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JAPAN ISLAND HOPPING
Article | September 5th, 2021 | Lukas Leiffer
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ISLAND HOPPING IN JAPAN - DISCOVER THE MOST POPULAR, STUNNING ISLAND PARADISES

When planning your next Japan travel adventure, consider adding a Japan island hopping tour that explores some of the more remote, unspoiled regions of the country. Japan is a marvelous archipelago of around 7000 islands, yet aside from some of the more well-known national treasures, many of Japan's smaller islands go untouched by most travel tours. These smaller island chains may not have that bustling energy that dominates the top tourist destinations of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, but one can't help but enjoy the atmosphere of idyllic tranquility that permeates these island hideaways. Some of them are even UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and all of them are precious to the country of Japan.

No matter where in Japan you choose to travel, a quick hop to a nearby small island is never that far away. If you find yourself exploring Okinawa Prefecture you will find an abundance of little island hopping adventures. The beauty of the main Okinawa islands are indescribable, with the jungle hiking trails of the Yaeyama Islands and the stunning beaches of the Miyako islands only a little boat ride away. Kagoshima Prefecture is also dotted with gorgeous little islands in its southern reaches. The breathtaking Satsunan archipelago beckons not only to travelers with excellent hiking paths, as well as pristine beaches for swimming, diving, snorkeling, and surfing. There are even fun islands to hop to fairly near to Tokyo - the Izu Islands give hikers a chance to trek around a rugged volcanic caldera as they enjoy the refreshing sea breeze. Further off the coast from Tokyo, travelers find the "Galapagos of the Orient", the enchanting Ogasawara Islands, where visitors can observe humpback whales (in their season), or go swimming with dolphins. And between the major regions of Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku travelers can explore the thousands of islands dotting the Seto Inland Sea, including Naoshima Art Island, which features incredible works of art and architecture. Include an island hopping adventure on your next trip to Japan, to discover a more off-the-beaten track, unique side to Japan.

BEST ISLAND HOPPING DESTINATIONS IN JAPAN

As an archipelago with around 7000 islands, there are a lot of delightful little islands to explore beyond the top touristed destinations. The best island hopping destinations in Japan are full of eye-catching nature scenes and unique cultural marvels, easily becoming the most enchanting parts of your itinerary. In the top spots you find such must-sees as the Ogasawara Islands, where travelers can enjoy exploring an island paradise complete with idyllic beaches, snorkeling and scuba-diving with tropical fish, whale-watching, and swimming with dolphins. Kagoshima Prefecture has the Satsunan Islands, an archipelago of over 30 fascinating isles including Yakushima - a UNESCO Heritage Site that nature reserve for a forest of ancient Sugi cedars and resident wildlife. The islands of Okinawa are a definite plus on any beach lovers' itinerary, with islands that include what most travelers consider to be the best beaches in all Japan, as well as the preserved culture of the ancient Ryukyu people.

Yaeyama Islands | Okinawa

The Yaeyama Islands are a part of the Okinawa archipelago, and consist of two larger islands with a nice handfull of smaller islands floating between them. As Japan's furthest southern and western islands, the Yaeyama islands offer a pleasantly relaxing getaway from the more heavily touristed islands. The two main islands are Ishigaki and Iriomote, with Ishigaki being the main travel hub of the two. It has the most resort facilities, with fun activities (available on all the islands) including hiking, diving, snorkeling, and canoeing. Iriomote is more rugged, with most of the island covered in mangrove jungles crossed through with more challenging hiking trails and rivers. Taketomi island is a pleasant island hop from Ishigaki, and is home to an idyllic Ryukyu village that travelers enjoy viewing from the back of a travel cart pulled by water buffalo. Yonaguni Island stands at Japan's westernmost tip, and offers guided scuba-diving tours where adventurous travelers can swim near hammerhead sharks amid mysterious stone structures submerged entirely off the coast.

Yaeyama Islands

Miyako Islands | Okinawa

The Miyako Islands are another group of smaller islands in the Okinawa archipelago. The main island is Miyako, which easily connects to the other smaller islands nearby by bridge or high-speed boat. The main island itself is dotted with towns between sugarcane fields - but the reason why people travel there at all is for the absolutely immaculate beaches. One of them, Maehama, usually sits at or near the top of any list of Japan's best beaches, for its clear aquamarine waters gently caressing a seven kilometer swath of white sand. The other beaches are worth checking out as well, offering good opportunities for diving and snorkeling. The island is also coveted by bird-watchers who go looking for the Ryukyu whistling green pigeons and Eurasian whimbrel. Irabu Island is nearby, easily accessible by footbridge, where a charming fishing village sits amid rolling green hills. Visit Tarama Island, where little villages maintain a traditional Ryukyuan culture, and nearby Minna Island, where visitors enjoy diving amid schools of colorful fish.

