Japan is full of natural wonder and beauty. While Tokyo and Kyoto might get all the attention, there are some jaw droppingly beautiful places in rural Japan. In this multi-part post, we’ll explore places which have officially been named, “The Most Beautiful Villages of Japan.”
日本で最も美しい村連合(Nihon de mottomo utsukushii mura-rengō)or “The Association of The Most Beautiful Villages in Japan” was established in 2005 to help conserve and enhance the Japanese rural heritage. As part of their work, the association names certain area of Japan as “the most beautiful villages in Japan”. Towns that receive this recognition get many benefits, such as conservation development, tourism awareness, and government sponsored local craft/food fairs. Currently there are 49 villages that have received this prestigious designation.
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Criteria for recognition include:
- Less than 10,000 population
- Having regional sustainable resources
- Previous and on-going efforts taken for sustainable use of local resources
- Local resources must be protected by public means, such as zoning and Ordinance
In part 1 of this series, we’ll explore the gorgeous places in Hokkaido.
Biei (美瑛町), Hokkaido
Biei is famous for its wide fields and hills, and is used as a backdrop for many Japanese commercials and TV programs. The bright colored farm fields attract thousands of visitors. The “Road of Patchwork”, “Hills of Zerubu” and “Shikisai-no-oka” have some of the most spectacular views. The hills are painted with lines and patches of alternating colors, which can be explored not only by foot, but also by bicycles and golf carts — definitely a must-see in Hokkaido.
Although the hills may look like vast parkland open to the public, but most of them are actually private property of farmers, tending to various crops such as pumpkins, potatoes, melons, wheat, beans, sweet corn, and tomatoes. So once you’ve enjoyed the view, you can head over to the shops and buy various products that are actually produced in the field. Don’t miss the different seasonal flavors of soft-serve ice cream including melon, lavender, and pumpkin!
The Blue Pond (Aoiike) is also a must-visit place especially for photographers, where the natural minerals gives the water an extra blue. The reflection of the trees and branches are magical and spectacular to see.
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Akaigawa (赤井川村), Hokkaido
Akaigawa is a small village with a population of 1,264 on the west coast of Hokkaido surrounded by mountains. Yamanaka farm serves Hokkaido’s rich and creamy soft-serve ice cream.
Those who visit in the winter cannot miss the soft think layer of fresh powder great for skiing in the surrounding areas of Akaigawa. The Kiroro Resort in Akaigawa is one of the hidden treasure not known to many, with beginners to advanced ski courses, family playgrounds, and gondola rides to the beautiful scenery.
On your way back, stop by Sapporo and buy some Shiroi Koibito white chocolate cookies as a souvenir for your friends and family. Shiroi Koibito was first introduced in 1976, and for a long time was only available in Hokkaido. The name of the snack itself was inspired by the beautiful landscape of Hokkaido on a snow day after skiing.
You can also visit the Shiroi Koibito Museum while you're in Sapporo too and see how these tasty snacks are made (and try some experimental flavors) ! Check it out here.
Shibetsu (士別市), Hokkaido
Shibetsu is a town of 5,825 people situated at the east coast of Hokkaido. 68% of its land are forest area stretching out to the Sea of Okhotsk. Despite being a small town, the Shibetsu river basin enriches the surrounding area, developing a foundation perfect for large-scale dairy production and fishing. It is famous for its rolling hills and sheep farms.
Jaga Pokkuru is a potato stick snack, seasoned with the salt from Okhotsk Sea, distilled and simmered in the kettle for a mellow smooth flavor.Calbee uses only Hokkaido-grown un-skinned potatoes and named the snack after Koropokkuru, a dwarf from Ainu folklore.
Visitors who enjoy donuts can also find cute Shiretoko donuts made with honey and fresh Hokkaido milk. The donut is unique because of a little Kumagoron panda-figured dough placed at the center hoping to fill the loneliness following the loss of a panda in Ueno zoo.
Check out this past Snakku box where we featured a bunch of locally made snacks from Hokkaido!
Tsurui (鶴居村), Hokkaido
Tsurui is a tiny village with a population of 2,596.
The spring in Tsurui starts in May as cherry trees start to blossom. The nearby Kushiro Marsh, stretching a massive 183km square kilometers, sheds its wintry colors and becomes covered in fresh green.
This is the time of the year when thousands of visitors come here to see the Tancho, a rare Japanese Red-crowned Crane, return to the Marsh in pairs in order to raise their new breeds and feed on corn and fish in the surrounds of Tsurui.
During late winter, Tancho showcases their beauty with a spectacular performance by calling and dancing with their partner in preparation of the breeding season.
Kyogoku (京極町), Hokkaido
Kyogoku is mountainous region with the famous Mount Yotei, which bubbles out natural hot spring water. Meters of snow that pile up during every winter is absorbed by the mountain filtering through rocks decades later as pure, tasty spring water. Visitors come to this town to drink that spring water, as it is believed to have healing properties.
At the base of Mount Yotei, water flows out at a rate of 80,000 tonnes a day into the beautiful surrounds of Fukudashii Park. Here you could try coffee jelly made with coffee drip and spring water in the shape of a mountain where you can add syrup at the crater.
Be sure to check out our post exploring "Off the Beaten Path" places of Japan.