I don’t really know how many days you have free, but here are a few ideas that come to mind.
The first option is just a day trip from Kyoto, you can easily go there and back in one day. While some scenic rural towns around Kyoto can be quite crowded, this one is a small town still undiscovered which allows you a quick glimpse into the slow pace of life of the Japanese countryside. If you have another day or two but don’t want to go too far, we can easily add on more towns in the vicinity for an easy trip!
The second option is recommended if you have more time (and are a bit more adventurous!) and would like to go deeper into rural Japan. For centuries this isolated corner of the country has been happily ignored by the rest of Japan, thanks to its notorious inaccessibility that once frustrated ruling Shoguns and still thwarts modern day visitors. However, trains and buses are available, and I’d give you the timetables and connections to make sure you have no problems getting around. It would take 5 days or so to do the area justice, more can be added if you have time.
DAY TRIP FROM KYOTO
A boat ride through the town’s canals and marshlands (or cycling, if you prefer!) as well as plenty local food and traditional restaurants, a shrine and optional hiking are available.
FIVE DAYS IN THE COUNTRYSIDE
Supposing you have five days, the longer trip would be a mix of flatlands, mountain scenery and coastal towns.
Your first day would mostly be a transit day, but you’d have time for a few hours of cycling through rice fields along some plains known for its folkloric stories. The bike route includes many shrines that are related to local legends! It’s all flat so it is an easy cycling route for all ages. Once you’ve stretched your legs after the first train ride, it’s time to hop onto the second train which will take you through tunnels, bridges and rural scenery until Japan’s coast and fully off-the-beaten-path.
Your second day could include an award-winning Japanese garden as well as listening to folk songs and dance at a homely theatre, and an evening visit to a Japan’s oldest shrine, lit up with lanterns after dark. Every year the gods of Japan gather at this shrine so it is surrounded by mythology.
Your third day requires a bus ride into the mountains to see a remote town with many curious temples and important history, as well as beautiful nature. On the way back down the valley you can stop at a hot springs town for the Japanese bathing experience!
The next day is another day trip, down to an ancient city full of famous historical samurai and political figures who overthrew the shogun and sparked Japan’s revolution to modernity. It’s a town of canals and numerous traditional residences, also famous for pottery, its castle and impressive coastal rocks. Despite being a place full of sites to see, it is too difficult to get here as a day trip from anywhere else, so only those who venture well into the region can see this little gem.
Your last day would visit another mountain town on your way back to Kyoto or Osaka. The main spots include a shrine with a thousand vermillion torii gates climbing up the mountain, amazing views over the valley, traditional streets lined with canals with koi fish, sake breweries and homely restaurants.
Food in this area is very unique and worth trying, so I’ll point you to my favourite restaurants too! Here are some examples of regional specialities: