Exploring the Japanese Countryside

If you have a car and a map, Japan is your oyster!

By Olivia Lee    - 3 min read

I am lucky enough to be working as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) for the JET Programme. What this entails, aside of course from the actual job itself, is being placed in a town most people you know have never heard of and expected to start a life there.

The reason I am telling you this is because when I first heard of my placement, Asagiri - a small town in the South of Kumamoto, in the heart of the countryside - I couldn't even begin to imagine what it would be like. It's so small, of course there are no 'must-see sights', no 'things to do' and nothing really an internet search could tell me. It was clearly not considered a tourist attraction.

But what I discovered from living here is that what the internet knows about a place doesn't necessarily correlate to what the place has to offer. Because honestly, I have seen more beauty in this area in one year that I have in my whole life (and I've done my fair share of travelling!). I am definitely biased; I know that. And also, having been here for a long time has meant I've witnessed the beautiful sunsets, the rice harvesting days, the stormy skies and the cherry blossoms of spring that you might not see if you just visited for a day. But whilst living here, I've traveled to lots of other middle-of-nowhere towns and been equally amazed. Japan's countryside really is stunning. The mountains, the rice fields, the rivers, the little shops that can't possibly have customers, the combini in every village, the quirky things you spot on the side of the road, like an egg-vending-machine and then the actual vending machines. 

It's very easy to do as well. Japan puts all their road signs in English; even in the towns you'd think no tourist would ever visit. That includes place names as well as any 'points of interest'; like statues, waterfalls, shrines, temples etc. Also, when I travel around the countryside, I try to avoid the highways. Not only does that mean you don't have to pay tolls, but from experience the 'back roads' are kept in excellent condition and generally reward you with a lot more to see. Instead of cutting through the mountains with tunnels like the highway, you get to wind between the mountains and over them.

The countryside might not possess 'must see sights' and there might not be 'things to do', but if you have a car, or can rent a car, I really encourage you to choose a town on a map; one you've never heard of, and just drive there. And enjoy the drive, because that's part of the adventure. And when you get there, there might be nothing to do, but go into the local supermarket, try the local onsen, eat at a local restaurant, drive around the rice field roads, and look at the road signs because often you'll see 'attractions' like statues, caves, waterfalls etc. that the internet didn't even know existed. It might be a disaster, but it will definitely be an adventure. And you'll get to experience a side of Japan that tourists never do!

[All the photos I've included are of places I just found; no prior planning, just my car and my camera!]

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Olivia Lee

Olivia Lee @olivia.lee

A lover of photography, travel, delicious food, nature and adventure! Currently living and working (teaching English) in a tiny 'inaka' town called Asagiri, deep in the Kumamoto countryside. 

Join the discussion

Jihad Mahmoud 3 years ago
The peace within these photos invite me to go there :)
Victoria Vlisides 3 years ago
Sounds like a hidden gem!
Peter Sidell 3 years ago
Ravishing photograhy!
Justin Velgus 3 years ago
Hello Olivia from a JET in Sendai (Miyagi, not Kyushu). I agree the countryside is amzing and everyone should get a taste of it and the city life. Even without a car, cycling or riding local trains is a good way to take in the view!