natural and steaming hot river at Oyasukyo Daifunto and go on a leisurely walk that ends with another stress-relieving onsen.
Kabira Bay, Ishigaki
Due to popular media, a lot of us often forget that Japan is an archipelago composed of over 6,852 separate islands and has tons of beautiful beaches. About 1,900 kilometers south of Tokyo, you would find the tropical jewel of Ishigaki, home to the beautiful pearl-growing cove of Kabira Bay. With its clear aqua blue waters and pristine sand, Kabira Bay can be easily noted as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Aside from taking in the scenic view of the horizon from the beach, you can also ride a glass-bottom boat to view the thriving coral reefs up close and snorkel beside some of the empty and unspoiled beaches nearby.
If you’re traveling to Japan during the winter, you can hit two birds with one stone by traveling to Shibu Onsen in Yamanouchi. This hot spring town that’s survived for over 1,300 years is home not just to nine different choices of ryokans, but also to the Jigokudani Monkey Park. Aside from the amazing onsens and parks, you can also visit Mt. Yokote, which houses the highest and coldest ski lift in all of Japan.
Japan has so many beautiful places within the metro that a lot of people shy away from visiting rural places that may be too far from the city. If you are one of those tourists who want to escape the city but don’t have the luxury of time, then Shimoda would be perfect for you. Just a three-hour drive from central Tokyo and tucked right on the southern edge of the Izu Peninsula, this coastal town is peppered with stunning rocky cliffs and glittering waters.
You can also enjoy a lot of water-related attractions in town such as the Harbor Cruise that sets sail throughout the day and the Shimoda Floating Aquarium, which is surrounded by a shallow ocean cove.
If you are looking for a place where there is a harmonious balance between nature, spirituality and historical sites, then Nara would be right up your alley. Reconnect with nature by forest bathing in the Kasugayama Primeval Forest, meet the adorable deer of Nara Park and go on a stroll in the colorful garden of Isui-en. After reconnecting with nature, you can also go on a historical trip and visit the Kasuga-Taisha Shrine, which was built in 768 CE and is known for its bronze and stone lanterns.
As explained in our previous post ‘Top 10 Things To Do In Nara’ you can also find inner peace here in Nara by staying in temples that offer authentic Japanese accommodation rooms — from tatami mats and futons to sliding doors and wooden dividers, morning prayers and ceremonies, and of course local food.
Kawagoe is another beautiful city that’s just a few hours away from the bustling capital. Affectionately known as a ‘Ko-Edo’ or little Edo, Kawagoe will take you back in time and make you feel as though you are in living in Edo-period Japan through its unique ambiance and streets lined with traditional houses.
As a former castle town, Kawagoe was mostly inhabited by merchants who lived in establishments of the Kurazukuri architectural style (characterized by steep styles and fire-resistant walls) after a great fire devastated the area. If you get hungry while marveling at the beautifully crafted Kurazukuri warehouses, consider dropping by the Kashiya Yokocho alley, which is known for its low-priced sweets, and snacks that are reminiscent of the post-war Showa era.
Humbly situated at the edge of the Japan Alps, the small town of Takeyama would be the perfect destination for travelers who would like to go on a historical trip but want to shy away from suffocating crowds and busy streets. Built around the beautifully preserved Sanmachi Suji district, Takayama is home to Hida no Sato, which is a collection of traditional houses listed as a UNESCO’s thatch-roof village.
After taking in the beautiful designs of the old houses, finish off your historical trip by visiting the Yoshijima Heritage House. Built back in 1907 for a family of sake brewers and money lenders, Oriental Architecture considers this traditional house turned into a museum as the perfect place where tourists can see the superb carpentry traditions of the country. A good insight into how those in Japan used to live and work.