if you’re looking to experience the authentic Japanese way of life and culture, visiting small towns is a must. When researching for a cute small and beautiful town in Japan to visit, I stumbled upon many towns to visit in Japan. These towns offer a glimpse into the traditional Japanese lifestyle that is often overshadowed by the modernization of big cities. From the stunning countryside scenery to the friendly locals, small towns in Japan have a lot to offer.
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best small towns to visit in japan
Small Towns in Japan to visit
Japan is home to over 1,700 small towns , each small villages in japan with its own unique charm and character. Some of the most famous small towns include Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its traditional thatched-roof houses, and Onomichi, a picturesque town on the Seto Inland Sea that is famous for its temples, shrines, and museums. Whether you’re interested in history, culture, or nature, there is a small town in Japan that will capture your interest so let’s get right into my top small towns to visit in Japan
Historic best Small Towns in Japan
If you are interested in experiencing the traditional side of Japan, visiting small historic towns is a must. These towns have preserved old buildings, streets, and customs that date back to the Edo period. Here are three small historic towns in Japan that you should visit.
Takayama is a small town located in the mountainous Hida region of Gifu Prefecture. It is known for its well-preserved old town, which is filled with traditional Japanese houses, shops, and sake breweries. The town is also famous for its biannual Takayama Festival, which features large parade floats and attracts many visitors. Takayama is one of the small towns I’m visiting on my trip to Japan.
Exploring the Historic District
Wander through the streets of Sanmachi Suji, the heart of Takayama’s historic district. Admire the beautifully preserved merchant houses, sake breweries, and local shops. Take a stroll across Nakabashi Bridge, known for its picturesque views of the old town.
Traditional Crafts and Local Cuisine
Indulge in the local craftsmanship of Hida-Takayama by visiting the various shops that specialize in traditional crafts such as lacquerware, woodworking, and pottery. Don’t miss the opportunity to savor Hida beef, a renowned local delicacy known for its exquisite flavor and tenderness.
Kurashiki is a historic town located in Okayama Prefecture. It was an important center for rice distribution during the Edo period and has a well-preserved canal area lined with old merchant houses and warehouses. The town is also home to the Ohara Museum of Art, which houses a collection of Western art, including works by Monet, Renoir, and Picasso.
Shirakawa-go is a small traditional Japanese village located in the remote mountains of Gifu Prefecture. It’s one of the most beautiful mountain towns in japan and one of the world heritage sites in Japan. It is known for its unique farmhouses with steeply pitched thatched roofs, known as gassho-zukuri. The village has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is popular among tourists for its scenic beauty and traditional atmosphere.
Visiting these small historic towns in Japan is a great way to experience the country’s rich cultural heritage. Each town offers a unique glimpse into Japan’s past and is worth a visit if you have the chance.
Nara, a city with a rich historical heritage, is famous for its ancient temples, friendly deer, and serene gardens. As Japan’s first permanent capital, Nara is brimming with cultural treasures and offers a serene escape from the bustling cities.
Todai-ji Temple: Home to the Great Buddha
Visit Todai-ji Temple, home to the Great Buddha statue, one of Japan’s largest bronze statues. Marvel at the grandeur of the temple’s architecture and explore the surrounding park, where friendly deer roam freely.
Nara Park: Interacting with Friendly Deer
Experience the unique charm of Nara Park, where over a thousand tame deer reside. Feed these gentle creatures, take memorable photos, and appreciate the harmonious coexistence between humans and nature.
suien Garden: A Tranquil Oasis
Relax and unwind in Isuien Garden, a beautiful Japanese garden with a peaceful ambiance. Admire the meticulously designed landscapes, including ponds, bridges, and carefully placed rocks. Enjoy a traditional tea ceremony in the teahouse overlooking the garden.
TIP: You have to purchase your JR rail pass in your home country as you cannot purchase it once you’re in Japan! you can choose the activation day once you go exchange your JR pass voucher at the airport. Very important to know you need to have the JR pass on you at all times and if you lose it you cannot get another copy. Also, you’ll need to get your JR rail pass in your home country at least 3 weeks before your trip and do not forget to bring it with you to Japan.
