Hokkaido

Hokkaido is Japan's northernmost island. It is famous throughout Japan for its natural beauty. There is world-renowned skiing and snowboarding in winter, and in summer,  incredible hiking, woodland trekking, and white-water rafting. It's a great place for sports enthusiasts.   Each February, Hokkaido boasts it's annual Snow Festival in Sapporo. Ice sculptures magnificent in size and detail attract viewers from all over the world. In summer, the colorful lavender fields in Furano and cool temperatures make it a popular place to visit.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Hokkaido:

Places of note in Hokkaido:

  • Sapporo (The largest city in Hokkaido. Odori Park- where the Snow Festival is held every year/ Clock Tower Building and Museum- Great information about Sapporo's history/ Sapporo Beer Factory- take a tour, do tastings, and see Japan's only beer museum/ Jozaneki Hot Springs- these hot springs are situated in a ravine with over 50 sources for the natural waters/ Lake Shikotsu- a lake surrounded by three different volcanoes/ Marukoma Onsen- beautiful hot spring with many outdoor baths on the north side of Lake Shikotsu/ Lake Toya- lots of chances for fishing, camping, and hiking)
  • Hakodate (Mount Hakodate- known for beautiful night views)
  • Asahikawa (Famous for Asahikawa ramen and skiing)
  • Furano (Ski resort for all levels in winter, gorgeous lavender fields in summer)
  • Kushiro (Kushiro Marshland-  great for canoeing and wildlife viewing)
  • Shiretoko Peninsula (Shiretoko National Park- one of Japan's most diverse and unspoiled national parks/ Ice Drifts in the Sea of Okhotsk- "ice walk tours" take visitors out to the drifting ice in wet suits)
 lavender fields in furano

lavender fields in furano


Tohoku

Tohoku is the northernmost region of Japan's main island, Honshu. The Tohoku region is famous for it's many summer festivals, abundant hot springs, great hiking, and beautiful foliage in autumn. Summers are significantly cooler than most other parts of Japan, which make it especially popular during the hotter months.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Tohoku:

Places of note in Tohoku:

  • Sendai (Matsushima, said to be one of the three most beautiful places in Japan/ Hiraizumi and Chusonji Temple)
  • Aomori (Hachnohe/ Towada-Hachimantai National Park, famous Lake Towada and Oirase Valley, as well as dense woods, picturesque gorges and waterfalls, clear streams and ponds/ Sannai-Maruyama ruins- some of the largest-scale ancient ruins in Japan from 4,000 to 5,000 years ago)
  • Hirosaki (Hirosaki Castle grounds- over 5,000 blooming cherry trees in spring)
  • Shirakami-Sanchi Mountains (World Heritage site- famous for primeval beech forest, untouched landscapes, autumn foliage, and hiking)
  • Kakunodate (Known for historical samurai residences converted into museums and restaurants)
  • Zao (The Zao Okama- caldera lake with bright, emerald-green waters)
  • Aizu Wakamatsu (Tsugura Castle/ Ski resorts at Mt. Bandai and Lake Inawashiro)
 zao okama caldera lake

zao okama caldera lake


Tokyo and Kanto

Tokyo is the largest metropolis in Japan, and a cultural epicenter of Asia and the world. While Tokyo boasts traditional temples, shrines, and gardens alongside modern art, architecture, and an urban culture with its own distinct vibe, the cities and prefectures outside of Tokyo are some of Japan's most worthwhile destinations.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Tokyo and Kanto:

