As the 2020 Summer Olympic Games approach closer, cities all around Japan are pushing to be more foreigner-friendly. Many popular tourist attractions in different Japan prefectures have undergone constructions and restorations, and many special events are being prepared for the big occasion. Therefore, there’s no better time to visit the country than in 2020!
If you’re planning to get out of Tokyo and looking to skip Osaka and Kyoto for another city, we have the right list for you! Morever, as a land with 47 prefectures, Japan has so many underrated gems to be discovered. We’ve rounded up 6 beautiful Japan prefectures that you need to put in your travel list right now!
Most people would know and remember Hiroshima as the city that was painfully devastated by the atomic bomb in 1945, but it’s long been rebuilt into a modern city that’s thriving and very much alive! It’s also a great place for trekking through dense forests, soaking in natural hot springs and discovering quaint towns.
Miyajima Island, located northwest of Hiroshima Bay, is said to be the island where God dwells and has long been a holy site in Shinto. The island is best known for Itsukushima Shrine, the most famous shrine in Japan and popular for the floating torii gate. Itsukushima, which literally means “island of worship”, has more than 1,400 years of history and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
No visit to Hiroshima is complete without trying the Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, which is considerably larger and more layered than typical Osaka-style okonomiyaki. Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki also uses noodles (either soba or udon) as the base ingredient, and that sets it apart from Osaka-style which heroes cabbage.
Located in the northernmost, Hokkaido is the second-largest and least developed of Japan’s four main islands. This means the island is full of natural treasures, wide-open spaces and wildernesses. It’s hard to decide the best time to visit because Hokkaido is beautiful all year round—beautiful fall foliage in autumn, snow paradise in winter, sakura blooms in spring and sunny sunflower field in summer.
If you’re visiting in July, don’t miss the chance to see lavender-covered hills! Ride the special Noroko train to JR Lavender Farm Station from JR Furano Station, and make your way to Farm Tomita, where the spectacular sight of various flower fields in so many different colours—including lavenders—will take your breath away. Don’t leave the farm without tasting the fragrant lavender soft serve!
Just a short 30-minute train ride from Sapporo is Otaru, a small harbour city known for its beautifully preserved canal area, which was built in 1923, glassware industry as well as music boxes. Home to one of Japan’s main music box industries, learn about the history of this sweet-sounding little box and have a go at designing one yourself at Otaru Music Box Museum!
Despite its devastating history, Nagasaki today is vibrant and charming. As a result of being the only major entrance port for foreign countries during Japan’s national isolation, Nagasaki city is a fusion of foreign cultures.
Believe or not, you can make a short trip to the Netherlands without leaving Nagasaki. Sitting on the northern tip of Omura Bay, Huis Ten Bosch is a spectacular and one-of-a-kind theme park that recreates the Dutch land with life-size replicas of iconic Dutch landmarks, including the Domtoren of Utrecht, canal houses, windmills and tulip fields.
When you’re in Nagasaki, you can not try Nagasaki’s representative sweet, castella sponge cake! The fluffy and moist cake is a kind of a Portuguese-inspired Wagashi (Japanese traditional confectionery), although funnily there’s no confectionery in Portugal called castella. Modern castellas come in various flavours and moulded into different shapes, so be sure to try some and choose your own favourites!
Bordered by eight other prefectures, Nagano sits almost exactly in the centre of the Japanese archipelago, which makes it easily accessible. The prefecture gained popularity after it hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics. Nagano is the perfect place to go if you’re keen to experience Japan’s great outdoors and beautiful nature.
Nagano produces a variety of agricultural products, and one of the prefecture’s specialities that particularly stands out is soba or buckwheat noodles. Soba is traditionally handmade and eaten either hot or cold depending on your preference. For those interested, some places also offer soba making classes and what you made in the class is what you’ll have for lunch afterwards!
No trip to Nagano is complete without visiting Karuizawa, probably the prefecture’s most well-known city. The picturesque Karuizawa is where you can take things slow, breathe in the fresh air and recharge yourself spiritually. From strolling to shopping to even curling, there’s so much to do and see here! Don’t miss the enchanting Shiraito Falls, where the multiple streaks of water form a white curtain phenomenon.
The sunny Fukuoka prefecture sits on Kyushu island in the south of Japan. With vibrant port cities, beautiful parks and islands, and stunning ancient sites, Fukuoka is where you can enjoy the best of every world. Believe it or not, there’s also a cat island here!
The cats on Ainoshima Island were originally brought in the fishermen as a solution against the rodents that were threatening the island’s fishing industry. The cats then made Ainoshima their home and their population immediately grew. You’ll find sooo many cats just strolling and lounging around the island.
Tucked in the hills to the south of Kitakyushu is the magical Kawachi Fujien Wisteria Garden. It’s open to the public only twice a year: during the wisteria season between April and May, and during autumn. The wisteria flowers, which come in different shades of purple, pink and white, form a magical tunnel so beautiful it looks like it’s made out of dreams.
With perpetually warm weather, clear seas bursting with coral reefs and a myriad of fish, gentle and hospitable locals, and fantastic food, the islands of Okinawa are the closest you can get to paradise on earth. The southernmost prefecture of Japan actually sits closer to Taiwan than Japan’s mainland and has its own notably distinct cultures.
If you love swimming, snorkelling and diving, Okinawa is the right place for you! Take in the panoramic view of the East China Sea from Cape Maeda, which is known for the sea activities. Here’s also where you can catch the Blue Cave, a cave that was formed by erosion from ocean waves.
Love the marine creatures but would love to keep your feet on the ground? Visit Churaumi Aquarium, the largest aquarium in Japan which is located in the Ocean Expo Park. “Churaumi” means “beautiful ocean” in Okinawan dialect, and true to its name this aquarium is where visitors can explore the mysterious world of Okinawa ocean. It also houses a whale shark, the world’s largest fish species!
Even if you’re not planning to watch the Games, Japan has a whole lot to offer to travellers. What are you waiting for? It’s time to visit the land of the rising sun and start making your plans now! On top of that, if you wish to visit more popular locations such as Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, check out other Muslim-friendly Japan guides here as well!