Anime that will inspire you to visit the Japanese countryside

Anime 'pilgrimages' are a great way to explore lesser known areas in Japan. It can lead you to some beautiful places you wouldn't have otherwise heard of, and I think that's a really wonderful thing. Here are some beautiful remote locations you can visit, courtesy of the lovely anime that feature them.

Natsume Yuujinchou

promotional image of Natsume Yujinchou
One of my favourite shows of all time, Natsume Yuujinchou inspired me to write this article. The show centres an orphaned boy named Natsume Takashi who is able to see yokai (spirits) and had been alienated because of this. The yokai often appear near his countryside home, and throughout the show we see bittersweet tales of Natsume helping them find peace while trying his best to protect his adoptive family and friends.

Visit: Hitoyoshi City, Kumamoto

image from https://xperience.link/en/article/may-meet-specter-natsumes-book-friends-japanese-rural-landscape-hitoyoshi
Hitoyoshi is a city located in the southeastern part of Kumamoto prefecture on the island of Kyushu. You can reach Hitoyoshi Station via the JR Hisatsu line, where the Hitoyoshi Tourist Information Center is. This is where you can get the pilgrimage map and a special stamp, along with a Natsume Yuujinchou gift shop!
image from http://jpninfo.com/70707
One must visit location Natsume explores during a field trip is the gorgeous Matsutani Rice Terraces near Naraguchi Station, which is listed as one of the top 100 Terraced Paddy Fields in Japan. This is where Kogitsune, the little fox youkai, is pictured to live.
image from https://xperience.link/en/article/may-meet-specter-natsumes-book-friends-japanese-rural-landscape-hitoyoshi
Another highlight is Amamiya shrine, which is the model for two locations in the series: The shrine of Tsuyukami, the dew god, and the shrine which Natsume used as his 'secret base' when he was little. There's an actual "book of friends" left in the shrine, so be sure to leave your thoughts!
image from http://japanphototrip.com/ichifusa_dam_lakeside/
Another location you can visit is Ichifusa dam, where approximately 10,000 cherry blossoms are planted. This is where Natsume meets the swallow youkai during his cycling trip and where its village is said to be submerged. For some reason this isn't in the pilgrimage map. For access information click here.
image from http://castle.jpn.org/en/higo/hitoyoshi/5.html
The beautiful Hitoyoshi castle ruins, listed as one of Japan’s Top 100 Castles and a nationally designated historic site, is a definite must visit if traveling to this area, so be sure to leave time for it! For access information click here.

From the pilgrimage map, there are a total of 8 places you can visit, all of which are listed (with access information) here.

Non Non Biyori

promotional image from Non Non Biyori
This charming story begins when Hotaru Ichijo, a fifth grader from Tokyo, transfers into a small countryside school where only five students remain. Each of these children come from different grades of elementary and middle school, and help Hotaru adjust to her new life while going on little adventures.

Visit: Ogawa, Saitama

Ogawa is a little town located in Saitama prefecture that was traditionally famous for papermaking, a craft known as Washi. It is easily accessible from Tokyo via the Tobu-tojo line, with the nearest station being Ogawamachi station.
image from http://mikehattsu.blogspot.sg/2015/12/non-non-biyori-school.html
Here you can find the actual school which the school in the anime is based on. As the school is no longer in use, feel free to look around and take photos! the playground and swing set is still there.
image from http://mikehattsu.blogspot.sg/2015/12/non-non-biyori-school.html
You can even enter the building and take a look at the classroom, where only 5 desks remain. Make sure to leave your thoughts in the notebook provided. For access information click here.
image from http://www.pref.saitama.lg.jp/chokotabi-saitama/eng/ichioshi/dentou/dk26.html
While in Ogawa, you should also visit the Saitama traditional craft center. Hosokawa paper was recognized as Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2014, and here you can experience a papermaking workshop! For more information click here.
image from http://www.pref.saitama.lg.jp/chokotabi-saitama/eng/spot/sp737.html
Alternatively, you can sign up for a washi making workshop at Kubo Japanese paper factory. Please note that they require reservations by telephone or through their website. For more information click here.

Wolf children 

image from Wolf children trailer
Wolf children is a heartwarming film about a single mother's struggle to raise her two children, who can turn into wolves. In an attempt to protect them from a world that wouldn't understand them, Hana moves her children to a rural town, where she deals with the ever present feeling that she cannot provide for them.

