One of my favourite finds is a small town in Tochigi prefecture – Kuroiso. It is connected to Tokyo via local Tokaido/Utsunomiya line (takes about 3 hours) or it can be easily reached via Tohoku Hokkaido Shinkansen in 1,5 hours (change at Nasushiobara). Even some Tokyo neighbourhoods would be the envy of this compact town which is brimming with young energy, coffee shops, top-notch bakeries, concept stores offering a wide selection of local and international fashion items, antique stores and design-minded community.
You might have come across Butter no Itoko succulent waffles in Tokyo or elsewhere that are usually sold out in their pop-ups as soon as they’re open; this Kuroiso-based business is one of the best examples of this area’s potential. I travelled to this town a couple of times, befriended some residents and shop owners and even seriously thought of moving there (affordable house prices are also a big plus). If you happen to hop on the train towards north, this secluded town should definitely be on your radar (before the tourist crowd flocks here).