10 Best Prefectures to see Japan’s Countryside

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Misty Fujii is a Canadian who moved to Osaka, Japan, in 2019 and married her Japanese sweetheart. In 2022, they had a baby and moved to Fukui for the clean country air. She is a DJ who teaches English part-time and writes to share Japan with the world. She gets excited about collecting vintage vinyl records, food from all countries, travelling, and renovating her traditional Japanese house.

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Believe it or not, Japan isn’t all neon lights and busy cities. It is primarily idyllic countryside and nature with friendly locals, ancient traditions, and breathtaking landscapes. We’ve explored the snow-capped mountains and lush valleys to tranquil coastlines and cascading rice paddies in search of the best prefectures to offer a unique glimpse into the soul of rural Japan.

Whether you crave the serenity of a hidden onsen nestled amidst the forest or want to witness the vibrant colors in a charming village, check out the 10 best prefectures to see the Japan countryside and take a trip off the beaten path. 

1. Kumamoto 

Kumamoto promises a countryside experience that’s both invigorating and soul-soothing. This prefecture in Kyushu is known for its volcanic mountains, charming villages, and a slower pace of life. But it’s not just about the serene beauty! It’s about the thrill of hiking the slopes of Mount Aso, one of the world’s largest active caldera, and peering into the steaming crater. It’s about the exhilaration of exploring the rolling grasslands of Minami Aso on horseback or wandering through emerald rice paddies. And it’s about the joy of meeting friendly locals and savoring a steaming bowl of freshly made udon noodles. In the evening, unwind in the luxurious hot springs of Kurokawa Onsen, soaking in steaming pools surrounded by idyllic forests for the perfect ending to a day of adventure. 

2. Kagoshima 

Kagoshima, a beautiful and often overlooked prefecture on Kyushu, is dominated by the fiery Sakurajima volcano. Venture deeper and discover Yakushima, a mystical island shrouded in ancient cedars and moss-covered trails, a UNESCO World Heritage Site often dubbed ‘Yakushima, a place where nature reigns supreme.’ But Kagoshima’s magic extends far beyond these iconic landmarks. You can island-hop through the Satsunan Islands, where pristine beaches meet crystal-clear waters and traditional villages offer a glimpse into a slower pace of life. Or hike through lush forests, soak in thermal baths warmed by volcanic activity, and savor the freshest seafood hauled straight from the sea.

3. Tochigi 

Head just north of Tokyo to find lush valleys, majestic mountains, charming villages, and cascading waterfalls. Fill your lungs with crisp mountain air as you wander the serene shores of Lake Chuzenji near Nikko, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, ornate shrines and temples enchant with tales of a bygone era. Ashikaga, a town steeped in history, beckons with charming streets waiting to be explored. Here, time seems to slow down, inviting you to lose yourself in the tranquility of traditional Japanese architecture. Come spring, the town transforms into a kaleidoscope of color with the Ashikaga Flower Park exploding in a vibrant display of blooms. Tochigi boasts another delightful surprise – its world-famous strawberries! These plump, juicy gems burst with a flavor so intense they’ll become the sweetest souvenir of your countryside adventure.  

4. Saitama 

When you want to experience the Japanese countryside but are short on time, look no further than Saitama, next to Tokyo. Here, rolling green hills and charming villages offer a tranquil escape from the city’s chaos. This is where you can immerse yourself in the serene beauty of Chichibu, a mountainous region dotted with mystical temples and natural wonders. If you like exploring, hike through ancient forests and lose yourself in the stillness of a hidden hot spring. Saitama also boasts the unique Bonsai Village, where generations of artisans have perfected the art of cultivating miniature masterpieces. For a touch of adventure, head to Nagatoro, where you can take an exhilarating ride down a rapid river on a traditional wooden boat. But when you need a break from it all, Saitama is the perfect place to find peace and tranquility.

5. Gifu

Gifu sits in the heart of Japan’s Japanese Alps. It offers a captivating escape to tranquil villages, dramatic landscapes, and centuries-old traditions. But it’s not all picturesque villages and snow-capped mountains, there’s the must-visit village Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famed for its iconic gassho-zukuri farmhouses. You’ll feel like you stepped into a postcard when you see the farmhouses’ distinctive thatched roofs against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains. Then, dive even deeper at Hida no Sato. In this open-air museum, these architectural wonders are more than just photo ops. Explore the beautifully preserved post town of Magome-juku, where charming wooden buildings line the ancient road, each whispering tales of past journeys. And make sure to put on your walking shoes to walk in the footsteps of samurai along the Nakasendo Way. This historic highway lets you retrace the steps of Japan’s ancient history! 

