Best Small Towns In Japan That You’ll Never Want To Leave

While Japan is known for its large, bustling cities that bring in millions of tourists every year, there are plenty of small towns nestled in the midst of Japan that are worth being on your radar. These little towns are full of charm and ample opportunities to learn so many aspects of Japanese culture that you may not learn in a megacity

Before making your itinerary for your next trip to Japan, consider some of the following small towns that you’ll never want to leave once you get there and have a chance to explore.

Small towns often have historically significant landmarks, as well as buildings and natural wonders that have been beautifully preserved for people to admire for decades to come. 

Kitsuki, Oita

In the Edo period of Japan, Kitsuki emerged as a feudal land, and currently encompasses a couple of small villages that were merged together.

Kitsuki Oita Location Via Google Maps

The historic castle town of Kitsuki, Oita prefecture

It’s known as a castle town with samurai houses still in existence for people to visit. Kitsuki tends to be referred to as a “sandwich castle town,” as it consists of two districts with commercial and residential areas and a valley sitting in the middle. 

Visitors can enjoy seeing a lot of the structures that existed in the Edo period, given that they’ve been preserved quite well.

A lot of effort has been put into keeping these buildings and structures intact to preserve the historical significance of the area. Additionally, efforts have been made to avoid modernizing the area too much. 

You might even see women walking down the street in kimono while you’re there. Visiting the small town of Kitsuki feels as though you’re stepping back in time to the feudal era.

castle in Kitsuki

The Kitsuki Castle has been reconstructed, and several samurai residences are open for tourists to walk through and learn about. You can visit Kitsuki in the Oita Prefecture. 

Kotohira, Kagawa

Kotohira is an emerging tourist destination, as it’s home to a large shrine complex known as the Kompirasan. The shrine is surrounded by lush greenery.

The shrine takes quite the hike to get to, but the reward is definitely worth it. You can also visit a museum with artwork by famous oil painter Takahashi Yuichi. 

Kotohira Kagawa Location Via Google Maps

Kompirasan formally known as Kotohiragu

There is also the Kabuki playhouse known as Kanamaru-za, where you can watch occasional Kabuki shows.

This historic playhouse still has the same charm it once had, as kabuki shows are no longer as common as they once were. A river also flows through the town with a plethora of bridges to cross while you admire the small town charm. 

The town is also a great place to eat with many delicious restaurants, with a souvenir shop that must be visited to make traditional wasanbon sugar cakes.

When visiting Kotohira, you should seek out a bowl of Sanuki udon, a tasty, warm meal that Kotohira is known for. The town is small, with a population estimated to be under 10,000, and it’s located in the Kagawa Prefecture. 

Minoh, Osaka

Minoh is a beautiful town full of lush trees that sit outside of Osaka City in the Osaka Prefecture of Japan. One of its most famous sites that brings visitors each year is Meiji No Mori Mino Quasi-National Park.

This beautiful park boasts a unique combination of plant life and animal life, all of which are maintained and preserved by the park.

Minoh Osaka Location Via Google Maps

If you’ve ever wanted to see monkeys in the wild, this is the place to see them. There is also a hiking path you can follow, surrounded by shops and temples to explore.

Their signature momiji tempura is worth stopping for when you want a unique snack. The Minoh waterfall also flows within the park, and it’s worth the hike to see the gorgeous water fixture flow away. 

Minoh is also home to Katsuo-ji, a Buddhist temple that houses a stunning collection of daruma dolls. You’ll be sure to enjoy the peaceful serenity and bounty of nature in this quiet but charming town.

If you can get to Minoh in the Fall, you’ll be amazed by all of the colorful nature to take in. 

Onomichi, Hiroshima

Onomichi, located in Hiroshima Prefecture, used to be the center for a lot of trade in the area, which has since dwindled.

A lot of the industrial aspects of the city are still available for tourists to see, in order to get a glimpse into what trade in Japan used to be like. Such sights include a motor factory and a ship-building yard. 

Onomichi Hiroshima Via Google Maps

Onomichi Ropeway

Additionally, Onomichi houses the Senko-ji Temple, a historic Buddhist temple that has been in place since the 800s.

There are many more temples and shrines in the town to explore, as well as some nature centers dedicated to some beautiful plants and flowers. The town is small, but you won’t run out of interesting things to do and see there. 

Onomichi Senko-ji Temple

The Senkoji Park also boasts a stunning collection of cherry blossom trees, which are a major draw for tourists and locals alike. There are also various flowers that bloom in the park throughout the year, adding to the beautiful scenery. 

Tsuwano, Shimane

You’ll truly feel like you’re getting away from the hustle and bustle of a populated city when visiting Tsuwano in the Shimane Prefecture.

Tsuwano Shimane Location Via Google Maps

Your first stop should be Tono-machi, Tsuwano’s main street. Here, you can see some glistening koi ponds and a ton of Edo-period style buildings that have been intact since the Edo era. 

In April, Tsuwano tends to see an increase in tourism, as many are eager to celebrate the Yabusame Festival.

This celebrates an old practice of horseback archery, which is still enjoyed in Tsuwano today. There are also a couple of Catholic churches you can visit here, which are rare to find in Japan. 

You can also see what remains of the Tsuwano Castle, as well as some shrines that have stayed in place for centuries.

The Taikodoni Inari Shrine is a popular site for prayer and brings in people from all over Japan to hope for prosperity in the new year. The town has such an interesting combination of history and culture.

A Look At Rural Japan

My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.