Introducing the best of Japan’s cultural and traditional heritage to the world through authentic, experience-focused travels.

Whether you’ve been to Japan a hundred times or only ever seen photos of it on Instagram, we can show you a side of the country that you never could have imagined.

Get in touch today and let us help you to explore a world of wonder, your way.

What is “Heartland Japan”?

Born and raised in a small fishing town in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Heartland Founder/CEO Keijiro Sawano grew up feeling inferior to his peers from the city. This is a very common phenomenon in Japan. People in the countryside often feel embarrassed about their rural roots. As he matured and grew up, he began to question why this was the case.

Post war Japan experienced a period of enormous growth. During this time almost all of the capital and human resources were concentrated in the big cities. Social attitudes made city life seem desirable, convenient and cool. The countryside was left with nothing to offer its younger inhabitants. There was a huge urban migration. One that continues to this day. By the year 2040, 523 of the 1,718 in Japan municipalities are likely to “disappear”. Many people’s hometowns have been lost already.

Against this backdrop, Keijiro Sawano lamented the town in which he was born and raised. He had no confidence in his roots and often lied about his upbringing to hide his shame. It was a chip on his shoulder that followed him around wherever he went.

When eventually he snapped out of it, he didn’t want to see more kids growing up with this sense of shame. He wanted to shift the paradigm and create a society where rural was cool and where locals could be proud of where are from.

Tourism is one of the tools that we can use. It can create both a source of income and pride for the residents. Once taken for granted, the natural environment, the cultural customs and the skills of the locals can be channeled into tourism and their value reassigned. Through this method, not only do financial circumstances change but also social attitudes. The countryside may become a desirable place to live and the locals can take pride in their hometowns.

It is often said that the home is where the heart is. And by sharing our homes we share our hearts. This kind of local, intimate travel touches both the visitor and the host in a meaningful way. It can pave the way for future generations to live in and love the Japanese countryside again. So, let’s go on a deep adventure into Japan’s countryside where authentic cultures and lifestyles remain.

This is “Heartland Japan”.

Why we do what we do?

To see the awe filled faces of visitors who can’t believe the side of Japan they are seeing.

To see the reactions of the locals as foreign visitors admire their beautiful environments and precious traditions.

To reignite the flames of adventurous spirits whose spark has been lost on places with too many tourists. 

To show them something different that will stay with them forever.

To show the rural Japan’s towns and villages that they are valued by the world. 

This is our reward.

Customers wanted:

Do you … 

want to go to a lesser-known place?
want to travel like a local? 
want to meet a uniquely different culture?
want to travel in a different way?
want to know the true Japan as it is?
want to transform yourself through your travels?
People who seek a transformative adventure are not going to be satisfied with Japan’s “golden route”. These people are on a quest to know something deeper and truer. We have created tours of non-touristic, uncommercial Japan, deep in the countryside. These trips are especially reserved for the travelers with a hunger for such a thing. By sharing these places and cultures with people, we hope that they can take a part of what they saw and learned with them. 
This is the role of Heartland Japan.

As a local expert covering
all over Japan

Through local governments and DMOs, we are developing tours, creating a welcoming environment and establishing the infrastructure for areas to establish tourism. We also focus on human resources such as the training of local guides with stories to tell and local coordinators too. As professionals of rural tourism, we work closely with communities to provide travelers with safe and secure adventures. We also create and sell tours made in collaboration with local governments and DMOs.

Currently people in small towns and villages of rural Japan are digging. They are researching their history, their culture and restoring traditional crafts. They are making tours and itineraries and relearning their folk stories to share with you.

And in all honesty, some elements are still being refined. Still developing and growing. But that is the beauty of it. There is a genuineness in the raw truth of the countryside. Something real and unpretentious. Something that we embrace.

Above all, with us you can get to know an area honestly.

Our mission

The rising global influence of Japanese pop culture and the futuristic appeal of Tokyo’s electronic, neon streets have catapulted Japan to new heights of popularity in recent years, with the streets of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka overflowing with excited tourists eager to visit the sites they’ve seen in their favourite films and on social media.

While the recent surge in foreign visitors has had a fantastic impact on the creation of jobs and new experiences across the most popular destinations in Japan, the rural, lesser-visited towns and villages that make up the Japanese countryside remain largely ignored. Lacking the bright lights and convenience of the big cities, these forgotten destinations have struggled to establish themselves as attractive locations worth visiting.

Here at Heartland Japan, we know that the best of Japan isn’t to be found on the bustling streets of Harajuku or under the bright lights of Shinjuku. For visitors interested in discovering the ‘real Japan’, we provide a range of package and custom tour services designed to introduce you to the most authentic, traditional experiences that this country has to offer.

Working closely with our friends and connections in rural communities across the country, we are able to offer our customers a unique opportunity to interact and integrate with locals not as a tourist, but as a friend and much-anticipated guest. Whether you long to spend a morning practicing zen meditation with a monk at a quiet, ancient temple or on a fishing boat hearing tales of the sea straight from the mouth of a fisherman who has lived them all, we strive to create unforgettable experiences that you’ll talk about for the rest of your life.

Our Team

Keijiro Sawano

CEO & Founder

Mikiko Hayashi

COO & Senior Consultant

Hikaru Nishijima

Senior Consultant

Noriko Ōshima

Travel Consultant

Nobuko Masuda

Senior Travel Consultant

Chikako Fujita

Farm Stay Director & Travel Consultant

Delia Tsai

Travel Consultant

Akane Kanemoto

Tour Leader & Consultant

Yuki Tenma

Travel Consultant

Ted Taylor

Tour Leader

Keiko Sawada

Tour Leader & Consultant

Mami Okamoto


Yuuki Bando


Seiko Ohata

Tour Leader & Consultant

Pauline Kitamura

Tour Leader & Consultant

Michael King

Tour Leader & Consultant

Sandra Isaka

Intercultural Consultant & Japan Travel Specialist

Mandy Bartok

Travel Specialist and Guide

Mariko Ikeda

Editorial Director

Tatsuhiko Akashi

Web Engineer

Motoko Ishizaka


Olivia Ayako Inami

Travel Consultant

Naomi Hirata

Web Director

Naoko Yokouchi


Scroll to Top