15 Traditional Japanese Villages to Explore on Your Next Trip

Japan is known for its stunning landscapes and centuries-old traditions. From the timeless beauty of Kyoto’s sacred shrines to the liveliness of Tokyo’s bustling streets, there’s something for everyone to explore and enjoy!

But if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the cities and explore some timeless rural towns, then you’re in luck. 

This blog post will introduce you to fifteen of the most traditional Japanese villages you can explore on your next trip. 

From the quaint streets of Shirakawa-go to the snow monkeys of Yudanaka Onsen, each rural place has something unique. 

You’ll be able to take in the picturesque views, learn about Japan’s culture and history, and experience the hospitality of the locals. 

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1) Visit Takayama: A Traditional Mountain Village

Visit Takayama: A Traditional Mountain Village

This historic town is known for its well-preserved Edo-period architecture, as well as its lovely mountain scenery.

Make sure to visit the Historic District, where you’ll find narrow streets and old wooden houses. 

Be sure to check out the Sanmachi Suji Craftsmen’s District, where you can see artisans at work and buy some souvenirs. 

And if you’re lucky, you might catch a traditional festival there!

2) Shirakawago and Its Historic Gassho-Zukuri Houses

Shirakawago and Its Historic Gassho-Zukuri Houses

This village is home to some of the country’s oldest and most historic Gassho-Zukuri houses, so steeped in history that they’re now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

These houses are characterized by their steep roofs, which resemble the hands of two clasped prayer beads.

What’s unique about Shirakawago is its residents still live and work in these historic houses.

So if you’re looking for a genuinely immersive Japanese experience, this is the place to find it.

3) Poke Around the Old Town of Kanazawa

Poke Around the Old Town of Kanazawa

Kanazawa is a gorgeous, old-fashioned Japanese hamlet that will leave you amazed.

Set on the coast of the Sea of Japan in central Honshu, it’s known for its wealth of historical sites and old-world architecture.

Start by visiting Kanazawa Castle and Kenrokuen Garden, two of the most famous sights in town. 

Then walk around the streets of Old Town (Naganomachi) to experience a bit of Japanese history; it’s filled with beautiful wooden merchant houses, shrines, and temples. 

Remember to pop into some traditional craft stores for souvenirs too!

Kanazawa is also home to plenty of delicious places to eat and drink. Be sure to sample local specialties like Kaga vegetable tempura and sake made from locally-grown rice. 

You can even learn to make these dishes yourself in a cooking class!

4) Explore Yamato City and Its Historic Streets

Yamato City in Nara Prefecture is known for its traditional streetscapes and sake breweries. 

The city is nestled between the Wakakusayama Mountains and Mt. Miwa, making it a picturesque spot to explore.

Yamato City is divided into two parts: Sakurai and Uda. 

In Sakurai, you can explore the traditional homes and buildings preserved since the Edo Period. 

You can also stop off at one of the six sake breweries in Yamato, known for their high-quality sake, or head to Yamato Tower for some breathtaking views over the city.

Uda, on the other hand, is home to two significant temples, Isonokami Shrine, Kofukuji Temple, and numerous old shrines. 

Here you can also find two major art museums: Sakura Art Museum, dedicated to traditional Japanese art and artifacts, and Izumi Art Museum, specializing in modern art from Japan and abroad. 

There are also plenty of shopping options in Uda to pick up souvenirs from your trip.

5) Discover the Ancient Town of Magome-Juku

Magome-Juku is in the Kiso Valley, a scenic region home to the now-defunct Nakasendo highway. 

This village is an outstanding illustration of classic Edo-style architecture and is chiefly renowned for its charming streetscape. Its core boasts cobblestone paths bordered by traditional inns and stores.

As you explore the area, you’ll see wooden houses, earthen walls, and post towns built during the Edo period.

Moreover, this settlement has been untouched since ancient times, making it the perfect destination for those eager to experience traditional Japan.

One of its standout features is Magome’s old teahouse, established in feudal times and still stands today.

The tea house offers an authentic experience and serves Japanese snacks like matcha desserts and soba noodles. 

And for a truly immersive experience, visit at night when all the lights are lit up; it’s truly magical!