Visit: Tateyama, Toyama

image from https://fastjapan.com/en/p110300
Hana, Ame and Yuki's rural home is based on a real, traditional Japanese house that you can enter and explore in Toyama prefecture, which is accessible via aeroplane from Toyama airport, or by train (2 hours from Tokyo via Hokuriku Shinkansen).
image from http://mikehattsu.blogspot.sg/2016/12/wolf-children-house-part-2.html
The house is decorated to look like the movie setting and has a poster of it! The landlord is said to be very nice and allows photographs. The nearest train station, Kamiichi station is 2 hours (by foot) from the house. Renting a car or bicycle from there is recommended. Click here for access information.
image from http://www.adventurejapan.jp/en/archives/3306
On the way to the house from Kamiichi station, you can stop by Nisseki ji temple, famous for their meditation waterfalls, and sculpture of Myou in the mountainside. Click here for access information.
image from http://siamorchardgroup.com/country-detail.php?WP=oGu3Zxj1oH9axUF5nrO4Ljo7o3Qo7o3Q
You should also seriously consider making your way to the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. You can enjoy magnificent mountainous scenery in a cable car, ropeway and trolley bus, and even trek across giant snow walls. Click here for access information.
image from https://plat.navitime.co.jp/article/TBNarticle28097/
You also simply must visit the stunning UNESCO world heritage site, Gokayama's Gassho-style Village in Nanto city nearby, which is like a real life postcard. Click here for access information.

Poco's Udon World

promotional image from Poco's Udon world
Poco's Udon world is an adorable story of Poco, a shape shifting Tanuki who tries to reconnect a man named Souta to his recently deceased father. Throughout the show Souta's resentment towards his hometown and regret towards his father is explored, and Poco helps him learn to appreciate his home and realise his father's love for him.

Visit: Takamatsu, Kagawa 

Kagawa, Japan's smallest prefecture, is easily accessible from major cities like Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto, either by train or aeroplane. While in Kagawa, trying Udon is a must, as it is known as 'Udon prefecture'.
image from https://www.my-kagawa.jp/en/ritsurin/ with anime comparison
One must visit location the duo explore is Ritsurin garden, a gorgeous feudal lord's garden given 3-star status by the 'Michelin Green Guide Japan'. Here you can drink tea at Kikugetsu-tei teahouse or explore the the Sanuki Mingeikan (Folk Craft Museum). Click here for access information.
image from https://www.ana-cooljapan.com/destinations/kagawa/shodoshima with comparison to anime
Souta & Poco also took a day trip to Shodoshima, a beautiful island one hour by ferry from Takamatsu Port in Kagawa. You will recognise the Angel Road sand bar from the show. Be sure to visit Kankakei Gorge as well! Click here for access information.
image from https://www.my-kagawa.jp/en/sightseeing/sightseeing06
The gang also spend a day at the Yashima Plateau. The most popular attraction is the temple, Yashima-ji, which has a beautiful temple garden and viewpoint. While there you can explore the rediscovered and restored ruins of the ancient Yashima Castle as well. Click here for access information.
image from http://lavie-avec-nature.over-blog.com/2016/09/shikoku-mura.html
At the base of Yashima is Shikoku Mura, an open air museum with a pleasant hillside park. It preserves and exhibits traditional buildings and structures from the Edo and Meiji periods. It retains a beautiful, natural atmosphere. Click here for access information.

All the places featured in Poco's Udon world can be found here (Japanese).

Kimi no Na Wa

promotional image of kimi no na wa
This one probably doesn't need an introduction, but just in case: Kimi no Na Wa is a story about a boy and a girl who try to find each other after they start mysteriously swapping bodies. They live in vastly different worlds, with Taki growing up in modern Tokyo and Mitsuha in a remote part of Gifu prefecture.

Visit: Hida Furukawa, Gifu

image from http://www.chanwon.com/2017/03/your-name-movie-real-life-locations-in.html
This part of Gifu prefecture can be accessed from Hida Furukawa Station via the Takayama Main Line. This train station actually appears in the film as well, and you can find the mascot shown in the film here!
image from https://asia.nikkei.com/Life-Arts/Japan-Trends/Japan-animation-blockbuster-sparks-bittersweet-tourism-boom
Next you can visit the Hida City Library, where Taki and his friends learn the truth about what happened to the town of Itamori. There is section dedicated to fans there, and you can leave your thoughts and grab a pamphlet.
image from http://www.chanwon.com/2017/03/your-name-movie-real-life-locations-in.html
You can also visit the Keta wakayama Shrine which is featured several times in the film. Keta Wakamiya Shrine is one of the shrines included in the Furukawa festival, and is designated as an Intangible Cultural Property of Japan.
image from http://kosublog.com/en/hidatakayama-shirakawago-1703-part09/
You should definitely visit the Hida Sakura Gift Shop while you're there for a Kumihimo Braid experience! The shop is decorated with items featured in Kimi no Na Wa, and they teach you how to braid step by step. You can also check out other local craft there.
image from http://www.jlgc.org.uk/en/news_letter/hida-citys-authentic-japanese-landscapes/
A must see location in furukawa is the Setogawa Canal area which retains a traditional Japanese landscape. The canals have colourful and large koi swimming within them, giving the area an incredibly rustic feel. For access information click here.