Small Coastal Towns in Japan
If you’re looking for a peaceful getaway from the hustle and bustle of Japan’s big cities, there are plenty of small coastal towns that offer breathtaking views and a relaxing atmosphere. Here are two small coastal towns that you should definitely consider visiting:
Kamakura is a small coastal town located just an hour south of Tokyo by train. It’s known for its beautiful beaches and historic temples, making it a popular destination for both locals and tourists alike. One of the most famous landmarks in Kamakura is the Great Buddha, a bronze statue that stands over 13 meters tall and is over 700 years old. You can also visit the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, which is one of the most important Shinto shrines in the country.
Aside from its historical and cultural attractions, Kamakura is also a great place to enjoy the beach. There are several beaches in the area, including Yuigahama Beach and Zaimokuza Beach, where you can swim, surf, or just relax on the sand.
Naoshima is a small island located in the Seto Inland Sea, known for its contemporary art museums and installations. The island has been transformed into an art hub, with several museums and galleries showcasing works from both Japanese and international artists. One of the most famous museums on the island is the Chichu Art Museum, which is built into the side of a hill and features works by Claude Monet, James Turrell, and Walter De Maria.
Aside from its art scene, Naoshima is also a great place to enjoy the natural beauty of Japan’s coast. The island has several beaches, including Miyanoura Beach and Inkyu Beach, where you can swim, snorkel, or just enjoy the scenery.
Mountainous best Small Towns in Japan
If you are a nature lover and enjoy the tranquility of the mountains, then Japan has some charming small towns that will pique your interest. These towns are nestled in the mountains, surrounded by beautiful landscapes, and offer a unique experience that you won’t find in the bigger cities. In this section, we will explore two mountainous small towns in Japan: Yufuin and Hakone.
Yufuin is a picturesque town located in Oita Prefecture on the island of Kyushu. It is known for its hot springs, beautiful scenery, and relaxed atmosphere. The town is situated in a valley surrounded by mountains, and the views are breathtaking. You can take a stroll along the streets lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants, or visit the many art galleries and museums.
One of the main attractions of Yufuin is the hot springs. There are many ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) that offer hot spring baths, and you can also visit the public hot springs called “onsen” in Japanese. The hot springs are said to have healing properties and are a great way to relax and unwind.
Hakone is a small town located in Kanagawa Prefecture, just a short train ride and a perfect for a day trip from Tokyo. It is situated in the mountains and is known for its natural beauty and hot springs. The town is surrounded by forests, lakes, and mountains, and the views are stunning. Hakone is also home to many art museums, including the Hakone Open-Air Museum, which showcases contemporary art in a beautiful outdoor setting.
One of the main attractions of Hakone is the hot springs. There are many ryokans that offer hot spring baths, and you can also visit the public hot springs. The town is also famous for its black eggs, which are boiled in the hot springs and are said to add seven years to your life.
Owakudani: Volcanic Wonders
Embark on a unique adventure to Owakudani, a volcanic valley renowned for its hot springs and sulfurous fumaroles. Take a cable car ride to witness the steamy landscapes and enjoy the local specialty, black eggs boiled in the naturally hot waters.
Lake Ashi: Cruising with Mount Fuji
Indulge in a leisurely cruise on Lake Ashi, a picturesque crater lake formed by volcanic activity. Admire the panoramic views of Mount Fuji, the surrounding mountains, and the iconic red torii gate of Hakone Shrine.
Nikko, located in Tochigi Prefecture, is a town of profound spiritual significance and natural beauty. With its opulent shrines, serene lakes, and majestic waterfalls, Nikko offers a captivating blend of cultural and natural wonders.
oshogu Shrine: Majestic Architecture and Intricate Details
Discover the awe-inspiring Toshogu Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site adorned with intricate carvings and vibrant colors. Marvel at the ornate architecture and explore the lush forested surroundings, which add to the shrine’s mystical ambiance.
Lake Chuzenji: Nature’s Serenade
Relax by the tranquil shores of Lake Chuzenji, nestled amidst the breathtaking Nikko National Park. Take a boat ride on the pristine waters, hike along the scenic trails, and enjoy the vibrant autumn foliage that blankets the area.
Kegon Falls: A Breathtaking Cascade
Witness the magnificence of Kegon Falls, one of Japan’s most spectacular waterfalls. Admire the powerful cascade as water plunges from a height of over 90 meters, creating a mesmerizing display of nature’s raw beauty.
