When I first arrived in Japan, I couldn’t believe the sheer number of people everywhere I looked. I had expected large crowds, but had never experienced so many people in one place. It was as if the big game had let out in all directions.
I couldn’t imagine any open space. Buildings lined up side by side with no space in-between, parks bordered on all sides by buildings, and narrow roads only wide enough for small, Japanese cars.
With one-third of the population of the United States living in an area the size of Montana, it’s hard to imagine how anyone can breathe.
However, 75% of the country is made up of mountains. Once you leave the cities where 90% of the population lives, you find out that the countryside in Japan is quite vast and beautiful.
The countryside in Wakayama features the Kii Mountain Range with hiking trails, the Kumano Kodo (ancient pilgrimage route), the Buddhist temples of Mount Koya, and the beautiful Nachi Falls.
The Kiso Valley in the Japanese Alps covers the countryside in Gifu and Nagano and feature an ancient trade route between the two mountain towns of Tsumago and Magome. The area also offers rivers, picturesque campsites, and outdoor hot springs.
Even smaller cities such as Kitakyushu, where I lived my first year, feel more like home. Kitakyushu, the 13th largest city in Japan, is comparable in size to San Jose, California, the 10th largest city in the United States. And Kyoto, the 7th largest city in Japan, is comparable in size to San Antonio, Texas, the 7th largest city in the United States.
When traveling to Japan, it’s fun to see the excitement of the cities. Tokyo, especially, has a lot to offer first-time visitors, from markets to temples to museums. But if you only see Tokyo, you are missing out on a whole other side of Japan that most tourists don’t experience – the quiet, peaceful countryside.