Small towns in Japan offer lands of discovery and adventure
Tokyo and Kyoto aren’t the only great destinations to visit in legendary Japan, but they’re often the only ones Americans know about. The small towns of the country offer many attractions, from a land where oriental white storks fly over a historic town memorable for its hot springs to one remarkable for its proximity to the majestic and picturesque Mount Fuji.
They’re also the perfect additions to a longer tour of Japan, offering less-traveled destinations with as much culture, history, and foodie adventures as the big cities.
The land of the white stork
The city of Toyooka, located on the north coast of southwestern Japan, is accessible from Kyoto or any of the other cities in the region. It is a beautiful city offering opportunities to enjoy Japanese culture in its most basic form, with izakayas or pub-style restaurants offering delicious regional dishes.
The city is home to the country’s oldest wooden market, Kousetsu Ichiba, which offers freshly grown produce and flowers. Toyooka, known for its history of producing high-quality bags, offers its own Caban Street, or Bag Street, where travelers can pick up a wicker bag or trunk whose heritage reflects the history of bag making. town, 1,200 years old.
The city is located near two very particular natural sites. The first is the Genbudo Caves, where basalt columns rise up to the sky in an incredibly organized fashion. The second is the eastern white stork, or kounotori. This magnificent bird was once found all over Japan, but was almost threatened with extinction in the mid-1900s.
It was in the town of Toyooka that locals captured some of the last remaining wild oriental white storks and began to breed them in an effort to perpetuate their species. Today, the Eastern White Stork Hyogo Park in Toyooka is a free, family-friendly attraction that includes educational activities as well as wildlife sightings.
The land of snow and steam
Kinosaki is a historic town along the Maruyama River in Hyogo Prefecture, just north of Toyooka City. Known for its onsens, or hot springs, locals and travelers alike have been bathing here since AD 720
Kinosaki’s seven public onsens, unlike many others in Japan, accept tattoos, meaning travelers with tattoos that cannot be hidden will not be denied entry to the sources.
This quaint town is perfect for year-round sightseeing but is especially beautiful in winter, when a soft blanket of snow covers the tiled roofs and cobbled streets. Visitors can ski and snowshoe, or hike along the Ropeway Hiking Route, which includes a stop where hikers can view the valley below.
As a city with a historic past, there are also no limits to cultural and historical experiences in Kinosaki. Tea ceremonies, meditation, calligraphy workshops, and a stop at Osenji Temple are must-sees for travelers who wish to immerse themselves in Japanese culture.
Immersion takes it a step further at Nishimuraya Honkan, where guests can stay in a traditional ryokan-style property, complete with an indoor and outdoor onsen for guest enjoyment, as well as a peaceful Japanese garden.
The land of high peaks
The closest town to the famous and picturesque Mount Fuji is Fujinomiya, in Shizuoka Prefecture. The city is the starting point of two routes leading to the top of Mount Fuji and is an ideal destination for active adventurers.
Travelers can learn about the region’s historical significance at the Mount Fuji World Heritage Center, and then prepared adventurers can begin their cloud trek with the Fujinomiya Trail or Prince Road. Families or travelers who prefer not to hike the mountain can also enjoy tours around the mountain, from simple hiking to whitewater rafting and more.
Other travelers can visit the Mount Fuji Sengen Taisha Shrine, which has a history of 2,000 years and is one of the most important shrines in the region. Travelers can also buy and learn to wear a traditional Japanese kimono and try locally-made sake, made from the snowmelt of Mount Fuji from Shiraito Falls.
Funjinomiya is easy to visit from Tokyo. Travelers can take the Yakisoba Express Bus, which goes directly to the city from Tokyo, making it a great addition to any visit to Tokyo.
The land of adventure
Located near Mt. Fuji, is another city notable for many of its thrilling attractions. Gotemba, home to Fuji Speedway, numerous golf courses, and the start of Mount Fuji’s longest trail, offers plenty of activities.
For travelers wanting a longer, less crowded hike on Mount Fuji, the Gotemba Trail is perfect for them, as it is less popular and less developed. Gotemba is also known for its many hot springs, which are a perfect end to a cold hike or an outdoor activity, like biking or horseback riding.
Gotemba is also the place where outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy a luxury glamping experience with Fujino Kirameki. With gourmet cuisine, luxurious accommodations, and excursions like forest walks, hikes, cave explorations and more, travelers can enjoy the best of adventure travel without skimping on luxury.
The land of luxury
Speaking of luxury, travelers to tea-rich Shizuoka Prefecture should consider Atami Town as an ideal base for their explorations of Japanese culture and cuisine just a 40-minute train ride from Tokyo.
This coastal town has beautiful onsen, views of Mount Fuji, and plenty of delicious seafood dishes for the adventurous.
This city is also known for three of its luxury accommodations.
Momoyama Gaen by the Curation Hotel features Japanese design with local materials and craftsmen, as well as an onsen and artwork from the Japanese Edo period. Tounoya-an by the Curation Hotel is a historic Japanese kominka, a stunning villa with on-site onsen and modern accommodation.
Suto-suien by the Curation Hotel is another property of kominka, which fuses two Japanese styles to create a remarkable blend of wabi-sabi, the acceptance of imperfection, and Rinpa, an artistic style from the Edo period.