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Japan’s Must-See Villages for 2024
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Japan’s Must-See Villages for 2024

Japan’s traditional villages have been named among the best tourism destinations in the world. Planning to visit Japan? Put these villages on your must-see list.

Five Japanese Villages To Visit in 2024
Bonus Recommendations


It’s no secret that Japan’s villages are among the most beautiful in the world and offer a unique insight into traditional Japanese life. This year, Japan has seen a number of its villages placed on an exclusive best-in-the-world list by the UN’s World Tourism Organisation, making them a must-see for anyone planning a visit to this incredible country in 2024. This list was chosen not just because of these villages’ beauty but because of the sustainable efforts each village has taken to preserve its traditional way of life, culture, ecosystem, and landscape. We’ll take you on a tour of the five Japanese villages on this exclusive global list of the best tourism villages, tell you everything you need to know about each of them, and explain how you can use the JR Pass for unlimited travel across the whole of Japan using the country’s world-leading domestic rail network. Ready to visit some of the world’s most beautiful villages? Let’s get started.


Five Japanese Villages To Visit in 2024

Japan’s villages offer a wonderful contrast to its spectacular cities. Many have retained their original architecture, atmosphere, and culture, making them a unique gateway into Japan’s historic past. It’s no wonder they have been renowned and venerated by the likes of UNESCO and the UN’s World Tourism Organisation, including the five recently ranked in 2023 as must-visit destinations for the year ahead and shining examples of villages where the past is being preserved. Let’s take a look at these incredibly special Japanese villages.

1. Biei

Located in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island and region, Biei can be found within Daisetsuzan National Park, the largest national park in the country and a designated National Special Natural Monument. As you might expect from such a designation, Biei and the surrounding area are spectacularly beautiful. It is also a place where considerable efforts have been made to safeguard the natural ecosystem. It is those efforts that have seen Biei recognised by the UN’s World Tourism Organisation as one of the world’s best villages for tourism.

Biei is the epitome of small-town village life, and is the place to go for tourists who want to escape from the hustle and bustle of Japan’s busier areas. It’s common to see tourists and locals alike cycling through the area’s rich flower fields; you can also opt to rent buggies or tractors to explore Biei-Cho’s rolling hills and valleys. Photography fans will definitely have a field day here, and can even top off their trip with a visit to the Takushinkan exhibition hall. Here, you’ll find beautiful landscape photography from all over the country.

The region of Hokkaido can be reached directly by rail from Tokyo, with a one-way trip taking roughly four hours using the Hokkaido Shinkansen. The trip is fully covered by the JRailPass. Once in Hokkaido, there are a number of ways to reach Furano. If travelling from Tokyo, you can transfer at Sapporo (Hokkaido’s capital), Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto, or Takikawa, The JR Furano line connects the town with Asahikawa and Biei. In the summer months there is also a special train for tourists called the Furano-Biei Norokko featuring a nostalgic carriage and extra-large windows for sightseeing.

2. Shirakawa

Shirakawa-go is a travel destination right out of a fairy tale. Hidden away in the mists of the Japanese Alps, the region of Shirakawa-go was long isolated from the outside world. The result is a unique local culture and history, marked by the Gassho-style houses and sustainable way of living in local, sometimes harsh, conditions. It is not without reason that Shirakawa-go is a UNESCO world heritage site. Today, Shirakawa-go and the local villages of Ogimachi, Ainokura, and Suganuma are rare examples that show the older Japanese lifestyle. Visitors can experience traditional village life and stay overnight at one of the Gassho Style houses. The UN judges praised Shirakawa-go’s sustainable, tourism-focused conservation efforts to protect its historic buildings while introducing them to visitors.

You’ll definitely want to visit Ogimachi, which is the main village of Shirakawa-go and where the buses into Shirakawa-go stop. The village is a collection of gassho-style houses, some of which have been in the same family for over 250 years. Some can be visited as a mini museum, while others offer overnight accommodation. The village can easily be explored on foot and should not take more than half a day to fully enjoy. Shirakawa High road is where most attractions are located, along with a collection of different restaurants and local shops. Going up from the village is the road to Shiroyama viewpoint, where attractive views can be had over the Shirakawa-go valley and Ogimachi. This is the view of Shirakawa-go that you’ll see on postcards.

Due to the remoteness of Shirakawa-go there’s no rail station closeby and getting there will take some preparation. Visitors can reach Shirakawa-go from Matsumoto, Kanazawa or Takayama by express bus. The JR Pass covers the train to each of these cities but the bus to Shirakawa-go is not included in the JR Pass. Since getting to Shirakawa-go takes a good bit of transport, we recommend combining a visit with a stay at any of these cities, all are well worth a visit on their own. Read our in-depth guide to the magical villages of this area in Visiting Shirakawa-Go With The Japan Rail Pass

3. Oku-Matsushima

A beautiful and serene coastal village with history dating back more than 7,000 years, Oku-Matsushima can be found in Matsushima Bay, Miyagi prefecture. It made the list for its preservation of history and artefacts from the prehistoric Jomon and Yayoi periods, initiatives to empower women, traditional rice production methods, and many more reasons, including the Oku-Matsushima Olle Trail. The trail is an eco-focused and environmentally friendly hiking route established in the spirit of international friendships with sister trails in Kyushu, Korea and Mongolia. The word ‘Olle’ means the ‘alleys that lead home from the main road’ and the trail has been described as a unique, sustainable, and immersive tourism experience that has already helped more than 30,000 visitors connect with Matsushima Bay’s natural landscape using their five senses.