6) Soak Up the Views at Tsumago-Juku

Tsumago-Juku is a traditional post town once part of the ancient highway connecting Tokyo to Kyoto

This quaint village is home to an array of ancient buildings, stores, and taverns that have been untouched by the passing of time. It provides an ideal setting to gain insight into Japan’s past and experience its culture.

The best part about Tsumago-Juku is its stunning views of the surrounding countryside. 

From its main street, you can see terraced rice fields and rolling hills filled with trees in all shades of green – it’s an incredible sight. 

There are numerous pathways for those who wish to investigate further in the town’s vicinity.

In addition to the views, Tsumago-Juku is known for its local delicacies, from mochi ice cream and sashimi to kabocha (a type of Japanese pumpkin) tempura and steamed eggs. 

So be sure to sample some treats along the way!

7) Explore the Brown Houses of Kawagoe

Explore the Brown Houses of Kawagoe

Kawagoe is home to the iconic Brown Houses, a distinctive type of traditional architecture characterized by brown-colored walls made of mud, clay, and sand.

The houses have been around since the Edo period (1603-1868) when the local merchants made their fortunes selling sweets. 

Today the merchants are gone, but the exciting style of architecture remains, much to the delight of visitors.

If you want to get a feel for how people lived back in the day, you can take a walking tour that includes some old merchant dwellings. 

You’ll also explore narrow alleys with small shops and restaurants, an excellent opportunity to sample some traditional food! 

There are even some old sake breweries that you can visit and learn about the brewing process.

Kawagoe is a place to add to your Japan bucket list; you won’t regret it!

8) Enjoy the Beauty of Wazuka-Cho

A must-see destination for any traveler is the panoramic Wazuka-Cho village in Japan. Its rolling hills are blanketed in tea plantations, perfectly illustrating the classic Japanese countryside.

There are plenty of activities to do in Wazuka-Cho. You can explore the countryside, take tea-picking tours, and visit local craft centers. 

It’s also a great place to try some delicious local cuisine – from udon noodles to delicious tempura dishes.

When you visit Wazuka-Cho, you’ll be surrounded by lush green mountains and have access to some of the most beautiful nature in Japan. 

The sunsets here are breathtaking and make a perfect end to any day exploring this magical town.

9) Step Back in Time at Motegi

Motegi is one of the oldest towns in Japan, and you can tell when you walk around. 

The original buildings found here date back to the 15th century, so it’s like stepping back in time. You’ll find traditional homes, shrines, and temples to explore.

Exploring the village of Motegi offers a glimpse into an earlier age when people could not access electricity and modern amenities.

This locality was even featured in the acclaimed animated movie Spirited Away, which hints at its beautiful nature.

When visiting Motegi, keep your eyes peeled for the 30-foot ancient cedar tree in the middle of town and the 16th-century stone Buddhas that line the street. 

It’s a great place to take your time, wander around and immerse yourself in Japanese culture and history.

10) Visit Kibune and Its Traditional Architecture

Kibune is a beautiful and scenic village located in the mountains of northern Kyoto, Japan. It is renowned for its traditional architecture, lush greenery, and serene atmosphere. 

Visitors to Kibune can take in the charming streets lined with Japanese-style homes and buildings and explore the many temples, shrines, and other historic sites scattered throughout the town. 

While in Kibune, travelers can also enjoy various outdoor activities, such as hiking and boating on the river that runs through the village.

In addition to its stunning natural beauty and unique culture, Kibune is also home to many delicious restaurants offering a variety of local specialties that visitors can sample during their stay. 

With its tranquil atmosphere and breathtaking views, Kibune is an ideal destination for those looking to experience Japanese architecture at its finest.

If you’re looking for a more rustic experience, explore Umegae Street, where you’ll find quaint wooden houses and cobbled streets. 

If you travel to Kibune during the appropriate time, join in on the Kurama Fire Festival and the Kifune Festival, which honor the remarkable history of this village.

11) Biei (Hokkaido)

Biei is a small town located in Hokkaido, Japan. It’s best known for its beautiful landscapes, which have been the backdrop for many television and movie productions.

What I love about Biei is that it’s so peaceful and quiet. There are few tourists here, so it’s the perfect place to relax and take in the natural beauty of Japan. 

