I have said it often: there is more to Japan than big cities and the Golden Route. When planning a first visit to Japan, chances are that most tourists will not consider adding the smaller towns or villages to their itinerary. If your idea of Japan is walking into the cute fashion shops, eating Instagrammable food or enjoying the nightlife, then the countryside may not be for you.
However, if you prefer getting off the beaten track to discover a different side of Japan, I urge you to explore the Japanese countryside (inaka).
Here are ten reasons why you should visit the Japanese countryside.
Enjoy a tranquil break
More and more people are travelling to Japan nowadays, and the majority of the people are going to the same places. In most bucket lists, you will find the cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima or Osaka. To be fair, most information available centres around those cities so all the attractions will be crowded.
Travelling to a smaller town however you won’t cross that many tourists. So it’s quiet, no cars driving by, no crowds of people on the streets.
Gaze into picturesque landscapes
The countryside in Japan is beautiful. And more varied than you might think. The archipelago spreads over kilometres upon kilometres (3,000 km to be exact) from the northern region of Hokkaido to southern Okinawa. This stretch allows people to experience dense and green forests inhabited by monkeys, bears or other wildlife, mountains and volcanoes, breathtaking coastlines, tropical beaches… There’s something for everyone.
Avoid the overcrowded Mount Fuji and Takaosan for the Japanese Alps or Mount Kita in Yamanashi Prefecture for excellent hiking opportunities and scenic viewpoints. The long coastline offers diverse and impressive views. The small island of Shikoku has some of the best coastlines I have ever seen.
Become closer to nature
From Tokyo, it’s true that you can reach the sea or mountains in less than 2 hours. Chances are that when visiting them, you will be with hundreds of other people.
Staying in a town by the mountains, on the coast or surrounded by the forest means that you won’t have to commute far as you will be near.
Suppose you’re looking to reconnect with nature and see something truly unique. In that case, there are plenty of awe-inspiring sights you’ll be able to put straight on your bucket list. Although some are hard to get to, they are worth it.
Breathe fresh and clean air
Sometimes you want to relax and destress while travelling. What better than nature to help you relax? You need to step away from the overcrowded big cities to get some of that. You then come across the countryside filled with lakes, rivers, coasts, mountains, beaches, waterfalls, marshlands – you name it.
When you get out of the big cities, you lose the air pollution that comes with it. The air will feel cleaner too, and you will be breathing it with fewer people! You will also have an unobstructed view of the sky and stars. Japan offers splendid varied landscapes.
Meet friendlier people
People from Japanese countryside seem friendlier than those from the city. This is true when it comes to Paris, where I am from. Ask anyone, they would say that Parisians are unfriendly. When I visited Tokyo for the first time, I thought the city was similar to Paris in a sense. People seem busy and constantly in a rush. The countryside, however, has a slower pace with people having more time to speak to one another.
Meeting people in the countryside is much more enjoyable. The locals are curious and happy to see unfamiliar faces. They are more open to speaking to you despite the language barrier to get to know you.
I had many good experiences in Japan, especially during my first trip. Everybody was kind and extremely helpful. I found that people were going out of their way to show me around or tell me more about the area. It’s something that I rarely noticed in Tokyo, for example.
It is worth noting that you are likely to stand out in the countryside or smaller towns, where foreigners are a rarity (whether you like it or not). It might happen that when walking down the streets, you will be pointed out or stared at. Use that moment of “fame” to get to know the locals.
Enjoy slow pace
People living in the countryside in Japan have a more straightforward attitude towards life. They don’t worry about how heavy the traffic will be like in big cities. They are just content enjoying the beautiful scenery in front of them.
Visiting the countryside also means being prepared to live a traditional way during the length of your stay. The streets are clean, tidy and life is comfortable and quiet. Depending on the size of the town or villages, you might not see the shops you are familiar with. Businesses will close earlier than in the big cities, and restaurants will mainly serve Japanese food.
Learn the interesting history of the location
What I found particularly interesting about the countryside is that towns will have hundreds of years of history and have their own culture.
A large majority of small countryside villages and towns are hundreds of years old. They have been preserving and protecting their culture and traditions from outside influence over the years.
You will find that many towns and villages specialise in trades that over time became part of their identity. For example, some towns are famous for their pottery, waxwork, ironwork, lacquerware or bamboo work.
Many of these villages hold events and festivals to drive visitors into their towns. For example, in Ehime, the city of Tobe hosts a Tobe Ware Festival twice a year. You can even make your own piece at Tobe-yaki Togeikan.
Sample tasty local produce and specialities
Japan is known for its culinary scene based on seasonal produce and locally sourced fruits and vegetables. Tokyo, Kyoto and especially Osaka have delicious food. Still, while exploring the countryside, you will stumble upon fresh and delicious local specialities that you wouldn’t be able to experience in bigger cities.
Like many countries, you will find regional specialities. Each prefecture has a distinctive taste, and even towns have their own speciality dish and favourite in-season ingredients. Fish and seafood are very present in Japanese cuisine, but you will also find chicken, beef or pork.
Plus, some of these eateries will be family-run, so they will have family recipes passed down from generations. When you go to the countryside, all the places will have their favourite product or speciality.
Everything is cheaper
Like most places in the world, everything becomes cheaper as soon as you step away from the capital and big cities. Japan is no different. Everything in the countryside is more reasonable: transport, food, accommodation.
You can eat in a family-run restaurant for half the price you would pay in Tokyo or stay in charming accommodation for less. Plus your room will be more spacious too.
Less English in the countryside but…
People don’t speak much English in the countryside in Japan. This isn’t a bad thing if you are learning or willing to learn the language. People will be more patient with you and encourage you, which is perfect. You will be able to improve your language skills by interacting with people. And if you are clueless about Japanese, then equip yourself with a digital translation app.
People will be drawn to you and try to engage with you, find out who you are, or understand your needs. I had so many great experiences communicating with the locals. I was able to discover some hidden gems. After all, one of the best travel experiences is to take home some good memories.
If your goal is to form more profound and personal relationships with Japan and experience locals welcoming warmly and with open arms, then add smaller towns and villages to your bucket list.
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