Miyako Islands

Okinawa Islands | Okinawa

The Okinawa Islands are the chief islands of Okinawa prefecture, and are the cultural heartland of the native Ryukyu people. The main island (also called Okinawa), includes the prefectural capital of Naha. Some travelers enjoy the main island for its abundance of historic and natural treasures, like the sites of old Ryukyuan gardens and castles, including the old royal palace. There is even a reconstructed village at Okinawa World, a cultural theme park. For people who are looking for a more relaxed experience on the Okinawa Islands, head over to the smaller island of Kume. As a paradise covered in green hills and a coastline of while sand, it has some of the prefecture's top beaches, including Hatenohama Beach. Finally there are the Kerama Islands, a pair of beauties which are also not lacking in beautiful beaches. A favorite for snorkeling, diving, and swimming, these islands are for those travelers looking for that pretty swath of white sand to enjoy with family and friends.

Okinawa Islands

Amami Islands | Kagoshima

The Amami Islands are a little island chain at the tail end of the Satsunan archipelago in Kagoshima Prefecture. The main island is Amami Oshima, and these islands, being isolated so far out from the mainland, retain unique cultural and even linguisitc differences from the rest of Japan. Preserved as a quasi-national park, Amami Oshima offers travelers a perfect setting for diving and snorkeling among coral reefs filled with colorful fish, and a mangrove forest to kayak through, and a homegrown chicken rice cuisine. Explore magnificent limestone caves on Okinoerabu Island, and find less-touristed beaches where visitors can go exploring among the brightly colored coral. At nearby Tokunoshima Island, there are also coral reefs to snorkel through, but the reason why visitors love this island is for its unique cultural feature. A form of bullfighting known as "togyu" has been practiced on the island for hundreds of years. There are a handful of other islands worth exploring for their beauty as well.

Amami Islands

Tokara Islands | Kagoshima

The Tokara Islands are the middle chain of islands in the Satsunan island group, in Kagoshima Prefecture. Twelve islands in all, Tokara offers a wondrous array of scenic wonders and cultural amusements for visitors island hopping the region. The largest is Nakanoshima, which appeals to travelers looking for the idyllic Pacific island paradise, complete with a large active volcano named Otake. People often use that island as a jumping off point to travel to some of the other nearby islands, including Suwanoseijima, Takarajima, Kodakarajima, and other largely unspoiled areas. Hikers come to the Takara Islands to explore its lush geography, scuba dive with tropical fish off the coast, and see the rare Tokara pony, which is native to the island. The island is a prime destination for Japan bird-watchers, who come there for a chance at spotting the whistling green pigeon, the Ryukyu robin, and a host of other local birds that call the island home.

Tokara Islands

Osumi Islands | Kagoshima

The Osumi Islands are the upper group of islands in the Satsunan archipelago, in Kagoshima prefecture. The group contains nine islands, with the biggest being over 500 square kilometers of lush forest and gorgeous coastline, while the smallest seems to be no more than a drop of sand in the Pacific. The largest islands, Yakushima, is the most popular by far with hikers and adventure-minded travelers, who come to bask in the verdant beauty of the mysterious Sugi cedar forests. The oldest cedar there, also known as the Jomon sugi, may be over 7,000 years old. Tanegashima Island is more populated, with more of a cultural and historic appeal to travelers. Noted as the location where firearms where first introduced to Japan, visitors come to visit the island's fascinating Space Center, in addition to wandering its beautiful beaches. Visitors can also find boat tours to explore the nearby green islands of Kuroshima, Iojima, Takeshima, and other beauties.

Osumi Islands

Seto Inland Sea | Shikoku

The Seto Inland Sea is a large body of water that separates the major Japanese Islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. Within this inland sea there are roughly 3000 islands of various sizes, many of which are connected by massive bridges. Many of the islands have unique scenic and historic wonders that captivate the interest of travelers, with a wide range of attractions. Naoshima Island is one of the most famous, and is popular for the eccentric art museums designed by Tadao Ando. These musuems are architectural curiosities in and of themselves, but also host a variety of fascinating art and sculptures. Inujima and Teshima likewise also feature outstanding museums built to spark creativity. Some of the smaller islands are easily reached on a bike via the incredible Shimanami Kaido, that lets travelers enjoy the refreshing sea air and regional beauty of the surrounding area while cycling. Another island worth hopping to in the Seto Inland Sea is Miyajima, which is a short ferry ride away from Hiroshima. Travelers come to view one of Japan's wonders of the Edo period: Itsukushima Shrine and it's "Floating Gate".