For a tranquil retreat, Biei is worth visiting. Hills and pastures surround the village, and several tiny ponds make for stunning photographs.

12) Tsurui (Hokkaido)

The village itself is small and quaint, with a population of just over 1000 people. Despite its size, it’s home to many exciting attractions, such as the Tsurui-no-Mori Museum, the Tsurui Hot Spring, and the traditional houses that line the narrow streets.

If you want to experience Japanese culture, there are plenty of activities to explore in Tsurui. The locals are friendly and welcoming, so don’t hesitate to ask questions.

You can sample local specialties like ramen and sake at one of the many restaurants in town or visit nearby shrines for a unique insight into the country’s spiritual heritage.

In addition, you can take part in traditional festivals such as Obon or Setsubun or enjoy a relaxing stroll through the nearby rice fields.

13) Ine-Cho (Kyoto)

Ine-Cho (Kyoto)

It’s located near Amanohashidate, one of the most scenic spots, and is known for its centuries-old houses resting on stilts over the sea.

It’s a beautiful sight, with the houses rising like a collection of wooden lighthouses above the sparkling water. 

The fishing town has remained unchanged and is an extraordinary destination for uncovering and savoring the traditional fishing lifestyle.

You can select a boat ride around the hamlet or wander alone, pausing at local stores to taste some Ise Ebi tempura (deep-fried prawns) or other seafood delicacies.

14) Yoshinoyama (Nara)

Yoshinoyama (Nara)

Yoshino is the spot for you if you’re after something one-of-a-kind! Situated in the Nara Prefecture of Japan, this mountain hamlet is renowned for its ancient cedarwood groves.

In the late Edo Period, UNESCO designated these trees as a World Heritage Site.

The best part about visiting Yoshino is exploring the endless trails and ancient forests. As you walk along the paths, you’ll find shrines and temples that are centuries old. 

It’s a fantastic opportunity to take in the country’s ancient culture, architecture, and natural beauty.

The village is also charming; it has a traditional look with its old-style wooden buildings and narrow streets. 

Additionally, Yoshino is famous for its cherry blossoms, which bloom in the springtime, making it one of the most popular hanami (flower viewing) destinations.

With its stunning views, rich cultural history, and traditional atmosphere, Yoshino proves that rural areas can be just as fascinating as bustling cities!

15) Hakuba (Nagano)

This delightful hamlet in the Nagano Prefecture is ideal for snow sports enthusiasts, boasting some of Japan’s best skiing and snowboarding!

But Hakuba isn’t just a winter wonderland. 

The village is filled with vibrant blooms in the springtime, and the fall foliage is breathtaking.

There are plenty of hiking trails and onsen (hot springs) to enjoy, and the locals are some of the friendliest you’ll ever meet.

I had the chance to visit Hakuba earlier this year, and it was one of my favorite trips. 

If you want an unforgettable Japanese experience, add Hakuba to your list!

Bonus: Yudanaka Onsen

If you want to discover a classic Japanese hamlet, consider Yudanaka Onsen.

This village is close to the bottom of Shiga Kogen, a renowned ski resort well-known for its plentiful hot springs.

You’ll find much old Japanese architecture, ryokans, and temples in Yudanaka Onsen; the locals are amiable and welcoming.

Check out local souvenir shops, as they offer unique and exciting items.

Are there still traditional villages in Japan?

Yes. Although modernization has been picking up recently, Japan still has many traditional villages and hamlets.

What part of Japan is the most traditional?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as each of the 47 prefectures has its unique history and traditions. 

If you are seeking the most classic settlements in Japan, then Hayakawa in Yamanashi Prefecture, Kyoto in Kyoto Prefecture, or any ancient fortresses and merchant towns nationwide should be on your list.

What is the prettiest town in Japan?

This is a tough one! Japan has so many stunning cities it’s hard to choose the prettiest. But if we had to pick a town, it’d be Shirakawa-go. 

It’s in central Japan, surrounded by mountains, and is home to amazingly traditional architecture. 

It’s also breathtakingly beautiful no matter what season you visit, from summer wildflowers making the entire town smell like sweet honey to snowfall rendering the whole town white in winter perfect for holiday photos!

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