Click here for access information for the places listed above & more!

Only Yesterday 

promotional image for only yesterday
Only yesterday is a grossly underrated Ghibli film about a woman named Taeko, and her trip to the countryside. The trip helps her recall her childhood memories, which in turn aids in her own self discovery. The trip also helps her determine what she truly wants in life, and makes for a fantastic coming of age tale.

Visit:  Yamagata City, Yamagata 

The area Taeko visits is accessible from the Takase Station of the JR  Senzan Line and is an hour away from Sendai city. The station itself is featured prominently in the film, especially towards the end.
image from http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/routes/g_route/golden_48.html with anime comparison
From Takase station you can visit the beautiful safflower fields shown in the movie either at Takase safflower Fureai center or Takazawa district (nearest areas). The blooming season is in July. For a full list of fields click here.
image from https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e7940.html
The film briefly mentions Yamadera, which is the gorgeous mountainous temple with scenic views, also known as Risshakuji. If visiting the area, Yamadera should definitely be on your bucket list! For access information click here.
image from http://zoomingjapan.com/travel/yamagata-castle/
The area is also home to the Yamagata castle ruins, a nationally designated historic site and one of the top 100 castles in Japan. The castle is a popular site for cherry blossom viewing. For access information click here,
image from http://etn.travel/asias-lesser-known-destinations-rise-15040/
Taeko also visits Mt. Zao during her trip, a place that has become famous because of its 'snow monsters' formed when snow builds up on trees near the ski areas. Mt Zao is approximately an hour away from Yamagata. For access information, click here.

Barakamon

image from barakamon
Barakamon is a lighthearted (hilarious) story about Handa, a calligrapher who is sent to the Goto Islands for inspiration after an incident leaves him frustrated and angry. There, he meets Naru, an incredibly cute and mischievous little girl who teaches him about the charms of the simple countryside lifestyle, along with her friends.

Visit: Fukue, Goto islands

image from http://www.crunchyroll.com/anime-feature/2016/12/03/feature-anime-vs-real-life-barakamon
The Goto Islands are a group of 5 main islands off the western coast of Kyushu. Of these Islands, Handa is sent to Fukue. It can be accessed through the Goto-Fukue Airport, a location featured within the anime several times, or through ferry services from Nagasaki.
image from http://www.crunchyroll.com/anime-feature/2016/12/03/feature-anime-vs-real-life-barakamon
As the anime is about Handa's interaction with local residents, it mostly features the remote areas south from the town of Tomie. The place from the image above is not even named on google maps. Fukue is truly for those who love off the beaten path places.
image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/ippei-janine/6158093251
As shown in Barakamon, Fukue has many beautiful beaches with white sand and crystal clear waters, with a stand out being Takahama beach on the western coast, where you can spend the day! Access information is available here.

Because getting around Fukue is a little difficult, either renting a car or booking a tour with the bus tour company at the ferry terminal or airport is recommended if you want to explore the island.
abunze coast. image from http://www.nagasaki-shizen.jp/en/detail-facility_info/facility-317/
Course A (morning): 2100 yen (plus 300 yen entrance fee)
Starts at 8:50 Fukue Airport, 9:20 Fukue ferry terminal
Covers the Dozaki church, Abunze lava rocks, Onidake (no stop) and Old houses street (no stop).
Finishes at 11:15 Fukue ferry terminal
osezaki lighthouse. image from https://www.japanhoppers.com/en/kyushu_okinawa/goto_tsuhima_iki/kanko/1251/
Course B (afternoon): 3200 yen
Starts at 12:35 Fukue ferry terminal
Covers the Osezaki lighthouse, Takahama beach (possibly no stop), and Mizunoura church (no stop).
Finishes at 15:50 Fukue ferry terminal, 16:10 Fukue Airport

If you know Japanese, you can call and make a reservation (Information here).

 
I had way too much fun writing this. By the way, I recommend all of these anime.

Asha Mehta