I’ve always loved the way that j-dramas show off the countryside. Riding a bike through the rice paddies, tiny local hole-in-the-wall restaurants, ocean views. I love all of it! I’ve also been lucky enough to spend lots of time in Japan, travelling and seeing this gorgeous countryside for myself. I knew I wanted to write an article about rural dramas, but what if you could travel to Japan and see all 47 prefectures without ever leaving the wonderful world of dramas? Let’s go on a trip and find out!
As this is the first in a larger series, I want to start with my selection criteria:
- Scenery/environment/landmarks of the region must feature prominently in the drama/movie.
- Whenever possible, the featured recommendation will have English subtitles available (bonus will not necessarily have subs).
- Since there have been asadoras filmed in all 47 prefectures, I’ll try to avoid featuring them (but fair warning, if I’m super stumped I might have to!).
Okay! Without further ado, let's get to it!
Japan’s northernmost island is Hokkaido. Known for its unspoiled nature, Hokkaido attracts many hikers, cyclists, and campers. Known for its heavy snowfall and cold winters, Hokkaido is also a popular destination for skiers and other winter athletes.
Hokkaido Recommendation: Principal - Koi Suru Watashi wa Heroine Desu Ka?
Quick Summary: Shima (Kuroshima Yuina) decides to move to Hokkaido where her father lives. Soon after arriving she has a chance encounter with Gen and Wao, the two most popular boys at her new school. A principle of her school is that "Gen and Wao are for everyone." If anyone breaks the rule, that person will be ostracized. Nevertheless, Shima gets closer to them.
This may sound like your cliché high school romance movie but hold on! Not only is this a very cute movie, but it was also praised by critics for its beautiful scenery shots of Sapporo. Local landmarks you can spot in this movie include the Hokkaido Government Office, the Sapporo Beer Museum, the Rose Garden Christ Church, and Lake Shikotsu.
*Bonus Hokkaido Recommendations (there are quite a lot!)*
Dramas - Channel wa Sonomama!!, Silver Spoon
Movies - A Forest of Wool and Steel, Bread of Happiness, A Chorus of Angels, A Drop of the Grapevine
The ancient capital, Kyoto, is also one of Japan's most-visited tourist destinations. Because it was spared from bombing during the second world war, Kyoto is a treasure trove of ancient temples and shrines, many of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Kyoto Recommendation: Fukuyado Honpo ~ Kyoto Love Story
Quick Summary: Hina, Arare, and Hana are three sisters whose family runs Fukuya, a 450-year-old traditional Japanese confectionery shop in Kyoto. This is the story of their individual romances, love of family, and sacrifices for the sake of protecting tradition.
I could write a whole article just about how much I love this one drama. It really has everything you could want: a traditional family business in danger of closing, sibling rivalry, a bunch of couples you’ll want to root for, plotting geishas, gorgeous kimonos, delicious sweets, and best of all, Ichihara Hayato as a sarcastic and swoon-worthy wagashi chef. Now imagine all of this set against a backdrop of Kyoto’s stunning temples, ancient winding streets, and lush gardens. Pure bliss!
Fukui is a mainly rural prefecture located on the Japan Sea coast, with a coastline famous for its beaches in summer, and its rugged coastline throughout the year, as well as for being the location of many important dinosaur discoveries.
Fukui Recommendation: Cheer☆Dan
Quick Summary: Wakaba (Tsuchiya Tao) is a high school student in Fukui. As a child, she admired the cheerleading club JETS from Fukui Chuo High School. She dreamed of joining the club, but thought it was impossible and eventually enrolled at another school. One day, a transfer student from Tokyo proposes forming their own cheer dance club. They set out to form a top cheer team and challenge the JETS.
Fukui is known for something else too: Cheerleading! Established in 2006, the Fukui Commercial High School JETS have won the International Performance category of the American NDA National Championship five times. Yup! They are amazing (and here's a video). They also have their own movie Let's Go, JETS! which is a sort of prequel to Cheer Dan but not really. Check out both if you're interested!
*Bonus Fukui Recommendations*
Movies - Cherry Blossoms Bloom
Located southwest of Tokyo, Kanagawa is best known as the location of Japan's 2nd largest city: Yokohama. It is also home to two of Tokyo's most popular day trip getaways: the seaside village of Kamakura and Hakone, a mountain town.
Kanagawa Recommendation: Our Little Sister
Quick Summary: Three sisters live together in their grandmother's home in Kamakura, Japan. One day, they receive news of the death of their father whom they haven't seen in 15 years. At his funeral, they meet 14-year-old Suzu, the half-sister they did not know existed. As there is nobody to take care of Suzu, the oldest sister Sachi invites her to live with them.
Oh, this MOVIE! Before he directed the 2018 Palme d'Or winner Shoplifters, Koreeda Hirokazu was making masterpieces like Our Little Sister. In typical Koreeda style, it follows a very dysfunctional family unit coming together and learning to love each other. Set in the beautiful seaside town of Kamakura, this movie is a feast for the eyes and the soul.
Located on the island of Shikoku, Kochi is a largely rural prefecture known for its rivers, beaches and mountains.
Kochi Recommendation: Osozaki no Himawari
Quick Summary: Kodaira Jotaro (Ikuta Toma) is about to turn 30-years-old when he is laid off from work and dumped by his girlfriend. He then spots a website recruiting people for work in Koichi Prefecture for regional revival cooperation. He packs up and moves to Shimanto River, and thus the lives of seven strangers begin to intersect.
Rural dramas are great, but rural revitalization dramas are even better. Not easy to find such a great drama for one of the smaller prefectures, so if you're in the market for a relaxing slice-of-life drama set with beautiful setting and cinematography: go for this!
*Bonus Kochi Recommendations*
Movies - Hospitality Department
Located in Western Japan, Hiroshima Prefecture and its capital Hiroshima City are mostly known as the city destroyed by the first atomic bomb on August 6th, 1945. Today it is a thriving city and the Atomic Bomb Dome stands as an important symbol of world peace.
Hiroshima Recommendation: Hiroshima Mon Amour
Quick Summary: A French actress and a Japanese architect engage in a brief, intense affair in postwar Hiroshima, their consuming mutual fascination impelling them to exorcise their own scarred memories of love and suffering.
Fellow MDL users, I have a confession: I majored in French literature at university. I've seen this film a dozen times and I now snuck it into this recommendation article. The MDL summary kind of goes over all of the accolades: it's a masterwork! It's a cornerstone of the French New Wave! It's one of the most influential films of all time! It certainly is all of these things but it's also an existentialist film, which means it's bizarre and fascinating but also dark and very confusing at times. If nothing else, it's a stunning tableau of postwar Hiroshima.
*Bonus Hiroshima Recommendations*
Dramas - In This Corner of the World