Small Towns & Villages in Japan That Are Worth Visitng

10 Small Towns & Villages in Japan Worth Visiting

Explore the Japanese countryside in these off-the-beaten-path destinations.

For most travellers (especially first-timers) visiting the Land of the Rising Sun, the focus is often on exciting cities like Tokyo and Osaka. While there’s no denying that these are iconic destinations, the idyllic towns and villages in Japan are also worth exploring. More than just a change of scenery and pace, these also allow you to experience a different side of Japan — usually with fewer crowds!

Even in peak seasons, these hidden gems can certainly make you feel like you have the place all to yourself. Some are easily accessible, while others take a bit more effort to get to; some you can visit on a day trip from a major city, while others are best staying at longer. Here, we’ve gathered up the best villages and small towns in Japan that prove that under-the-radar spots are anything but boring.

Note: This list of places in rural Japan only scratches the surface. At the end of the day, you’ll likely find yourself discovering more unique destinations to add to your future itinerary. But hey, that’s a rather good problem to have, isn’t it?

Also read: 12 Traditional Airbnbs in Japan for a Unique Travel Experience

Most beautiful villages in Japan

1. Shirakawa-go, Gifu Prefecture

villages in Japan – Shirakawa-go winter snowy night

Image credit: ManChingKC via Canva Pro

Let’s begin with Shirakawa-go — considered the most beautiful among all the villages in Japan! Dotting its fields are 60 whimsical traditional houses built in an architectural style called gassho-zukuri. This translates to “hands clasped in prayer,” in reference to the steep roofs made of dried grass. Some of these centuries-old huts have now been repurposed into museums, cafes, and guest houses for tourists, while the rest serve as private property!

Shirakawa-go is also quite the splendid winter wonderland. Should you be visiting in January and February, don’t miss the special nighttime illumination sessions. Watch these gassho-zukuri houses come alive with fairy lights against a backdrop of silver snow. 

Also read: Snow In Japan Is Absolutely Magical: Here Are the Destinations to Prove It!

2. Toyone-mura, Aichi Prefecture

villages in Japan – Toyone fall foliage

Image credit: Alpsdake

Located at the foot of the Southern Alps, Toyone-mura is one of Japan’s snow villages worth visiting. It’s also home to Chausuyama Plateau, aka the only ski area in Aichi. Aside from skiing, it’s also perfect for other adrenaline-filled adventures like sledding, snowboarding, and mountain biking! (The latter is for warmer months, of course.)

Speaking of other seasons, this hidden gem in rural Japan also has the earliest autumn foliage in the prefecture. Come late spring, there’s the annual Shibazakura Festival, where you’ll see fields carpeted in these vibrant pink flowers. 

Also read: Exploring the Asian Alps: 7 Countries to Visit For An Awesome Alpine Vacation

3. Yamakoshi-mura, Niigata Prefecture

villages in Japan – Yamakoshi rice paddies

Image credit: ziggy_mars via Canva Pro

Yamakoshi-mura is another idyllic place for a glimpse of the Japanese countryside. It boasts breathtaking views of rice paddy fields, pine forests, and koi ponds so exquisite that they belong in a painting. It’s almost hard to believe that this village was struck by a massive earthquake in 2004, which you can learn more about at the Orataru Cultural Centre

Enjoy interacting with adorable animals? We recommend visiting Yamakoshi Yubu Alpaca Farm. The original alpacas were from an American donor, who gave these as a gift for the locals to lift their spirits after that said earthquake. Admission to the farm is free, though you might wanna leave a donation to support these fluffy critters.

4. Nakijin-son, Okinawa Prefecture

It’s not every day you come across a non-touristy destination that has all three: ancient castles, untouched subtropical shores, and forests that go as far as the eye can see. Yet Nakijin-son on Okinawa Island offers just these — making it one of the most stunning coastal villages in Japan. We recommend coming here during summertime, so you can fully bask in its white-sand beaches like Uppama Beach and Nagahama Beach. Here, you can enjoy various activities like snorkelling, kayaking, and even yoga on a stand-up paddleboard! 

Another must-visit attraction is the Nakijin Castle Ruins: the site of a 14-century Ryukyuan fortress, with a 1.5-kilometre-long wall built with Palaeozoic limestone. It is surrounded by lush forests, and when you walk along the walls, you can catch a gorgeous panorama of the sea. 

Also read: 15 Best Beaches in Japan You Should Definitely Visit

Traditional small towns in Japan that you should explore

5. Biei, Hokkaido Prefecture

small towns in Japan – Biei spring flower field

Image credit: Ken Shono

It’s easy to see why Biei is among the more popular towns in rural Japan. Featuring a lush hilly landscape and a vast patchwork of seasonal blooms, it’s the quintessential floral scenery that Hokkaido is known for. For a complete Japanese countryside experience, you might wanna rent a bicycle to explore the area! 

