For a small country, Japan has some amazingly diverse landscapes, from towering mountains and rolling hills to flat farmland and palm-fringed beaches. Combine these gorgeous backdrops with Japanese Edo-era architecture and the result is truly spectacular. This article will introduce 5 of the most beautiful towns in Japan.
1. Hida Takayama
Hida Takayama is known as "Little Kyoto" for its rich 18th-century architecture. Well isolated from the surrounding Evergrande Mountains, the town exudes traditional Japanese charm. These towering peaks overlook riverside markets, traditional shops and Japanese inns. Sanmachi Suji Street is the heart of the city's historic district, lined with old dark wood buildings. The narrow street is lined with a small canal that was used centuries ago to wash clothes and remove winter snow.
Karuizawa is a charming resort town tucked away at the foot of a majestic mountain, Mount Asama, one of the most active volcanoes in Honshu. Just an hour's high-speed train ride from Tokyo, this is a popular day trip from the capital, attracting locals and tourists alike with its unique autumn leaf colors and cool summer temperatures. Emperor Akihito met his future bride, Empress Michiko, in Karuizawa in 1957, making the town known as a romantic getaway. It's a great place to hike and visit the hot springs, plus the YachoNoMori or Wild Bird Forest is home to over 60 different bird species.
Located in the northernmost Hokkaido region of Japan, Otaru was an important fishing port at the end of the 19th century. Later, the terminal of Hokkaido's first railway was built here. The town's quaint canals are lined with old warehouses, and like the rest of the prefecture, it's one of Japan's most famous places to sample fresh seafood. While the canal area may be crowded with Japanese tourists, you'll find some quieter neighborhoods dotted with stately herring mansions near the town center. Otaru Island in February is especially beautiful during the flickering snow festival, with canals lined with glittering snow lights.
Historically the first permanent capital of Japan, Nara has eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is one of the most culturally rich towns in Japan. Although Nara only served as Japan's capital for about 70 years, it was during these years that the country's arts, literature and culture developed into traditions that are still relevant to Japan today. Less than an hour's drive from Kyoto and Osaka, Nara is a very compact town with most of its historical attractions located within the beautiful Nara Park. The park is known for its curious and free-roaming deer.
Magomejuku is a post station in the Kiso Valley, which was once an important stopover for travelers in the Edo period who made long journeys between Tokyo and Kyoto along the Nakasen Road. The town's main street is a wide stone sidewalk lined with beautifully restored old buildings, closed to vehicles. Aside from admiring the beautiful architecture, the main reason to visit Magome is to hike the Magome Tsumago trail, a five-mile section of the Nakasen Road. This delightful trail winds its way through forests and farmland, past waterfalls, and finally to Tsumagojuku. The trail is clearly written in English, and there is a bus between the two villages for those who don't want to walk back to Magomeju after the hike.