If you ever go to Japan, you have to get outside of the major cities and explore rural Japan. Rural Japan is where you can experience the best that Japan has to offer. Some of the best food, hotels, scenery, and hospitality can only be found in these small countryside villages.
In part three of this multi-part post (see part 1 here & part 2 here), we’ll continue to explore places in central Japan, which have officially been named “The Most Beautiful Villages of Japan.” As a recap, 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 rural heritage of Japan.
Gunma Prefecture ( 群馬 県 )
Gunma Prefecture Crest
This region of Japan has historically been famous for its horses. The Gunma horses were renowned during the feudal era. In addition to horses, the area has always been known for their agriculture. Also if you own a Subaru, your car was made in Gunma. The following two towns of Showa and Nakanojo are located in Gunma.
Showa ( 昭和 村 )
This small town has a population of 7,229 and is considered to have some of the best rural landscapes in Japan. Showa has always been blessed with great farming lands and so the vegetables grown in this region are thought to be some of the best in Japan.
© Jérôme Capsid
Nakanojo ( 中之条 町 )
Nakanojo is in the mountains and has a population of 17,030. Since the town is surrounded by forests, they have become known for their impressive wooden building and handicrafts. The area is also very popular among domestic tourists for their amazing hot spring onsens. It’s best to go to Nakanojo in late spring/early summer because that is when wild flowers bloom all along the mountain side.
© Shichifuku Jin
Yamanashi Prefecture ( 山梨 県 )
Yamanashi Prefecture Crest
Yamanashi prefecture is the home of Mount Fuji and is one of the most historic regions of Japan. It’s been the center of many feudal power struggles and served as a vital trading region for the entire Japanese economy. More recently, it has been home to many world-leading robotics companies and is where Japan Railway (JR-line) tested its Maglev train on a test-track.
Hayakawa ( 早川 町 )
Hayakawa is the smallest town in Japan, with a population of only 1,160. It’s located on the picturesque Hayakawa River and is surrounded by beautiful mountains, waterfalls, and forests. The town might be small, but it’s filled with history. The Akazawa Inn located in the center of the town is over 800 years old. As well, the best calligraphy ink stones (Amehata Inkstone) in the world come from this region.
Gifu Prefecture ( 岐阜 県 )
Gifu Prefecture Crest
Gifu is located in the center of Japan and has played a vital role in connecting western and eastern Japan. One of Japan’s oldest highways, the Nakasendo, is in the region. On top of that, Gifu was considered to be the capital of sword-making, with many master swordsmiths residing in the area. In modern times, Gifu has become a skiing and hot spring hotspot and is home to industrial companies like Kawasaki and Mitsubishi.
Gero ( 下呂 市 )
Gero is a fairly large town with over 35,900 people, and is one of most famous onsen hot spring towns in Japan. It’s considered to have the purest water in Japan, so many people visit this town for its rejuvenating qualities.
© M Hamajima
Shirakawa ( 白川 村 )
Shirakawa is famous for its thatched roof houses (gassho-zukuri). This is the only place where you can still find these historical houses. They were built to withstand some of the heaviest snowfall in Japan. The clear waters from the surrounding mountains have helped cultivate the best green tea plantations outside of Kyoto. Shirakawa is also home to the famous Sato Tono cypress tree, which is renowned for its strength and amazing aroma.
© amandine evanno
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Nagano is not often spoken of as a primary tourist destination in Japan. But a couple of notable claims-to-fame make Nagano a very interesting place to visit indeed.