Smaller But No Less Beautiful Places In Japan To Visit | CoolJapan

With the pandemic still wearing on, Japan’s borders are still currently closed to foreign visitors, but many are hopeful that the country will slowly open up in the latter half of this year. If you're hoping to visit Japan in 2022 but are keen to avoid the crowds, here are some small but charming spots to explore.

Koedo, Kawagoe City, Saitama prefecture

Koedo, Kawagoe City, Saitama prefecture

Kawagoe isn't far from Tokyo, but it feels like a totally different world. (Photo from: Saitama Prefecture Products & Tourism Association)

Located just 45 minutes away from central Tokyo, Kawagoe City is a refreshing change in pace from the hustle and bustle of the capital. And just 30 minutes away from Kawagoe’s city centre is Koedo where you’ll find yourself transported back in time to Japan several centuries ago. Koedo, which means “Little Edo”, is home to quaint old merchant storehouses, traditional candy shops and the historic Kitain Temple with its 538 distinctly different Buddha statues. Don’t leave Koedo without trying some local specialties at Ryotei Yamaya, such as cha soba at Kotubukian and a nutritious tofu set meal at Omiya Chobei Shoten.

Ainokura Village, Toyama prefecture

Frequent travellers to Japan are probably privy to the charms of Shirakawa, a village located in Gifu Prefecture known for its traditional gassho-zukuri (thatched roof) farmhouses, some of which are over 250 years old. However, tucked away in Toyoma Prefecture is the equally picturesque village of Ainokura, which has more than 20 of these gassho-zukuri buildings – well-preserved and still in great condition. Gassho-zukuri means "constructed like hands in prayer", which is a nod to how the farmhouses' steep thatched roofs are built to resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer. For a truly unforgettable experience, sign up to stay the night at one of these gassho-zukuri lodgings.

Yakushima, Kagoshima prefecture

Yakushima, Kagoshima prefecture
Yakushima is also known as “The Alps in the Ocean”, as there are more than 40 mountains over 1,000m high. (Photo from: K.P.V.B.)

For those looking for a truly natural escape, make your way to this subtropical island located off the southern coast of Kyushu. Covered with a rich and verdant cedar forest, known to contain some of the country’s oldest living trees, Yakushima was declared a Natural World Heritage Site in 1993 and is now a national park. With its dense foliage, mossy rocks and historic footpaths, the island certainly captures the imagination, even inspiring the setting for the 1997 animated film Princess Mononoke. Before your visit, be sure to pack a solid rain jacket and waterproof shoes as Yakushima receives plenty of rainfall all year round, with locals quipping that it rains “35 days a month”.

Tsumago, Nagano prefecture

During the Edo Period (1603 - 1868), a network of post towns were built and used throughout Japan. These towns were located on major routes connecting Edo (present-day Tokyo) to other significant cities throughout the country, and served as rest stops for itinerant traders and travellers. One of Japan’s best-preserved post towns is Tsumago, which is on the Nakasendo route between Kyoto and Tokyo. Here, you’ll find many of the traditional buildings still standing – including the Honjin (the principal inn that served government officials passing through) and even the office where labourers and horses could be rented as part of a travelling entourage. The main street is also blissfully car-free in the day, and all signs of modernity such as phone lines and power cables have been artfully concealed, allowing you to better imagine what it was like back in the day.