Rural travel along Japan’s Three-star Road

TD Editor
Rural travel is gaining traction as people seek activities and experiences based on nature, agriculture, and rural lifestyle.
According to UNWTO, rural tourism activities take place in non-urban areas with the following characteristics: i) low population density, ii) landscape and land-use dominated by agriculture and forestry and iii) traditional social structure and lifestyle”.
Spread across five cities and running through four prefectures, Three-star Road offers visitors a chance to experience a truly authentic Japan with jaw-dropping scenery, spellbinding castles and delicately manicured gardens. Its cluster of fascinating sights has been endorsed by the likes of both UNESCO and Michelin, and with a selection of public-transport passes, getting around couldn’t be easier. A destination that lends itself to slow travel, discover a guide to rural highlights along the Three-star Road, from World Heritage villages to Kamikochi – one of Japan’s most stunning alpine regions.
World Heritage Ainokura Gasshozukuri Villa

For a taste of Japan of a bye-gone era, start the trip at Ainokura Gasshozukuri Village. Just a stone’s throw from the Shogawa River, the village has been a World Culture Heritage site for nearly 30 years. Of the 27 houses, 20 are in the traditional sloping-roof style. Many were built at the end of the Edo period through the Meiji period, with the oldest dating from the 17th century. Not only these houses, but also temples, shrines, earthen storehouses, Itakura and other traditional buildings have been preserved. Walk amongst historic hayfields and forests which hold back snow and protect the village from avalanches.

Wada House

On your journey to Takayama, be sure to stop at Wada House, a National Important Cultural Property which once served as the home for the family of the head of the village. The first and second floors are available to the public, so enjoy a step into the past and admire the incredible architecture which has survived about 300 years after its construction.


Takayama is a castle town up in the mountains in the Hida region a few hours by train from Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo and Nagoya. There are plenty of activities for visitors including visiting Sanmachi Street in the old town and two main markets; Jinya-Mae Morning Market in front of the Takayama Jinya building, and Miyagawa Morning Market which runs alongside the Miyagawa River. Another walk to do in Takayama is the Higashiyama Temple Walk which is a footpath between 12 fascinating Buddhist Temples and Shrines.

Hirayu Onsen

A trip to Japan is not complete without a soak in an onsen. One of the oldest hot springs in Oku-hida Onsen Village, Hirayu is a picturesque mountain town filled with hot springs said to have been discovered in the 1560s by Takeda Shingen’s troops when they crossed through the region. Today the town has many ryokans ranging in size from small family-run places to large complexes. Its hot spring waters are said to cure neuralgia, sensitivity to cold and skin disease.


Nestled between Matsumoto and Takayama, Kamikochi is a place of untouched natural beauty and is ideal for walking, trekking and camping. The best way to explore the region is on foot. Hike the trails along the Azusa River from Taisho Pond to Myojin Bridge for an easy walk for all levels. For a more challenging trek, the climbs to the surrounding peaks are for the more experienced hikers, who will be rewarded with incredible alpine views. Be sure to stay the night to experience a breathtakingly beautiful sky full of stars.
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