Japan, of course, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Asia, so even in the off-season there are lots of tourists.
Yet most foreign tourists are concentrated in just a few places. If a foreign tourist is in Japan for only a week or two, I can guess where they will go – Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka (maybe), and Hiroshima. Maybe they will go to Kyushu too, particularly if they are Taiwanese.
And even in those places, they will only go to certain spots. For example, in Hiroshima, all of the foreign tourists converge on the Peace Park, and are to be found nowhere else (unless you count Miyajima because it is in Hiroshima Prefecture).
To put it succinctly, most foreign tourists only go to the cities on the southern coast of Honshu and *maybe* Kyushu.
When I first realized this, I considered this really weird. In Taiwan, unless they are just stopping in Taipei for a few days, most foreign tourists do get out into the rural areas. They might only go to places like Jiufen, Sun Moon Lake, Taroko Gorge, Alishan, etc. – but as touristy as those places are, they are not urban.
I met plenty of tourists in Japan who had great interest in seeing the countryside … they simply did not know how. It is not on Japan’s well-beaten tourism track. Taiwan is less on the beaten international tourism track than Japan (which means the tourists who do come to Taiwan are generally more adventurous), and Taiwan is better set up to send foreign tourists to the countryside than Japan is. Taiwan has to – Taiwanese cities on their own are generally not enough to pull in the foreign tourists – whereas Japan has enough in just the cities of Kanto/Kansai/Hiroshima to bring in crowds from around the world. No need to make it convenient for those foreigners to get out of the city.
I had spent years in Taiwan learning how to navigate the rural areas, and this knowledge served me well in Japan. First of all, I can read Chinese characters, who makes navigating rural Japan easier (thank you so much for using so much kanji!), and I am used to putting up with certain inconveniences (walking 3km to get to a bus stop, reading bus schedules so I can be there for the bus which only runs four times per day, etc.) but most importantly I was used to travel in rural areas, even if I am the only foreigner within ten kilometers. Before I lived in Taiwan, I am not sure I would have had the confidence to travel around rural Japan alone.
And I will say this – if you visit Japan, VISIT THE COUNTRYSIDE! Even if you can only fit in one day in the countryside, fit in that one day. It is totally different from urban Japan. And I find rural Japan way more interesting than urban Japan. If you want a relatively convenient trip to the Japanese countryside, I highly recommend going to the Yama-no-be-no-michi in Nara Prefecture. You can get to Kintetsu/JR Tenri station from Nara city within 20 minutes by train, there are lots of signs in English, yet it is totally authentic Japanese countryside – in fact, it is the cradle of Japanese civilization. And much as I like seeing the big Buddha and Nara Park, I enjoyed the Yama-no-be-no-michi much more.
EDIT: Now I have been to Hokkaido, and Hokkaido is like Taiwan in that the foreign tourists who make it this far north are not here just to see Sapporo (unless it is snow festival time) – they are also heading into the Hokkaido countryside. And what marvelous countryside it is, as I think the recent photo week demonstrates.