Rural Destinations Tour | Couch Tourism

Welcome to the Rural Destinations Tour as part of Off The Track Japan’s ‘Couch Tourism’ initiative to keep you entertained and ready to get back travelling again once this whole COVID-19 Situation dissipates. In this tour, we explore some of Japan’s rural areas, and we’ll show you why these little remote areas are so underrated, and should definitely be on your list to travel to on your next trip to Japan.

We’d like to start off this tour with a little clip from our friend TAIKI B on YouTube for letting us use some of his amazing videos to help share the beauty of rural Japan with everyone. Check our his channel here: YouTube – TAIKI B

Rural Japan really does have a lot of character. From the people you meet, to the stunning scenery, rural Japan is certainly very underrated and under appreciated. 

Ginzan Onsen, Yamagata Prefecture

Ginzan Onsen Village is among the best views in Japan

Ginzan Onsen is a calming hot spring or ‘onsen’ town located in the mountains of Obanazawa, Yamagata Prefecture.  Due to the mountainous and geothermal nature of the Yamagata prefecture, hot springs and onsens are quite common, but Ginzan Onsen without a doubt the most popular onsen destination in the prefecture. Ginzan Onsen literally translates to Silver Mountain Hot Spring, taken from the fact that silver was often mined several hundred years ago in the nearby mountains when the town was founded back in the 1400’s.

However, silver is no longer the leading cause of travelers to this picturesque mountain town. Ginzan Onsen is now more famously known for the many hot spring ryokans which line the river which passes through the downtown sector of the town. Many of these ryokans have traditional or historic baths which date back several centuries.

Among the ryokans, you can also find a couple of public bath houses which you can go into to warmup and relax for a small price, typically between 200-2000JPY depending on the bathhouse. Some ryokans do offer the option to visit their bath house even if you aren’t staying at their ryokan, but these will usually be closer to the 2000JPY price point for about an hour of use. For those of you who are unaware, Onsens will require you to be naked (genders are split up, don’t worry), but if you are a little shy or don’t want to be seen naked by a couple of strangers, then there is a foot bath area that is free for everyone.

Shirakawa-go, Gifu Prefecture

Shirakawa-go is a small and remote village tucked away in the mountains, along the borders of 3 prefectures – Ishikawa, Toyama, and Gifu. The village is most famous of it’s old farmhouses which have been designed in Gassho-zukuri style. Very similar style of houses are found in the neighboring village of Gokayama. Together, both Gokayama and Shirakawa-go are one UNESCO World Heritage site because of the unique style of buildings.

Gassho-zukuri is a design style is which resembles hands pressed  together for prayer. You can see this design style very clearly just by looking at the roofs of the buildings in Shirakawa. The buildings in Shirakawa-go have steep thatched roofs made out of straw, averaging at about 45°, but some buildings have angles up to 60°.

On certain weekends, usually nearing the end of January / early February,  the village has Winter Illuminations, where the locals lit up their houses for a few hours the celebrate the illumination. It attracts plenty of tourists. Some of the buildings in Shirakawa can receive up to 1-2 meters at a time, and when the lights from the buildings reflect on the snow, it creates a magical experience.

Koya-san, Wakayama Prefecture

Koya-san is a religious village located in the mountains of Wakayama Prefecture, and is about a two hour drive away from any major city. Koya-san is famous for it’s religious significance, as there are 100’s of temples in this small village, some of which include temples founded by some of the most influential people in Japan, including Kobo Daishi (kukan), who brought modern Buddhism to Japan and also founded the Hiragana writing script.

Koya-san is also home to Okunoin Cemetery, which is the largest cemetery in Japan. It’s grounds expand several kilometers in length through a vast forest. One could easy spend hours walking through the paths of graves and memorials. It is easy to forget you are in one of the most densely populated countries while walking through this cemetery, as there is total silence bar the wind through the trees and the few other people on the paths. Birds are rare to hear here, and total silence, is something to expect. 

Aso, Kumamoto Prefecture

Aso is a small town located in the mountains on the border of Kumamoto and Oita Prefectures. It’s know for it’s stunning scenery and geothermal activity. Mt.Aso is an active volcano which sits on the towns southern end and overlooks the small town of 25,000 people. 

