This page offers a brief overview of the character of each region, which you might find helpful in shortlisting an area based on your travel preferences. Once you have identified a region that interests you, the individual pages would present details about the places of interest.
Representing almost a quarter of the national landmass, Hokkaido is the second largest of the four main islands of Japan. It offers quality hot springs, vast unspoilt nature, rich wildlife and picturesque landscapes in the idyllic countryside.
Hokkaido's long winters produce some of the best ski resorts in the country. Floating ice drifting in from Siberia is a sight not seen from anywhere else in Japan. The island prefectural capital, Sapporo, hosts the most anticipated winter festival of the year.
The summer's are short and relatively cool compared to the rest of the country, providing relief to those travelling here from further south. Rolling hills and long, wide stretches of road make road trips relaxing and enjoyable. Beautiful fields of lavendar and sunflowers await in July and August.
The richness of flora and fauna and the abundance of mountains, volcanoes and lakes make hiking pleasurable from spring through autumn. Hokkaido produces 75% of the nation's dairy products, which are a favourite among locals and tourists alike.
The Tohoku Region is relatively remote, in particular areas without public transportation. Travelling here outside of the few big cities require considerable planning before the trip. Those who do make the journey are rewarded with an experience of the bucolic countryside, tranquil views of rugged coasts along the ocean, a handful of historically prominent sites and natural wonders.
The region experiences cold, harsh winters, especially on the side of the Sea of Japan. Locals mitigate the burdens caused by heavy snowfall by celebrating winters with festivals of various sizes. Some of these events are kept very local, while other bigger festivals attract many visitors with marvellous creations of snow and ice sculptures.
The Kanto Region is the economic center of Japan today; its vibrance epitomised by the nation's capital, Tokyo. Life in the sprawling metropolis is fast paced and exciting, accompanied by a well-groomed populace, towering skyscrapers, bustling roads and subways, swanky dining places, and chic fashion and entertainment districts.
Despite astronomical population density levels, society is orderly, crime rate is low, and service is top-knotch. Smart and trendy dressers roam the streets, while selected venues are frequented by animation and cosplay enthusiasts. At the forefront of innovation, Tokyo constantly surprises visitors with interesting creations and gadgets.
Neighbouring Kanagawa is home to Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan, a major economic hub and an important port. The waterfront area downtown stretches for kilometers and is one of the best destinations for recreation and repose within a city. Further south is Kamakura - once the base of the shogunate government, the city is filled with significant historical and cultural sites and is well worth a day trip.
The Greater Tokyo Area, comprised of the Kanto Region and Yamanashi Prefecture, is by far the world's most populous metropolitan area, but travel away from the built up urban areas and satelite cities surrounding Tokyo, and the pace slows down considerably. You might find yourself relaxing on beaches at the eastern coast of Chiba, marveling at distinguished religious monuments in Tochigi, unwinding in a Japanese garden in Ibaraki, or soaking in the celebrated therapeutic onsen waters of Gunma.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Ushiku Great Buddha
Chubu is a region which displays diverse topographical, climatic and cultural characters. The prefectures on the Sea of Japan side experience colder winters. High precipitation are reason for some of the best ski resorts in Nagano and Niigata. There are many noteworthy destinations in the area, such as the charming Sado Island, the Alpine Route that spans across Nagano and Toyama, one of the country’s best castles in Matsumoto-jo, and the cultured city of Kanazawa in Ishikawa, which is known for its gold products.
The inland area of Chubu features tall mountainous regions widely known as the Northern Alps and Southern Alps. Outdoor lovers may find heaven here as the area offers numerous hiking opportunities through beautiful nature. In the valleys, remnants of ancient trade routes remain and a visit to one of the old post towns along the way would bring a truly authentic Japanese experience.
The Pacific Ocean side of the Chubu Region has a milder climate and is more developed with big cities close to sea. In Aichi Prefecture lies Nagoya, the fourth biggest city in the country, and Toyota City, the home ground of automobile giant Toyota. Straddling Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures is Japan’s most recognizable icon, the 3776 meter tall Mount Fuji. Many natural and man-made recreational spots surround the world-renowned landmark, making the area a great destination to have a holiday.
The Kansai Region presents an excellent mix of modern and historical Japan. It is perhaps the most all-rounded region: one can experience the culture and tradition of Kyoto and Nara, switch to the high-spirited city life of Osaka and Kobe, and then unwind to the seafront beauty of Wakayama and Mie.
Some of the most venerated religious institutions are located in the Kansai Region, and these important shrines and temples provide valuable insights to the Japanese identity. They are also of interest to anyone seeking a spiritual getaway or wanting to appreciate Japanese architecture and craftsmenship.
