Exploring the islands of Japan
Twenty years ago, it was harder to get around Japan if you didn’t speak Japanese - which meant most travellers focused on the popular cities of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, maybe with a side trip for a couple of nights into a small mountain village. However with Japan hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the Olympics in 2020 it seems that Japan has opened its doors to the west, and is really encouraging tourists to explore the length and breadth of their country.
So where to next after Tokyo and Kyoto? Let’s start with the big islands of Hokkaido and Kyushu. You’ll certainly be rewarded when you make the effort to get out of the big cities.
The island of Hokkaido is the second largest island in Japan and probably best known for the Winter Festivals where you can see giant ice and snow sculptures.
Hokkaido is also a powder snow paradise - making it a fabulous spot for a ski holiday. The Niseko ski resort has the second-highest average snowfalls of any resort in the world, so you’re guaranteed plenty of snow. After a long day of skiing you can relax in the Onsen (Japanese hot spring baths). And don’t forget the delicious selection of Japanese food including Ramen, Yakitori, Sushi and Hokkaido Scallops.
You’ll likely spend a night in Sapporo on your way home. It’s a great city for walking and exploring, and you can take in the city views if you head up to the top of Mt Moiwa by cable car.
Kyushu is the third biggest island in Japan, best known for its spectacular active volcanoes, relaxing Onsen and beautiful landscapes. Mount Aso is the largest active volcano in Japan, and one of the largest in the world - so it’s definitely one of the top places to see on Kyushu. Just an hour away from Mount Aso you’ll be able to visit the Takachiho Gorge and enjoy the “flowing noodles” (or Nagashi Soumen) which you have to catch with your chopsticks as they float down a bamboo river - quite a fun way to eat noodles.
The south east corner of Kyushu makes an interesting coastline for a road trip, and with year-round warm water temperatures, thanks to the warm ocean currents, it’s also popular for surfing and paddle boarding.
Yakushima, an ancient misty mountain island, located to the south of Kagoshima, is registered as a World Natural Heritage Site of Natural Beauty. Some of the cedar trees are over 1000 years old, making it a great spot for hiking and outdoor adventures. It’s only a small island, so a rental car is a good way to see it all at your own pace - with plenty of time to indulge in local seafood delicacies and island-grown green tea.
If you pass through Fukuoka, a modern city in the north of Kyushu, be sure to look for Shofukuji, the oldest Zen temple in Japan. Nearby you can enjoy a visit to the Asahi brewery, cycling tours or even a visit to an island haven for cats. That’s the beauty of Japan!
If you’re considering a holiday to Japan and would like some advice on putting an itinerary together - or choosing a small group tour - send us an email or call today! Our experienced Travel Architects, Cathy and Chris, can share their travel planning insights and put together a personalised itinerary suited to your travel needs. Contact us today!
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