Off the Beaten Path in Japan: Nara and Fukano

Courtesy Tsukihi-Tei Ryokan

Two places to visit beyond the big cities.

The French horn–like instrument sounded. Suddenly more than 50 mangy deer came running out of the woods. This is Nara, a city an hour’s train ride south of Kyoto where there’s a well-trod circuit of the Deer Park, the Kasuga Grand Shrine, Todaiji temple (the world’s largest wooden building), and sake breweries. We suggest getting off the beaten path. A 45-minute drive east is Fukano, a village of lantern-lit buildings and rice fields. Here, Tetsuji Matsubayashi restored a thatched-roof house from the 1600s that he recently opened as Sasayuri-ann (from $360; 656 Muro Fukano, Uda;, a villa rental with room for ten people. It’s luxurious in its simplicity—that’s the point. It consists of not much more than a living-dining-bedroom with a charcoal hearth. “Nothing compares to simple mountain living,” says Matsubayashi, who also manages to get the importance of transfers via helicopter and a menu that includes cuisine from a Michelin-starred chef.