Kyoto, the base of the imperial court for more than a thousand years, was where many of Japan's cultured and sophisticated art forms took shape. The city is home to a plethora of national treasures and Unesco World Heritage sites. Visitors should not miss the chance for an authentic Japanese experience, such as donning a kimono, participating in a tea ceremony, or watching a kabuki performance.
Osaka, Japan's third largest city, is the financial center of the region and the economic powerhouse of the west. The cosmopolitan feel it presents is perhaps second only to that of Tokyo. Food is a religion here, and Osaka is sometimes known as the "nation's kitchen" due to the emphasis locals place on delectable fares. It's neighbour Kobe, internationally popular for its beef, is an attractive modern-looking port city that was reborn after the unfortunate Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995.
The Chugoku Region is commonly sub-categorized into the more industrialized southern side called Sanyo (“bright side of the mountains”), and the more rural Sea of Japan side called Sanin (“shadowed side of the mountains”). Main train lines running through the areas bear these names.
For those who wish to trod off the beaten path, Sanin presents a great opportunity to experience an older Japan with picturesque towns of long-standing houses, some of which are former samurai mansions. Sand dunes stretch for kilometres in Tottori, a terrain not often found elsewhere in Japan. Shimane is best known for the esteemed Izumo Taisha Shrine; it is said that every October, deities throughout the land gather at this important shrine for a meeting.
The Sanyo side of Chugoku has a modern feel and is more developed. The name of Hiroshima is internationally famous not for a happy reason, but the city has recovered well from the horrors of war and the atomic bomb. Today, Hiroshima dedicates itself to world peace, and a visit is sombre but refreshing at the same time: through its peace museum one learns about the price of conflict, but the city exudes an amicable atmosphere that radiates hope and the willingness to move on.
Yamaguchi, the only prefecture to span both Sanin and Sanyo sides, feels surprisingly rural, given that so many political leaders who led the rise of modern Japan during the Meiji Restoration of 1868 had hailed from here. The prefecture is home to a few sites of historical significance and geographical interest.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
Kyushu is southernmost of Japan’s four major islands, and it is connected to Honshu by tunnels, a bridge, a train line and a shinkansen line. The island comprises of eight prefectures, including Okinawa to the far south.
Due to its proximity to mainland Asia, Kyushu has been Japan’s gateway to foreign interaction from long before. During Japan’s self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world during the Edo Period (1603-1867), foreign contact was highly regulated and restricted to Nagasaki. Today, influence both from the Asian continent and the West can be spotted in Kyushu’s architecture and culture. The island experiences milder winters and warm summers, especially the sub-tropical southern areas.
Each prefecture has its own appeal: Fukuoka is the region’s transport and economic hub, and has the most cosmopolitan feel. Saga feels more laid-back and is famous for producing ceramics and porcelain. Remnants of the ancient Yayoi Era (300 BC to AD 300) can be found at the Yoshinogari site here. Nagasaki has an easy-going atmosphere and offers several places of interest which reflect historically close connections with the Dutch. The city of Nagasaki is dedicated to world peace, having been the only other city besides Hiroshima to have experienced the wrath of an atomic bomb. Several memorials stand at the city to commemorate fallen victims.
Oita Prefecture is known for its hot spring towns, in particular Beppu and Yufuin. The former is widely considered the onsen mecca of Japan and is definitely worth a visit. Kumamoto is home to Mount Aso, the most active volcano in Japan; and Kumamoto Castle, one of the best castles in the country. Sakurajima, another active volcano in Kagoshima, erupts often and spews out ash that veil the roads in a matter of a day or a couple of days at most. Geothermal energy produces several great onsen spots.
Miyazaki looks and feels like a tropical country with its warm temperatures and many palm trees. Its coast along the Pacific Ocean is beautiful and ideal for a road trip. Okinawa exhibits characteristics of China, Taiwan, Korea and even South-East Asia; a trip here feels considerably different from one to the rest of Japan. Okinawa offers gorgeous beaches and aquatic activity. Its Churaumi Aquarium is widely considered to be the best aquarium in Japan.
Kawachi Wisteria Garden
Shikoku is the smallest of Japan’s four major islands. From ancient times, Buddhist pilgrims favoured Shikoku due to its seclusion. Even to this day, the island is assumes a calm and quiet character.
The island offers abundant nature and dramatic coasts. The pristine Yoshino River is popular for white-water rafting from spring through autumn. Scenic Iya Valley in Tokushima is known for its nostalgic old vine bridges. Dogo Onsen in Ehime is famous for its hot spring waters and iconic bath house.
Few important historical sites are situated in Shikoku, such as the castles of Kochi and Matsuyama, which have survived since feudal times. On the other hand, the islands at the Seto Inland Sea between Shikoku and mainland Honshu have recently been turned into a mecca of avant-garde contemporary art.