Kyushu is the nearest of Japan’s islands to the Asian continent, with important sites such as Nagasaki and Sasebo, where the Dutch established the Japan’s first Western trading port. At the southern end of Kyushu, Kagoshima has been compared to Naples in Italy, because it is also dominated by views of an active stratovolcano, Sakurajima. Kitakyushu (Moji) has a UNESCO-listed Kokura Castle and a quirky museum to the toilets manufactured by the TOTO company.
Takamatsu, on the smallest of Japan’s main islands, Shikoku, has a museum dedicated to the late designer and sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Its port of Kochi is a major pilgrimage site for Buddhists, drawn to Shikoku by its photogenic five-story Chikurinji Pagoda.
Honshu, Japan’s largest island, holds many of the sites most familiar to Westerners, including the capital Tokyo. Or at the important port of Yokohama, an evening here could include a kabuki performance, or the astonishing teenaged fashion, cosplay and anime-fans in Shinjuku. The temples and gardens of Osaka, and Kyoto; the iconic views of Mt. Fuji from Shimizu; the timeless traditions and immense tombs of Sakai; and colorful festival displays in Aomori are all to be found on Honshu.
Hokkaido is Japan’s northernmost main island, with looming, darkly forested mountains and the colorful indigenous traditions of the Ainu ethnic group. Hakodate has a Museum of the Northern Peoples to orient you, as well as the celebrated ‘Snow Monkeys’ that winter in the Yunosawa Onsen hot springs. Kushiro is blessed with a warming current that keeps it balmier than nearby Sapporo and offers a wetland refuge for serene Japanese cranes.