If you're looking for some travel inspiration in Japan, the United Nations World Tourism Organization recently published their Best Tourism Villages list for 2023. The list honors destinations that have shown commitment to nurturing rural areas through preserving landscapes, cultural diversity, and culinary traditions, and four local spots in four different prefectures made the cut.
Hokkaido's Biei area is known for having some beautiful natural landscapes, including rolling hills and expansive flower fields. The area was highlighted for its sustainable farming practices that promote biodiversity, and its efforts in cultivating sustainable tourism. The town collects accommodation and entry taxes from tourists, which are then used toward supporting tourism-related businesses.
Best-known as a snow sports destination thanks to its role in the 1998 Winter Olympics and world-class ski resorts like Happo-One, Nagano's Hakuba received kudos for its sustainable tourism management. Part of this includes their initiatives in the energy self-sufficiency sphere, with goals to be 100% self-sufficient through the use of hydro-electric power.
The naturally scenic Oku-Matsushima area of Miyagi has inspired art and poetry for centuries, but the region experienced a significant decline in tourism numbers after the triple disaster of 2011. They've put in a great deal of effort since then to restore this part of the region's economy, including promotion of the Oku-Matsushima Olle Trail, an outdoorsy hike that allows visitors to appreciate the area's beaches, woods, and settlements. Oku-Matsushima village also was recognized for its commitment to empowering women through initiatives like the Nadeshiko Kaisei Juku program, which fosters women's entrepreneurship in various industries including tourism.
Perhaps Japan's most recognizable (and scenic!) village, Shirakawago in Gifu is renowned for its beautiful thatched roof houses. That beauty requires work, though – the roofs need to be replaced around every thirty years, and it's not a cheap endeavor. The UNESCO World Heritage listed village was praised for reinvesting tourism income into conservation, with an impressive 30% of parking fees put into preservation and maintenance.