We might be a little biased, but we believe the most beautiful places in the world are in Japan! In the land of the rising sun's countryside, you can experience the passing of the seasons as they paint the lands with spring flowers, autumn leaves, snowy winter scenery, and emerald summers. If you're a nature lover, you can't miss these cities and sightseeing destinations in rural Japan on your next vacation.
If you don’t have a lot of time, but need an escape from Tokyo, take a day trip to Hakone. One of the best things to do in this little town is to ride the Hakone Ropeway up to Owakudani Valley. On the way up, you’ll get a breathtaking view of Mount Fuji.
The climbing season for Mount Fuji is from July to September when the snow melts. Those who brave the summit usually start at Mount Fuji’s 5th Station at night so that they can greet the sun at the peak. If hiking in the dark doesn’t sound appealing, you can rest in a mountain hut.
The “Hells” of Beppu are seven gorgeous natural hot springs, which are for viewing and not bathing. You might not feel at one with nature here as the Hells attract visitors from all over the world, but the trails are accessible for any age and ability. One of the prettiest Hells is Umi Jigoku, which is a pond of boiling blue water surrounded by spacious gardens, orange hot springs, and lotus flowers.
Established by Taira no Kiyomori in 1168, Itsukushima Shrine is best known for its iconic “floating” torii gate and cherry blossoms. After visiting the shrine, take the time to explore the abundant nature and untouched forests of Miyajima Island. You can also climb Mount Misen on one of three hiking trails and take in the view of Hiroshima Bay.
One-hundred-eighty farmhouses make up Shirakawago Village. What separates these from other ancient homes in Japan are their distinctive thatched roofs, which come together like hands in prayer. This so-called gassho-zukuri architecture made it possible for farmers to live through the region’s harsh winters centuries ago. Now, you too can experience staying in this type of house as about a dozen are open for travelers to book.
Sheer cliffs on the Gokase River make the narrow chasm of the Takachiho Gorge—the treasure of Miyazaki Prefecture. If you rent a rowboat, you’ll come across the cascading Minainotaki Waterfall. You can also see it from above on a paved path. Spotlights illuminate the area from sunset to 10:00 pm on warm summer nights.
The secluded Motonosumi Inari Shrine sits on the picturesque cliffs of Yamaguchi’s coast. The red torii gates lead you down a footpath that stretches over 100 meters. The end of the trail takes you to a viewing area over the shoreline. Weathered grooves and holes riddle the cliff face, and water bursts up through them like geysers when the waves hit.
After the eruption of Mount Tokachidake, Biei City built the Blue Pond to control the erosion. Without meaning to, they created one of the most scenic places in Japan. A mixture of natural minerals in the pond’s water creates an iridescent blue that shines through even when it freezes in winter. Surrounded by autumn leaves in fall and lush greens in summer, the Blue Pond is well worth the trip any time of year.
The Oirase Mountain Stream in Aomori Prefecture is the only outlet from Lake Towada. Over a dozen waterfalls pour into a gorge, which creates the stream. It’s particularly striking when the autumn leaves reach their peak colors from late October to early November. An easy day hike leads you through the upper passage, which takes most people around two and a half hours to complete.
For centuries, Japanese people have considered Matsushima Bay as one of the top three most beautiful places in the country. Over two-hundred small islands dot the crystal water, and thousands of pine trees color the land. The best way to see the bay is by boarding one of the many sightseeing cruises. It takes around five to ten minutes to walk from Matsushima Kaigan Station to the pier, and you can choose short or long routes to remote regions.
Kinosaki has been the premier place to relax and recharge in the Kansai region since the 8th century. The healing waters that pump into the town's traditional ryokans are one reason to visit, but the atmosphere separates Kinosaki from other onsen areas. Nearly everyone walking along the willow-lined river wears a cotton yukata kimono as they scurry from bathhouse to bathhouse.
Although there aren’t any buildings left of Takeda Castle, you can explore the foundations of the central fortress and three wings. The best time to go here is in October and November at sunrise. On these days, clouds form around the ruins, and Takeda Castle seems to float on top of them. The most attractive viewing points take about thirty or forty minutes to reach on foot.
While the rest of the country boasts mountains, forests, and rivers, dunes span the coast in Tottori. Some measure at two kilometers wide and fifty meters high, but the tides and coastal winds continuously change the landscape. You can ride a camel, board a horse-drawn cart, or try paragliding and “sandboarding.” Near here, you can also find the Sand Museum, where Japanese and international artists create statues from the sand.
The Shimanami Kaido bridge connects Honshu and Shikoku, and you can cross it either on foot or by bicycle. The 60-kilometer route passes through six small islands that have small towns and a few attractions. Travelers can rent bikes at one of many terminals. Most people prefer to cycle here in early November when the weather is warm and mild.
In the northern region of Kyoto Prefecture, 8,000 pines grow on a sandbar that rises out of Miyazu Bay. The treeline stretches over the ocean from one coast to another. If you bend over and stick your head between your legs, they look like a bridge in the sky. Along with Matsushima Bay and Miyajima Island, Amanohashidate is one of the top three most scenic views in Japan.
The rugged Shiretoko Peninsula is part of an unspoiled national park in Hokkaido. From April to November, you can take sightseeing cruises along the coastline to cliffs and waterfalls that are otherwise inaccessible. The highlight of the journey is the wildlife on the rocky beaches and in the ocean. Depending on the season, you might spot dolphins, whales, brown bears, and more.