4. Hakuba 

While best known for its skiing and winter resorts, Hakuba in the Japanese Alps is another shining example of sustainability - with an aim of achieving 100 percent energy self-sufficiency using hydroelectric power and renewable resources.

Hakuba village was founded in 1956 after the merger of two older villages, but the history of the region goes back thousands of years. More recently, the ownership of the land dates back hundreds of years to the Edo Period when it was part of Lord Matsumoto’s domain under the Tokugawa shogunate. At this time, Hakuba was part of the Shionomichi or ‘Salt Road’ - a route used to transport salt inland from the Sea of Japan. The domain was controlled from Matsumoto Castle, which remains one of Japan’s finest castles and can still be visited today. It is considered one of the country’s national treasures. For more information read our guide Visit Matsumoto: Castle City in the Japanese Alps. Hakuba’s popularity as a skiing destination is a more contemporary development and first appears in the history books in the early 1900s, after the pastime was introduced to Japan. The Hakuba Valley region has become a hugely popular winter resort as a result, but there is much more to this beautiful and eco-friendly village than just skiing and snowboarding as evidenced by this latest ranking by the UN. It also transforms into a green and lush alpine paradise when the snow thaws every summer.

You can get to Hakuba from Tokyo (via Nagano) in around three hours using your Japan Rail Pass and the JR Hokuriku Shinkansen. You’ll need to catch an express bus from Nagano for the last leg of the journey from Nagano to Hakuba, but this is very helpful, as it stops at the base of a number of popular ski resorts along the way. You can also travel to Hakuba from other destinations, including Matsumoto, if you want to include a visit to the famous castle. To do so, use the JR Oito Line. Finally, you can also use your JRailPass to travel to Hakuba from Nagoya. Both Kyoto and Osaka are accessible from Nagoya using the JR Tokaido Shinkansen. From Nagoya, you can also use the rapid Mie train to visit Ise and Toba in Mie Prefecture. Read our guide to Everything About Hakuba for a detailed guide to the valley, its slopes and resorts, and villages. 

5. Miyama

Located near Kyoto, the serene rural villages of Miyama are the perfect place for international tourists to see the region’s traditional nature and witness satoyama culture up close. This is an area of thatched roofs and old-fashioned rural life - a vision of Japan’s past. The town of Miyama is located roughly 50 kilometres north of Kyoto among the mountains of Kyoto Prefecture. As Miyama literally translates as ‘beautiful mountains’, it’s no secret what kind of landscape it offers those who visit. However, what makes Miyama so special is the way that its traditional rural culture of community and sustainability has survived. Throughout the town of Miyama and its 26 surrounding villages there are more than 200 thatched roof farmhouses or kayabuki and roughly 4,200-5,000 residents. The region’s sense of history and adherence to old-fashioned farming values makes it one of the best places in Japan to visit to experience satoyama. This Japanese concept values a deep respect for nature and what it can provide. So, while Miyama feels rustic and from another time, it’s also self-sufficient and ecologically sustainable. For much more on Miyama, read our detailed blog post, The Beautiful Village of Miyama

Bonus Recommendations

  • For more on the subject of ecotourism, renewables, and sustainability, read our in-depth guide to Ecotourism in Japan
  • Also, for an alternative list of beautiful and traditional Japanese villages to visit, read our blog on The Most Beautiful Villages in Japan to visit. Although the list does include Biel, the other villages named are completely different to the UN’s list so will give you lots of extra ideas. 
  • Whether you’re visiting traditional rural villages in the Japanese countryside or Japan’s vibrant contemporary cities, it’s important to stay connected to the internet and not just to upload selfies to social media. Whether you need language tips or directions, investing in a PocketWifi device for constant internet access and high speed unlimited data is highly recommended. 
  • If you’re planning a visit to Japan’s serene and beautiful villages and it’s your very first time in the country, why not make life easier by using our Meet & Greet service on arrival? It’s like having an expert on Japan as your personal assistant. We’ll take care of you from the moment you arrive and help you settle before you head off in search of Japan’s most beautiful villages.
  • Japanese etiquette and customs may seem intimidating, especially away from the cities, but it’s really nothing to be worried about and the Japanese people are famously polite and friendly. Even so, it definitely helps to read up about basic etiquette before you go, particularly while visiting smaller villages. To help, we’ve put together a handy Beginners Guide to Japanese Etiquette.
  • Read up on Japan before you arrive with our list of the Best Books To Read About Japan Before You Travel. A little research can go a long way when planning a trip to some of Japan’s unique traditional villages.

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