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Vagabond Journey

Japan’s Diverse and Unique Island Cultures

There is more to traveling in Japan than the bright lights of Tokyo.

When thinking about traveling to Japan, many people will conjure images of the bright lights of Tokyo, maybe some Mount Fuji and cherry blossoms. These are beautiful sites and are definitely worth exploring but do not stop there. Japan is an archipelago of thousands of unique islands to explore, each offering something different. Here are five very different and fascinating islands to experience a tour of Japan unlike any other.

Naoshima is an art island in Japan’s Kagawa prefecture. Art projects and five art museums fill this tiny island which only has about 3,000 residents and is only about five square miles. The island is so small that many visitors walk or bicycle around from museum to museum. There are no cars but there is one (!) shared taxi. The Benesse corporation sponsored the creation of the art museum island, helping to finance one project after another including art festivals and the Benesse House Museum, an art hotel. Museums and modern architecture, such as those designed by architect Ando Tadao showcase modern art and provide an interesting scene on the island.

Okinawan Islands are a stretch of 49 inhabited and 111 uninhabited islands close to Taiwan. They islands offer subtropical sandy beaches and forests. Okinawa is popular for winter beach vacations and has diving, snorkeling, and water sports aplenty. The Okinawa islands have a unique language and culture that is not seen in the rest of Japan. The traditional diet is thought to be one of the reasons residents of Okinawa live longer than everyone else and includes traditional Japanese and Taiwanese influences. Karate also originated here. Okinawa has nine UNESCO heritage sites.

Yakushima is another subtropical island. It is a UNESCO heritage site on account of its huge ancient forests of Yaku cedars. The picturesque moss-covered roots and small streams inspired the movie Princess Mononoke and is one of the beautiful wonders of Japan. Wildlife such as monkeys, deer, and turtles thrive here. There are hot springs and waterfalls as well as rocky beaches making it a top destination for those who want to explore the natural beauty of Japan.

If you are more of a snow lover, you must head back up north to check out Hokkaido and its capital Sapporo. The annual Sapporo Snow Festival held for one week in February is famous for its snow sculptures, and outdoor snow and ice sporting activities. Sapporo is a bustling young city and has many interesting sites, markets and museums. Hokkaido also has twenty volcanoes. This makes for beautiful scenery but also great hot springs for travelers to warm up in. Lovely lakes and wildflowers complete the picture on the island.

You cannot talk about a trip to Japan without at least mentioning Honshu Island, the largest and most populated island where Tokyo is located. Honshu Island boasts the main attractions of Japan, including the cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Osaka. The majestic Mount Fuji marks the landscape of the Western part of the island along with the Japanese Alps, offering a beautiful contrast to the high tech cities. Kyoto and its world famous temples is an interesting city to explore. Tokyo is a world city that everyone should try to visit at least once. The fashion, the food, and the shopping are just some of the top attractions. But it’s the weird ones that are often the most attractive, who doesn’t want to go to a hedgehog cafe?

Japan is a fascinating country and one that has long been on the top of many travelers’ bucket lists. The delicious food, polite and clean culture, and gorgeous scenery are just some of the reasons why. But many people don’t realize just how distinct of an experience the different islands can offer. Before your trip, take the time to understand more about the different islands and find the itinerary that will fit your own unique interests.

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