6. Shimane 

Well off the beaten path (and hometown to one of my favorite rock n’ roll bands, Guitar Wolf!) is Shimane, nestled on the coast of Honshu. This stunning coastal prefecture is where you can kayak through the crystal-clear waters of the Oki Islands, a remote archipelago full of marine life and mystical legends. And when you want to hit the town, Tsuwano appears frozen in time. Wander along the traditional wooden streets lined with beautifully preserved merchant houses and soak up the local atmosphere at a bustling morning market overflowing with fresh produce and handcrafted goods. Then, to truly unwind after your explorations, head to Yunotsu Onsen, a hot spring haven nestled amidst idyllic countryside. Bathe in the mineral-rich waters, renowned for their therapeutic qualities, and let the stress melt away as you savor the serenity of the Japanese countryside.

7. Fukui

I may be slightly biased, but Fukui is my top pick for beautiful countryside prefectures. It has a few of my favorite things: mountains, the sea, and pristine beaches. The dramatic coastline explodes with natural wonders like the Tojinbo Cliffs, sculpted by millions of years of crashing waves, creating a scene that’s both awe-inspiring and photogenic. Wakasa Bay, a haven of pristine white sand beaches lapped by crystal-clear waters, is home to beaches dubbed “The Hawaii of Japan” thanks to its beauty. And for the adventurous souls, the mystical Kuzuryu Valley, or “Nine Dragon Gorge,” awaits. Hike through this dramatic landscape, carved by the mighty Kuzuryu River, and witness towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and an emerald embrace that will leave you breathless. Last but not least, when you’re on a path to find zen, you’ll find it amidst the ancient halls of Eiheiji Temple, a majestic Buddhist complex nestled amidst the tranquil mountains.

8. Iwate

Heading north to Iwate, you’ll find rugged coastlines that reveal hidden coves like the mystical Jodohagama Beach. This beach is only accessible by a scenic boat ride, talk about private! It boasts volcanic rock formations jutting from the turquoise water, creating a scene from a fantasy novel. Still, Iwate’s beauty extends beyond the shoreline. Delve into the green heart of the region and discover the legendary “Miracle Pine.” This ancient tree defies gravity and has withstood centuries of harsh winds and storms, a testament to the resilience of nature! For a truly immersive experience, take a boat ride down the Geibikei Gorge. Lush greenery drapes the cliffs while emerald waters rush through the narrow passage. You can take a traditional flat-bottomed boat for a thrilling ride down the river. As you navigate the rapids and admire the towering cliffs, soak in the raw beauty of this little-known prefecture.

9. Fukushima

No longer a hot spot for dark tourists, Fukushima is reminding the world that it is a stunningly beautiful and safe prefecture. Re-emerging from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami disaster as a symbol of resilience and rejuvenation, Fukushima should be a must-visit for any nature lover. Snuggled among mountains and tranquil valleys, Fukushima has lots to offer. History and nature buffs will love the charming thatched-roof farmhouses of Ouchi-juku, a cluster seemingly frozen in time. Then, there’s the breathtaking natural beauty of Urabandai National Park, where volcanic landscapes and crystal-clear lakes steal your breath away. For ultimate relaxation, delve into the therapeutic hot springs of Takayu Onsen, where steaming mineral pools soothe your body and soul. And if you want a personal guide to take you from Tokyo to Fukushima, look no further than Japan Wonder Travel Tours – your gateway to an unforgettable journey through the heart of Fukushima!

10. Hokkaido

There’s a reason Hokkaido has been voted the most attractive prefecture for 15 years running! Japan’s most northern prefecture calls for an itinerary of its own, thanks to incredible, untouched nature everywhere. Hike through the volcanic landscapes of Shiretoko National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where pristine forests meet the icy Sea of Japan. In Daisetsuzan National Park, Japan’s biggest, conquer majestic mountains or soak in the natural beauty of emerald lakes and vibrant flower fields. Witness the majestic red-crowned cranes at Kushiro-Shitsugen National Park, a vast wetland teeming with life. Needless to say, Hokkaido has amazing national parks! And finally, for a touch of relaxation, unwind in the natural hot springs of Jozankei, nestled amidst a scenic valley. Picture yourself soaking in steaming pools surrounded by snow-capped peaks – pure bliss!

Japan Wonder Travel Tours 

Japan Wonder Travel is a travel agency that offers guided tours throughout Japan. 
From private walking tours to delicious Food and Drink tours, we can help you organize the best tours just for you! If you want to explore Japan and learn more about the history and backstories of each area you are visiting, our knowledgeable and friendly English speaking guides will happily take you to the best spots! 
In addition, we can provide you with any assistance you may need for your upcoming trip to Japan, so please feel free to contact us if yu have any questions or need some help! 

Tokyo Tsukiji Fish Market Food and Drink Tour
Explore the most lively and popular fish market in Tokyo and try some of the local’s favorite street foods and sake with one of our friendly and knowledgeable English speaking guides! 

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Tokyo 1–Day Highlights Private Walking Tour (8 Hours)
There’s no better way to explore an area than taking a tour with a knowledgeable local guide. You will have the chance to learn about the history and interesting background stories of Tokyo, as well as discover some hidden gems which can be hard to do without a guide.

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