Many tourists do not often visit the area due to the difficulty that arises from trying to reach this destination without  a car. The few who do make it out, will be amazed at the the sharp mountainsides which pilliar the town in.

From the mountains on a clear day, one can expect to be met with scenery that is once in a life time. However, due to the nature of the very active volcano that watches over the town, you might have to be alert quite a bit in the off chance that the volcano becomes more volatile. 

Biei, Hokkaido Prefecture

Biei in Hokkaido Prefecture is home to possibly one of the most unique scenery in Japan. Due to the geothermal activity, and as such, the high levels of sulfur in the water, beautiful cobalt coloured waterfalls and ponds can be found in this area.

From mountains, to the unique colouration of the waterfalls and ponds, and mixed in with the stunning onsen resorts all located the outskirts of Biei, this area very much rewards those who make the journey out to these remote areas.

Kamikochi, Nagano Prefecture

Kamikochi is a small mountainous region of the Japanese Hida Alps, located in Nagano Prefecture on the outskirts of the city of Matsumoto.

Kamikochi and the Japanese Hida Alps create an outdoor experience like none other, with some of the nations most beautiful hiking trails located in and around the Kamikochi region. Numerous campgrounds, onsen hotels and other accommodation are scattered along the pristine mountain-fed Azusa river. 

Kamikoichi in Nagano Prefecture

While the destination is only open during the warmer seasons (usually Mid-April to Mid-November).  Among the many hiking trails, you can also find the Takezawa Marshlands, Taisho Lake, and the Kamikochi Imperial Hotel, all of which are among the regions most popular things to see and visit.

The Japanese Macaque monkeys are commonly found around this area, so make sure you keep all bags and belongings close to you, don’t leave any food out, and avoid eye contact with them.

Lake Towada, Aomori/Akita Prefecture

Lake Towada is a small lake located on the border between Aomori and Akita prefecture.  It is the largest crater lake on Japan’s main island of Honshū, with a surface area of approximately 62km² and a maximum depth of 327m. Lake Towada sits on top of an “active volcano”. The volcano, although not currently showing major signs of volcanic unrest, eruptions can still happen without warning. There were originally two volcanic calderas, but one collapsed on itself some 5000 years ago, forming one large caldera lake.

The most recent eruption of the volcanic calderas took place in 915AD, which caused havoc on the surrounding region for the following few years. However, in recent years, the lake is used for more recreational purposes, and was stocked with fish in the early 1900’s. Rainbow Trout, Kokanee Salmon (Sockeye Salmon), Carp, Cherry Salmon, and Crucian carp are some of the main species of fish that can be found in the lake and are actively fished by the locals from the shore. The Oirase River flows from Lake Towado, and as such is a popular fishing place at the river mouth and down the river. 

Scenic cruises can be taken on Lake Tawada, and if you are interested in taking these cruises, make sure you stop in at the local Tourism Center in the township of Yasumiya, which is the only town that can be found around the shores of the lake. It’s found on the southern side of the lake, and is where all the accommodation in around Lake Towada can be found.

Amanohashidate, Kyoto Prefecture

Located in the north western corner of Kyoto Prefecture in the small coastal city of Miyazu, Amanohashidate is one of Japanese greatest natural wonders, and is one of the Three Views of Japan. It’s a sandbar which stretches across over 3km across and splits the Miyazu bay. Amanohashidate is covered in well over 7,000 Pine trees, and there is a stunning pathway for all to travel on by foot or bike should you choose to cross the sandbar.

Amanohashidate has been been an essential part of Japanese culture. Along the sandbar, there is the Isoshimizu well, which people sourced water from as far back as the Heian Period (Years 794-1185)

You can view Amanohashidate from both sides of the sandbar and Miyazu bay. But we believe that the best view is achieved from the southern side, at the Amanohashidate View Land – a small amusement park ontop a hill looking over the sandbar. Not only is there a couple of little rides to go on, but it all can be done with arguably the best view of Amanohashidate. At this side, it is said that if you look at the Amanohashidate sandbar upside down, you will see a shape that resembles a dragon taking flight.

This concludes our Rural Destinations Tour for Couch Tourism on Off The Track Japan. We hope you enjoyed reading about some of Japans lesser visited regions and hope that we inspired you to make the effort to visit at least one of these rural areas on your next trip to Japan.

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