Small Towns in Japan for Art Enthusiasts
If you’re an art lover, Japan is an ideal destination for you. There are many small towns in Japan where you can experience the country’s rich artistic heritage. Here are two small towns that you should definitely visit if you’re an art lover.
Kanazawa is a small town located in Ishikawa Prefecture on the west coast of Japan. It’s known for its beautiful traditional architecture, stunning gardens, and rich cultural heritage. Kanazawa is also home to many art museums and galleries that showcase the town’s artistic legacy. This is another city I’m visiting on my trip to Japan.
Kenrokuen Garden: A Botanical Masterpiece
Step into the tranquil oasis of Kenrokuen Garden, one of Japan’s most celebrated gardens. Admire the meticulously landscaped grounds, featuring seasonal flowers, waterfalls, and charming tea houses. The garden’s beauty changes with each season, offering a unique experience throughout the year.
One of the most famous museums in Kanazawa is the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. This museum features modern and contemporary art from around the world, and it’s a must-visit for any art lover. The museum’s collection includes works by famous artists such as Yayoi Kusama, James Turrell, and Leandro Erlich.
Another museum worth visiting in Kanazawa is the Kanazawa Yasue Gold Leaf Museum. This museum showcases the town’s traditional craft of gold leaf production, and you can even try your hand at making your own gold leaf.
Kanazawa Castle: A Glimpse into Samurai History
Explore the imposing Kanazawa Castle, a symbol of the city’s samurai heritage. Marvel at the grandeur of the castle’s architecture and learn about the history of the powerful Maeda clan, who ruled over Kanazawa for centuries.
Naoshima is a small island located in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan. It’s known for its beautiful beaches, stunning natural scenery, and world-class art museums. Naoshima is home to several art museums and galleries, including the Chichu Art Museum, the Benesse House Museum, and the Lee Ufan Museum.
The Chichu Art Museum is one of the most famous museums on the island. It’s a unique museum that’s built into the side of a hill, and it features works by famous artists such as Claude Monet, James Turrell, and Walter De Maria. The museum’s architecture is also a work of art, designed by the famous architect Tadao Ando.
The Benesse House Museum is another must-visit museum on Naoshima. It’s a contemporary art museum that features works by famous artists such as Yayoi Kusama, Richard Long, and David Hockney. The museum is also a hotel, so you can stay overnight and experience the art at your leisure.
Small Towns in Japan Known for Their Cuisine
If you’re a foodie, you’ll be happy to know that there are many small towns in Japan that are famous for their cuisine. Here are two of them:
Takayama is a traditional small Japanese village in the mountainous Hida region of Gifu Prefecture. It’s one of the most historic Japanese cities, The town is known for its Hida beef, a type of wagyu beef that is considered one of the best in Japan. Hida beef is marbled with fat, which gives it a tender and juicy texture. You can try Hida beef in many different ways in Takayama, such as grilled, shabu-shabu, and sukiyaki.
Another specialty of Takayama is its sake. The town has been producing sake for over 300 years, and there are many sake breweries that you can visit. The sake in Takayama is made with the pure water from the surrounding mountains, which gives it a unique flavor.
Otaru is a small town in Hokkaido that is known for its seafood. The town is located near the Sea of Japan, which is rich in fish and seafood. One of the specialties of Otaru is its sushi, which is made with fresh and high-quality seafood. You can also try other seafood dishes in Otaru, such as grilled squid, crab, and scallops.
Otaru is also famous for its glassware. The town has a long history of glassmaking, and there are many glass shops and galleries that you can visit. You can see glassblowing demonstrations and buy beautiful glassware as souvenirs.
If you’re a food lover, Takayama and Otaru are two small towns in Japan that you shouldn’t miss. Try the local specialties and enjoy the unique flavors of these charming towns.
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Still have questions? Send me an e-mail or comment below and I’ll do my best to help!
Are there still small villages in Japan?
Yes! There are any small villages in Japan. Some even are known to be Unesco World Heritage sites.
What is the prettiest city in Japan?
Kyoto has to. be the prettiest city in Japan. It’s historical significance and beauitul shrines and greenary makes it a stunning city.