Places of Note in Tokyo and Kanto

  • Tokyo (Tokyo is the world's most popular metropolis. Tokyo Imperial Palace/Marunouchi- Japan's largest business district/ Ginza- Japan's most elegant shopping district/ Ueno Park- Thousands of cherry blossoms in spring, many museums in the surrounding area/ Akihabara- home of all things otaku/ Asakusa- Asakusa Kannon Temple and Tokyo Skytree/ Shinjuku- Japan's largest train station, great night life and shopping/ Shibuya- Shibuya Station's "scramble" crossing, trendy shopping and restaurants/ Harajuku- famous for "lolita" fashion and shopping/ Aoyama- peaceful neighborhood with upscale shipping and dining/ Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park- the tranquil shrine is surrounded by the park which is famous for its cherry blossoms and weekly events with food stalls/ Roppongi- Tokyo Midtown, Roppongi Hills/ Odaiba- waterfront shopping and dining/ Tsukiji Fish Market- famous for its giant tuna auctions and fresh sushi)
  • Tokyo Disney Resort
  • Mt Takao (Beautiful cherry blossoms in spring and has a famous temple at the top of the mountain, great hiking for beginners)
  • Yokohama (Japan's second largest city. Minato Mirai/ Chinatown and Motomachi/ Sankei-en Garden)
  • Kamakura (Coastal town about an hour outside of Tokyo. Popular for traditional-looking streets and quiet temples. The most famous is the giant bronze Great Buddha, which is over 11 meters tall and weighs 122 tons. Also worth a look is the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine)
  • Hakone (Popular for beautiful views of Mt. Fuji and hot spring resorts)
  • Izu Peninsula (South of Hakone and popular for its beaches, hot springs, and views of Mt. Fuji. Oshima Island is the main island of the Seven Islands of Izu are the main areas for sightseeing)
  • Nikko (The Shrines and Temples of Nikko are a UNESCO World Heritage site. The most famous of these is Toshugu Shrine. Also popular is the Nikko Edomura, a recreation of the samurai villages that were once prevalent in Nikko)
 shibuya, tokyo

shibuya, tokyo


Chubu

Chubu is the geographic center of Japan. It is an incredibly geographically and culturally diverse region. Chubu is home to the Japan Alps as well as the Japan Sea Coast. This region of is home to some of Japan's most ancient shrines and traditional architecture, gardens, and arts.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Chubu:

Places of note in Chubu:

  • Nagoya (Nagoya Castle/Tokugawa Art Museum/Seto and Tokoname- well known for its pottery and kilns/Inuyama Castle- Japan's oldest existing fortress/ Museum Meiji-mura- an outdoor museum with buildings collected from the Meiji period, 1868-1912)
  • Ise-Shima National Park (Ise Shrine- the most sacred Shinto shrine in Japan/ Meoto Iwa- "Wedded Rocks," another sacred Shinto place of worship/ Mikimoto Pearl Island- the birthplace of cultured pearls and Ama Divers, or pearl divers who traditionally dive in only loincloth for pearls)
  • Japan Alps (The mountains of the Japan Alps are famous for their natural beauty and excellent hiking/ Takayama- a town in the Japan Alps that still has the feel of old Japan/ Kanazawa- a traditional castle town that is famous for its practice of traditional arts like tea ceremony and its beautiful gardens and temples, including Kenrokuen Garden and Eiheiji Temple/ Matsumoto Castle- famous for its black walls/ Chubu-Sangaku National Park/ Tateyama Kuroba Alpine Route)
  • Shirakawa-go Village (A rural old-style village with thatched-roof farmhouses, many of which are run as bed-and-breakfasts. UNESCO World Heritage Site)
  • Nagano (Host of the 1998 Winter Olympics- amazing skiing and winter sports)
  • Niigata (One of the snowiest places in the world with a number of ski resorts)
  • Noto Peninsula (Long coastline of the Japan Sea Coast with many traditional fishing villages)
 thatched-style roof house in shirakawa-go

thatched-style roof house in shirakawa-go


Kansai- Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Nara, and Beyond

In Kansai, two ancient capitals are alongside modern cities. Castles, temples, and shrines are abundant. Kansai elicits the traditional "Japanese" image that many of us have- geisha, tranquil temples, shrines, and old-style streets and districts. It's a must-see for any visit to Japan.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kansai:

 

Places of note in Kansai:

  • Kyoto (Kyoto Imperial Palace/ Nijo Castle/ Gion Corner- the traditional arts and geisha district of Kyoto/ Sanjusangendo Temple- 1,001 wooden statues of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy/ Kiyomizu Temple- the temple of Kannon, famous for amazing panoramic views of traditional Kyoto/ Ginkakuji Temple- a peaceful temple with elegant surrounding gardens/ Kastura and Shugakuin Imperial Villas- permits needed from the Imperial Household Agency to visit, but are renowned for their architecture and landscaping/ Arashiyama- home to Japan's famous bamboo grove/ Kinkakuji- Japan's Golden Pavillion/ Ryoanji- the famous zen stone garden temple/ Shijo- Kyoto's modern downtown district/ Kyoto Tower- panoramic views of Kyoto with a bath house on-site/ Fushimi Inari Shrine- famous for its hundreds of orange torii gates along a mountain path)
  • Osaka (Osaka Bay Area- Universal Studios Japan and KAIYUKAN, the Osaka Aquarium/ Osaka Castle/ Tenmangu Shrine/ Umeda and Namba- Osaka's main entertainment, restaurant, and shopping districts/ Spa World- a bath house in downtown Osaka with indoor and outdoor onsen, saunas, a pool, spa, restaurants, and even a hotel/ Shinsekai- Osaka's "New World" famous for Osaka cuisine/ Umeda Sky Building- some of the best panoramic views in Kansai from the "Floating Garden Observatory")
  • Kobe (Nishinomiya and Sannomiya- luxury and discount shopping/Kobe Port Tower/ Kobe Ijinkan- some of the first European residences in Japan that have retained their original beauty/ Rokkosan- incredible night-views of Kobe and Osaka, Japan's first golf course, Arima Onsen, a hot spring resort town over 1,000 years old)
  • Nara (Nara Park- visitors can feed and pet deer/ Kofukuji Temple/ Nara National Museum/ Todaiji Temple- home to the Great Buddha of Nara)
  • Himeji (Himeji Castle- a beautifully preserved and restored castle where visitors can experience the inside of the castle as it would have been orginally)
  • Mt. Koya/The Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range, Wakayama (A pilgrimage originally walked over 1,000 years ago by monks and a mountain monastery with over 120 temples- over 50 of these temples offer lodging and meals to visitors)
  • Shirahama, Wakayama (Some of Japan's most beautiful beaches and hot spring resorts- perfect for relaxation)

Sites that should be on your list:

Temples: Byodoin Temple, Daigoji Temple, Enryakuji Temple, Fudarakusanji Temple, Gangoji Temple, Ginkakuji (Silver Pavillion) Temple, Hokkiji Temple, Honganji Temple(s), Horyuji Temple, Jisonin Temple, Kimpusenji Temple, Kinkakuji Temple, Kofukuji Temple, Kongobuji Temple, Kozanji Temple, Ninnaji Temple, Ominesanji Temple, Ryoanji Temple, Saihoji Temple, Seigantoji Temple, Seigantoji Temple, Tenryuji Temple, Todaiji Temple, Toji Temple, Toshodaiji Temple, Yakushiji Temple

Shrines: Kamigamo Shrine, Kasuga-taisha Shrine, Kumano-Hayatama-taisha Shrine, Kumano-hongu-taisha Shrine, Kumano-nachi-taisha Shrine, Niukanshofu Shrine, Niutsuhime Shrine, Shimogamo Shrine, Ujigami Shrine, Yoshimizu Shrine, Yoshino Mikumari Shrine

Castles/Palaces: Heijo Palace, Himeji Castle, Nijo Castle

Natural Sites: Kasugayama Primeval Forest, Nachi Falls

 kinkakuji/golden pavillion

kinkakuji/golden pavillion


Chugoku

Chugoku is home to villages famous for old merchants' quarters, former castle towns and samurai residences, and tranquil gardens. Most famously, Chugoku is home to Hiroshima and Itsukushima Shrine, the orange torii gate that seems to be floating in the sea.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Chugoku:

Places of note in Chugoku:

  • Hiroshima (Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Genbaku Dome/ Miyajima Island and Itsukushima Shrine- the entire island is a Special Historic Site and a Special Place of Scenic Beauty as designated by the Japanese government. Itsukushima Shrine appears to be floating in the sea at high tide)
  • Okayama (Korakuen Garden- the 300 year old garden of the feudal Okayama clan which took almost 15 years to complete is filled with blooming flowers during every season/ Kurashiki- a beautifully preserved traditional merchants' town with canals, willow trees, and narrow alley streets/ Ohara Museum of Art- a very well rounded collection of paintings, sculptures, and folk-crafts)
  • Tottori (Hagi- An old castle town with restored samurai residences/ San-in Kaigain National Park- A national park with sand dunes that are especially stunning in the morning when they display patterns from the wind or rain from the previous night/ Izumo Taisha Shrine- one of the oldest shrines in Japan famous among couples for its powers to support happy marriages)
  • Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape (Visit the shafts and remains of the old silver mines spread out over rugged terrain, which is excellent for hiking)

 

 kurashiki, okayama

kurashiki, okayama


Shikoku

Shikoku and the Inland Sea region has been historically difficult to access for visitors, but recently has become very accessible by the "Shimanami Kaido" route, which connects the island of Shikoku to Japan's main island, Honshu, with seven bridges. The coastline provides fantastic seascapes, and the main island of Shikoku as well as over 600 surrounding smaller islands are filled with diverse landscapes.

