Japan is a country with a rich cultural heritage and natural beauty, and there are many small towns that are worth visiting.
In this article, I will take you on a journey to discover the 7 best small towns in Japan to visit.
Japan is known for its bustling cities and advanced technology, but its small towns offer a glimpse into the country’s rich culture and traditions. These hidden gems are the perfect escape from the busy city life, where you can immerse yourself in the serene beauty of nature and experience the authentic Japanese way of life.
Shirakawa Go is a small, picturesque village nestled in Japan’s Gifu Prefecture.
I’m sure many of you have seen photos of a village with cozy houses with thatched roofs, possibly covered with snow. These photos were taken in Shirakawa-go, and it’s one of the reasons why many people choose to visit the place.
If you decide to visit Shirakawa-go, you can enjoy traditional Gassho-style farmhouses, which are built using a unique thatched-roof construction style. This unique style of architecture has earned Shirakawa Go a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list, and it has become a popular tourist destination for both domestic and international travelers.
Once you arrive in Shirakawa Go, the best way to explore the village is on foot. The village is relatively small, and you can easily walk from one end to the other in around 30 minutes.
One of the must-see attractions in Shirakawa Go is the Wada House. This traditional Gassho-style house has been turned into a museum, providing a fascinating insight into the history and culture of the region.
Another popular attraction is the Shirakawa Go Observatory, which offers stunning views of the village and the surrounding mountains. The observatory is located on a hill overlooking the village, and it’s accessible via a short hike or by taking a shuttle bus.
Takayama is a small town in the Gifu Prefecture, located in the Japanese Alps. It is known for its well-preserved historic district, which features traditional Edo-period buildings and a variety of museums and art galleries.
As one of the hidden gems of Japan, Takayama is a city that is often overlooked by travelers. However, for those who take the time to explore this beautiful destination, they will find a city rich in history, culture, and natural beauty.
One of the highlights of a trip to Takayama is exploring the city’s old town. The old town is divided into two districts, Sanmachi Suji and Kami Sannomachi. Sanmachi Suji is a lively street lined with traditional Japanese buildings, shops, and restaurants. Kami Sannomachi, on the other hand, is a quieter district with fewer tourists and more local residents. Both districts offer visitors a glimpse into Japan’s past, with well-preserved buildings and traditional architecture.
Takayama is surrounded by natural beauty, making it a great destination for outdoor enthusiasts. The city is situated near the Hida Mountains, which offer visitors the opportunity to go hiking, skiing, or snowboarding. The nearby Okuhida Onsen Villages are also worth a visit, as they offer hot springs and stunning mountain views.
If you are searching for small towns in Japan near Tokyo, I got you covered! A charming seaside city of Kamakura is located just an hour south of Tokyo, in Kanagawa Prefecture. Many people decide to visit Kamakura for its beautiful beaches and temples, including the famous Great Buddha statue.
Standing at 44 feet tall, the Great Buddha of Kamakura is the second-largest bronze Buddha statue in Japan and is located in the Kotokuin Temple. The statue is drawing visitors from all over the world to see its impressive size and intricate details up close.
Kamakura was the political capital of Japan in the 12th century, under the Kamakura shogunate, a feudal military government that ruled for over 150 years. Visitors can still see many of Kamakura’s historic sites, including the Great Buddha of Kamakura, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, and Kenchoji Temple.
Other top attractions in Kamakura include Hase-dera Temple, known for its beautiful gardens and views of the coast, and Kamakura’s beaches, including Yuigahama Beach, Zaimokuza Beach, and Shichirigahama Beach.
Kanazawa is a small historical town located in the Ishikawa Prefecture of Japan, offering visitors a unique and authentic travel experience.
The town is a hidden gem that offers a mix of tradition and modernity, art and nature, and delicious local cuisine. Its rich history dates back to the 16th century when it was ruled by the Maeda clan. The city flourished during the Edo period, and many of its traditional buildings and cultural practices have been preserved.
One of the best places to experience Kanazawa’s history and culture is the Kenrokuen Garden, which is considered one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan. Another must-visit is the Kanazawa Castle, which was built in the 16th century and has been reconstructed multiple times.
In addition to Kenrokuen Garden and Kanazawa Castle, many other tourist attractions are worth visiting in Kanazawa. One of them is the Higashi Chaya District, a traditional entertainment district that features beautifully preserved teahouses and geisha performances. Another popular spot is the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, which showcases modern art and architecture.
Nikko is a small Japanese town located in the Tochigi Prefecture.
Nikko is home to several UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the Toshogu Shrine, Futarasan Shrine, and Rinnoji Temple. These awe-inspiring shrines and temples date back to the 17th century and are renowned for their intricate architecture, detailed carvings, and vibrant colors.
Visitors can explore the various buildings and structures within the shrines and temples, including the Five-Story Pagoda, Yomeimon Gate, and the Sacred Bridge.
Aside from its historical and cultural sites, Nikko is also known for its breathtaking natural beauty. The Nikko National Park covers a vast area of more than 1,200 square kilometers and is home to several notable attractions, including the Kegon Falls, Lake Chuzenji, and the Senjogahara Marshland.
If you visit Nikko, you can go on a scenic hike to witness the stunning autumn foliage or visit the park during winter for snowshoeing and skiing activities.
Miyajima is a small island town located in Hiroshima Bay, Japan, famous for its Itsukushima Shrine and torii gate. Visitors can hike up Mount Misen for stunning views of the island and its surrounding nature, try local delicacies, and participate in fun activities like the Miyajima Ropeway and traditional Japanese boat ride.
The Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the most famous shrine on the island, known for its impressive torii gate that appears to float on water during high tide. The Daisho-in Temple is another notable shrine, considered one of the most important Shingon Buddhist temples in Western Japan.
Miyajima also has several hidden gems, like the Miyajima Public Aquarium, showcasing the diverse marine life of the Seto Inland Sea, and Momijidani Park, a picturesque valley with a hiking trail leading to a waterfall. Miyajima’s fresh seafood and traditional cuisine, like the famous Miyajima Oysters, is a must-try.
For activities, visitors can take the Miyajima Ropeway to the top of Mount Misen, the highest peak on the island, for a panoramic view of the Seto Inland Sea and surrounding mountains. Another fun activity that visitors can also try is the making of Momiji Manju, a local maple-shaped cake filled with various flavors.
Miyajima’s enchanting beauty and cultural significance have made it a popular travel destination in Japan. With its sacred sites, scenic spots, local delicacies, and fun activities, Miyajima is a must-visit for travelers looking for a unique and memorable Japanese experience.
Yudanaka is a small town located in the northern part of Nagano Prefecture, famous for its snow monkeys who soak in the hot springs during the winter months. It is a perfect destination for those looking to experience Japan’s natural beauty, culture, and hot springs.
The Jigokudani Monkey Park is a popular attraction in Yudanaka, where visitors can observe the Japanese macaques as they relax in the hot springs. The park is also a short hike through a forest that offers a beautiful view of the mountains.
If you enjoy hot springs, you will love spending time in Yudanaka. Visitors can relax in the natural hot spring water while taking in the stunning views of the surrounding mountains. The charming town of Shibu Onsen has narrow streets lined with traditional inns and shops selling local souvenirs. You can purchase a yukata and stroll around the town while visiting different hot springs.
To experience traditional Japanese culture, it is recommended to stay at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. Many ryokans in Yudanaka offer their hot springs exclusively to their guests, providing a more exclusive and serene experience. Visitors can sleep on a futon mattress on a tatami mat floor, wear a yukata, and enjoy delicious kaiseki cuisine.
Yudanaka is one of the small towns near Tokyo. It is easily accessible by train, taking around 2.5 hours. Visitors can also take the express bus from Tokyo Station to Yudanaka, which takes around 3 hours. Whether you want to relax in hot springs, observe snow monkeys, or experience traditional Japanese culture, Yudanaka offers a unique and unforgettable travel experience.
Japan’s small towns are charming and picturesque places to visit throughout the year, but the best time to go depends on personal preferences and the activities you want to do.
Generally, the most pleasant seasons for traveling to Japanese small towns are spring and autumn.
During the spring months (March to May), the weather is mild, and the countryside is adorned with beautiful cherry blossoms. This is a magical time to visit small towns as you can witness the blooming of the cherry blossoms and experience traditional Japanese festivals that are held to celebrate this seasonal event. The streets and parks are filled with people picnicking under the cherry blossom trees, and the overall atmosphere is vibrant and joyful.
Autumn (September to November) is another great season to visit Japanese small towns. The weather is cooler, and the landscape transforms into stunning hues of red, yellow, and orange as the trees change color. The autumn leaves, or “koyo,” are a celebrated natural wonder in Japan, and the small towns provide the perfect backdrop for appreciating this beauty.
Summer can also be a great time to visit small towns, especially if you enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking or swimming. However, the summer months (June to August) can be hot and humid, and the small towns may be more crowded with tourists. Winter can also be a good option for those who love winter sports, but the weather can be cold and snowy, which may limit your activities.
Now that you are familiar with best small towns to visit in japan, you probably wonder how to get around these towns? Well, walking or cycling is the most convenient and enjoyable way to get around.
Best small Japanese towns are usually convenient enough to explore on foot, and many of them have charming streets lined with traditional Japanese houses and shops. By walking, you can take in the sights and sounds of the town, including local markets, temples, and shrines.
If you prefer to cover more ground, renting a bicycle is a great option. Many towns have bicycle rental services, often located near train stations or tourist information centers.
Renting a bicycle allows you to explore the town’s outskirts, visit nearby parks or scenic spots, and enjoy the fresh air and natural beauty of the area. In some towns, there are also guided cycling tours that offer a deeper understanding of the local culture and history.
In addition to walking and cycling, some small towns have local buses or taxis that can be used to travel longer distances or to visit nearby attractions. However, these options may be more limited or less frequent than in larger cities, so it’s always a good idea to check schedules and plan ahead.
Overall, getting around in Japanese small towns is easy, and the slower pace of life in these areas makes it a perfect opportunity to take a break from the hustle and bustle of modern life and enjoy the simpler pleasures of exploring on foot or by bicycle.
Small towns in Japan offer a unique and authentic travel experience that is often overlooked by tourists. Each town has its own distinct character, rich history, and natural beauty, making them perfect destinations for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.
In this article, we have explored the 7 best small towns in Japan to visit in 2023, including Shirakawa-go, Takayama, Kamakura, Kanazawa, Nikko, Miyajima, and Yudanaka. From visiting historical sites and cultural attractions to exploring natural wonders and enjoying local cuisine, each town offers a range of experiences that cater to all interests.
Japan’s small towns are a must-visit for travelers looking for an authentic and immersive travel experience. With their rich culture, history, and natural beauty, they offer a glimpse into Japan’s past and present and are sure to leave a lasting impression on visitors.