Seto Inland Sea

Ogasawara Islands | Tokyo

The Ogasawara Islands, also called the Bonin Islands, are a group of 30 islands arranged in a little archipelago just 1000 km south of Japan. Often called the Galapagos of the Orient, these emerald beauties boast breathtaking ecosystems that offer adventurous island hopping travelers plenty of options for adventure. For those willing to take the comfortable 24-hour ferry ride to Chichijima, can easily connect to the other surrounding islands, where the pristine natural surroundings makes travelers feel like they've become castaways on an island paradise. Enjoy diving and snorkeling with schools of bright, tropical fish, swimming, bodyboarding, and other beach activities, or hike across the jungle landscape on one of the well-maintained hiking trails that cross the islands. Chichijima and nearby Hahajima (literally "Father and Mother Island") are the two main travel destinations at Ogasawara, but numerous other smaller islands wait to be discovered as well.

Ogasawara Islands

The Izu Islands | Tokyo

The Izu Islands are an archipelago stretching out from the Izu penunsula, just below the Tokyo and Yokohama area. Although there are over a dozen little islands in this group, the main islands people come to see are often referred to as the Seven Islands of Izu. Although these islands are lesser known than the Ogasawara Islands, this gorgeous archipelago presents rugged exploration opportunities for hikers as well as some beautiful beaches to enjoy. The primary island is Oshima, whose geography is dominated by a single volcano rising from green slopes. Hikers love to traverse Oshima's hiking trails, especially in the early spring, when pink camellias bloom across the island. The other primary island, Hachijo-jima, features another couple volcanoes, and its beaches are beloved by surfers. While there, travelers try to catch a glimpse of one of Japan's strangest local flora: glow-in-the-dark mushrooms! The rest of the top Seven islands of Izu are Toshima, Nijima, Miyakejima, Kozushima, and Mikurajima, and there are a plethora of natural delights to behold on all of them.

Izu Islands

Aoshima Island | Ehime

Aoshima Island is a little island off the coast of Ehime Prefecture in Japan's Seto Inland Sea. The island is made up of a few hills covered in trees, next to a charming little port town. That being said - the island doesn't have that much in the way of impressive features, and is largely uninhabited by people. But the thing that this strange island is best known for is being home to over a hundred adorable cats! There are far more cats on the island than there are people! It is this feature that has caused Aoshima to be nicknamed "Cat Island". The cats are partially domesticated, due to the influx of attentive tourists, so they are, on the whole, fairly easy to get along with. There aren't really any facilities in the way of hotels, restaurants, or shops, so this island is an ideal day-trip for travelers looking to enjoy a few hours' companionship with some loveable felines, which they can feed and play with. The few inhabitants on Aoshima live quiet lives there, so travelers exclusively go for the cats.

Aoshima Island

Tashirojima Island | Miyagi

Tashirojima Island is an enchanting Cat Island in Miyagi Prefecture. As a longstanding fisherman's hub with a couple of old villages, cats were brought over from the mainland long ago and have thrived on the island. Cats are honored as special creatures, both as culturally lucky animals, and as an effective pest control. There is even a cute little cat shrine on the island, located about halfway between the two fishing villages. The cat population is largely docile and friendly, happily playing with the tourists that come to visit them. Due to the popularity of the feline population, dogs are forbidden on Tashirojima so the residents' little friends won't feel threatened. The island is sometimes also called Manga Island, for a little manga-themed camping resort area, complete with cute buildings shaped like cats.

Tashirojima Island

Okunoshima Island | Hiroshima

Okunoshima Island is a little island in the Seto Inland Sea, off the coast of Takehara in Hiroshima Prefecture. The island is overrun by hundreds of feral rabbits who, due to the influx of recent tourism, feel at ease being petted and fed by visitors. The rabbits were let free across the island after World War 2, and are cared for by the island's inhabitants. You may not find rabbits everywhere you look, but may have to travel a bit farther from the ferry port, and onto the old walking paths and hiking trails around the island. Spotting the rabbits can be a fun game to play with friends, but you might also stumble upon some of Okunoshima's darker history. Visitors may discover abandoned buildings left on the island, relics from Japan's secret poison gas manufactory that they once hid there during the second World War. Entry to these buildings is not permitted, however there is also a Poison Gas Musuem that offers travelers fascinating insight into chemical warfare during this period in history.

Okunoshima Island


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