Make sure to visit the town’s crowning glory: Shikisai No Oka, whose name translates to “Four Seasons Hill.” From April to October, you can enjoy the sight of various blossoms like tulips, lavender, sunflowers, Japanese anemones, and more! Other must-visit natural attractions include Patchwork Road, Panorama Road, and the nearby Blue Pond

Also read: 12 Flower Fields and Parks in Japan to Spot Springtime Flowers

6. Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture

small towns in Japan – Kurashiki

Image credit: Sean3810 via Canva Pro

While not exactly a small town, the city of Kurashiki has a historic area that dates back to the Edo period. This is called the Bikan Historical Quarter, where canals cut between the streets brimming with weeping willows and white-walled kominka (traditional houses). Fun fact: Kurashiki roughly translates to “town of storehouses,” in reference to these kominka that were formerly rice storehouses.

Nowadays, these picturesque structures serve as cafes, boutiques, souvenir shops, and museums. Kurashiki is also one of those old towns in Japan that feel calm and relaxing, even during the busy holiday season. Taking a boat ride to explore the place is certainly a must-do! 

7. Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture

Image credit: Kunal Sahu

Few things feel more invigorating than enjoying mountain views while on vacation. When it comes to the best small towns in Japan, surely a view of Mount Fuji ought to be part of your bucket list. For this, we recommend Hakone, situated inside Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park and just about a two-hour drive from Tokyo. 

This misty mountain town sits at the base of Mount Hakone, a volcano whose eruption from centuries ago formed the now-famous Lake Ashinoko. Apart from this, Hakone is known for its onsen (hot springs), temples, castles, and open-air museums. You can also go on sightseeing tours aboard a gondola lift, train, and pirate ship — how cool is that?  

Also read: 10 Scenic Stays Near Mount Fuji for the Best Views

8. Ginzan Onsen, Yamagata Prefecture

Image credit: Sean Pavone via Canva Pro

Speaking of secluded hot spring towns in Japan, another excellent pick would be Ginzan Onsen. Its name translates to “silver mountain hot spring,” as it used to be the site of a silver mine. Filled with ryokan (traditional inns) and other Taisho-period structures, it offers a serene atmosphere where time seems to slow down.

It’s especially popular during wintertime, where both locals and foreigners flock to witness the dazzling snowscape amid a quaint light-filled village. It’s quite the quintessential scenery reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli film. If this sounds like your cup of tea, you might wanna book at least six months in advance. Ginzan Onsen is rather small with a limited number of ryokan

Also read: 12 Hot Spring Towns in Japan to Relax & Unwind on Vacation

9. Shodoshima, Kagawa Prefecture

shodoshima japan

Image credit: Sanga Park via Canva Pro

Did you know that there’s an island town in Japan with a Mediterranean climate? On Shodoshima (or Shodo Island), one can expect pristine golden beaches, bountiful olive groves, fishing villages, and even white windmills. It’s popular among locals as the filming location of the  1954 Japanese classic, Twenty-Four Eyes

It’s nicknamed the Island of Small Beans, which originally pertains to adzuki beans. Although today, it more fittingly refers to Shodoshima’s top exports: olive and traditionally made soy sauce. Another must-try culinary staple would be  Shodoshima soumen: a special type of soup dish where the thread-like wheat noodles are meticulously hand-stretched and sun-dried to give it a glutinous texture. 

Arguably the most stunning sight on Shodoshima is Angel Road: a 500-metre-long sandbar connecting the island to three small isles. Legend has it that walking along the sandbar with your special someone will bring good luck to your relationship! Although, keep in mind that — similar to other sandbars — this is only accessible during low tide.

10. Nagiso, Nagano Prefecture

small towns in Japan - Nagiso

Image credit: 663highland

It’s easy to see why Nagiso is hailed as one of the most beautiful small towns in Japan. Nestled within Kiso Valley, it boasts historic streets that feel like open-air museums. You see, this area was home to several “post towns” that were part of the Nakasendo during the Edo period. A quick history lesson: The Nakasendo was a 500-kilometre major inland route that connected Edo (aka present-day Tokyo) and Kyoto. Due to strict regulations back then, people often had to travel on foot. This resulted in the development of post towns, where travellers could stop by to eat, rest, and even get overnight accommodation. 

When in Nagiso, make sure to visit Tsumago-juku. This post town looks magnificently frozen in time; with its pedestrian-only streets, traditional dark-wood buildings preserved or restored to their original condition, and street lights remaining in their centuries-old form. Additionally, telephone lines and power cables here are concealed, so as to avoid spoiling the scenery. It’ll certainly make you feel like you stepped into a samurai-era anime! 

Also read: 11 Underrated Destinations in Japan That Are Worth Discovering

So, which of these small towns and villages in Japan would you love to visit first? It’s never too early to get started on planning your trip, after all! And while you’re at it, you might wanna read up on these essential phrases and local practices that’ll come in handy when venturing into the Japanese countryside.

Featured image credit: thanyarat07 via Canva Pro

About Author

Marcy Miniano
Marcy Miniano

A fast-talking caffeine-dependent wordsmith, Marcy has never been one to shy away from sharing a good story or two. If she’s not in a quiet coffee shop somewhere, she enjoys spending afternoons in a museum or art gallery — whether it’s around Metro Manila or a foreign city she’s visiting. She wishes to retire in a winter village someday, so she can fulfil her lifelong dream of wearing turtlenecks all year round and owning a pet penguin.