Places of note in Shikoku:

  • Shimanami Kaido (Over 37 miles long, this route is perfect for seeing all of the coastal views that the Inland Sea has to offer. These seven bridges link the main island of Japan to Shikoku by spanning over six smaller islands in between)
  • Naoshima, Teshima, and Inujima Islands- Art Site Benesse/ Naoshima Cultural Village (Art Site Benesse is unlike any other place in Japan. Small islands off the main island of Shikoku have been restored and re-purposed to feature incredible contemporary art museums and architecture. Traditional dwellings have been turned into gallery spaces and installations, while new architecture contrasts the natural beauty of the islands)
  • Takamatsu (Ritsurin Park- one of the most picturesque gardens in Japan)
  • Matsuyama (The largest city in Shikoku, home to Matsuyama Castle and Dogo Spa, one of Japan's oldest hot springs)
  • Kochi (Famous for water sports and whale watching)
  • Tokushima (Home of the Naruto Whirpools, which can be seen in glass-bottomed boats on the Naruto Strait)
 evening seascape in shikoku

evening seascape in shikoku


Kyushu

Volcanoes, natural hot springs, lush forests and green mountains give Kyushu its own mysterious allure. Many parts of Kyushu still remain undeveloped, and have retained their natural beauty. Kyushu is the perfect place for lovers of onsen, mountain and volcano trekking, surfing, and great food- this area of Japan is famous for its local flavors.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyushu:

Places of Note in Kyushu:

  • Fukuoka (The largest city in Kyushu- famous for tonkotsu, or pork bone, ramen, excellent shopping and nightlife/ Fukuoka Museum of Asian Fine Art/ Arita- known for its pottery/ Daizafu and the Kyushu National Museum- home to many Japanese artifacts and archaeological finds in Kyushu)
  • Nagasaki (From 1639-1859 Nagasaki was the only Japanese port open to foreign trade, and was target of the second atomic bomb dropped on Japan during World War II/ Nagasaki Peace Park/ Unzen- Natural mountain and seaside hot springs/ Huis Ten Bosch- a theme park that recreates the Netherlands with full-scale Dutch buildings, beautiful seasonal flowers, and rides and attractions)
  • Kumamoto (Kumamoto Castle/ Suizenji Park- traditional Japanese-style garden/ Mt. Aso- the world's largest active caldera volcano located in Aso-Kuju National Park)
  • Oita and Beppu- (A hot spring resort town with over 100 different onsen, especially famous for its geysers and bubbling mud ponds)
  • Miyazaki (Aoshima- a beautiful rock beach and island famous for surfing and beach-going/ Takachiho Gorge- waterfalls surround this gorge and is extremely popular for kayaking and canoeing)
  • Kagoshima (Kagoshima City- home to Sakurajima, one of Japan's most active volcanoes that erupts ash multiple times daily/ Sakurajima Ferry, a beautiful ride in the Kinko Bay where dolphins can be seen/ Kagoshima-chuo Station- great shopping and restaurants, as well as a Ferris wheel with panoramic views of the city and Sakurajima/ Ibusuki, a hot-sand bath resort where visitors dress in light cotton robes called yukata and are buried in the volcanic sand/ Yakushima Island- the basis for Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke. Ancient "yaku-sugi" cedar trees thousands of years give the island an almost mystical atmopshere/ Amami-Oshima, a tropical island with white sand beaches and clear blue water)
 Mt. Aso, kumamoto

Mt. Aso, kumamoto


Okinawa

Okinawa is Japan's southernmost prefecture. With subtropical temperatures all year round, Okinawa is especially popular in winter. With its coral reefs, clear blue ocean, and white sand beaches, Okinawa is perfect for a beach vacation.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyushu:

Places of note in Okinawa:

  • Naha City (the largest city in Okinawa. Naminoue Shrine- dedicated to the ancestral gods of the Japanese imperial family/ Sogenji Temple- over 450 years old and dedicated to the former kings of Okinawa/ Shurei-no-mon and Shuri Castle/ Okinawa Senseki (Old Battlefields)- monuments dedicated to over 200,000 who lost their lives during World War II/ Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium)
  • Kerama Islands (great for diving)
 kume beach, okinawa

kume beach, okinawa