Scenic Japan – beyond the big cities

Recently someone remarked to me that they didn’t like Japan, and wouldn’t go there again. When I asked why, they explained that it was too busy and they preferred quieter places such as national parks. It turned out they’d only been to Tokyo! While Japan does have large busy cities, there are also beautiful rural areas, and even national parks. Where can you go if you want to get away from it all? Here are a few suggestions.

Tohoku is the northern part of Honshu, the main island of Japan. It has beautiful mountain and coastal areas, and is less densely populated than the area between Tokyo and Osaka. Towada Hachimantai National Park is famous for autumn colours and hot springs, while the Iwate coastline has dramatic cliffs.

Hokkaido is the northernmost of Japan’s main islands and it has several national parks – Daisetsuzan, Shikotsu Toya and Kushiro Shitsugen. As well as national parks, Hokkaido has large agricultural areas which are also scenic and peaceful.

Wakayama and Mie are close to Osaka and Nagoya, yet a completely different atmosphere. It’s possible to hike the famous Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route, visit the Ise Shrines, and see rugged coastline fringed by islands.

Kyushu has several active volcanoes such as Mt Aso. There are many hiking trails and small hot spring towns worth exploring.

What to look for

If you like nature, outdoor activities, and less hustle and bustle, look for smaller towns and villages. You may even like ryokan and onsen resorts which are located in a rural area. When you’re looking at where to go, check how large the town or city you are thinking of visiting is. If you decide to go to Hokkaido, for example, don’t plan on staying in Sapporo if you really want to see the countryside. Head to Lake Toya, Sounkyo, or a similar place.

It’s a good idea to check how accessible a place is. Sometimes a series of local trains and buses may be needed to get to a scenic rural destination, and travel can take several hours. The Kumano Kodo is one example of this. Such places can be very worth visiting, but do factor the travel time into your planning.

There are also some very scenic areas located close to major train routes. Onuma Quasi National Park and Lake Toya are both accessible from the line running between Hakodate and Sapporo. There are other places where a car is preferable so, if you don’t want to drive, make sure public transport will be adequate during the season you intend to visit.

Mt Asama in autumn
Mt Asama near Karuizawa, Nagano.

Accommodation options in scenic locations may include ryokans, guest houses, and youth hostels. Ryokans will often provide a pickup service from the nearest station if they’re informed of your arrival time. If there are meals offered as an option with your accommodation, seriously consider taking up the option in very small places. There may not be many other places to eat.

It is really rewarding to get away from the big cities in Japan, and nature lovers will find plenty to enjoy – mountain and coastal scenery, hot springs, small villages, and more. These are all part of Japan so don’t settle for an itinerary of well-known cities. Take some time to think about what really interests you, and build your itinerary around that.

Do you have any questions about travelling around Japan? Please feel free to contact me.

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For further information, the ebook Japan Just for You is a practical step-by-step guide to planning your trip to Japan, starting with developing your own personal trip concept. It’s now available on Apple, Amazon and Kobo, and other stores.