TRAVEL | Where to Go

NORTHERN OR SOUTHERN JAPAN? WHICH TO VISIT NEXT

Article | May Hamamoto

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Can’t get enough of Japan after visiting Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka (also known as The Golden Route), but are torn between the captivating charms of Northern and Southern Japan? Both regions offer unique experiences and have their own cultural treasures and nature destinations that make choosing between them a delightful dilemma. While we can’t cover all the wonderful facts and sites, we have put together some highlights of Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kyushu, Shikoku, Chugoku, and Okinawa to help you make an informed decision for your next Japan adventure.

Hokkaido ski resort

SUMMARY

Here is an overview of northern and southern Japan’s regions and prefectures. Japan is divided into broader regions. Each region is made up of prefectures. Prefectures are further subdivided into cities, towns, and villages, each with its own local government and specific responsibilities. Okinawa is the exception, being a prefecture itself and further divided into islands.

A fun analogy:

Think of Japan like a big pizza pie and the regions are the slices of that pizza. Each slice (region) has its own unique flavor and toppings (prefectures) that represent local specialties and attractions.

NORTHERN JAPAN: NATURE, OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES, SEAFOOD

Northern Japan is home to regions like Hokkaido and Tohoku, and is a must-visit for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Hokkaido, is known for its nature, wildlife, and snow-covered winter landscapes, and invites you to explore its national parks, snow sports, and seafood dishes. Hokkaido is made up of 14 prefectures:

1.) Sapporo Prefecture: Hokkaido's lively capital, where winter is celebrated with the Sapporo Snow Festival's awe-inspiring ice sculptures and hot bowls of miso ramen. In summer, Odori Park blooms with vibrant colors, and the Sapporo Beer Museum invites beer enthusiasts to taste Hokkaido's finest brews.

2.) Otaru Prefecture: A picture perfect coastal city famous for its nostalgic canal, where lantern-lit streets lead to charming glassware shops and delectable seafood eateries. Don't miss the Music Box Museum's enchanting melodies and the magical atmosphere of Sakaimachi Street lined with shops and cafes.

3.) Hakodate Prefecture: Where history meets scenic sights atop Mount Hakodate, offering grand views of the city lights. Goryokaku Fort's star-shaped design is a testament to Hakodate's past, while seafood lovers can enjoy the freshest catches at Hakodate Morning Market.

4.) Asahikawa Prefecture: A gateway to snowy adventures in Daisetsuzan National Park, home to playful penguins at Asahiyama Zoo and a multitude of noodle dishes at Asahikawa Ramen Village. Here you can warm up with sake tastings at Otokoyama Sake Brewery after a day on the slopes.

5.) Furano Prefecture: A floral paradise in summer with lavender fields that paint the landscape in hues of purple. Winter transforms Furano into a snowy wonderland, inviting skiers and snowboarders to glide down its powdery slopes.

6.) Niseko Prefecture: Praised for its world-class ski resorts and powder snow, Niseko is a must for winter sports enthusiasts. It also offers hot springs (onsen), outdoor activities, and natural scenery.

7.) Kushiro Prefecture: Explore the bogs of Kushiro Marshland, a top destination for wildlife enthusiasts and bird watchers. The majestic sight of Japanese cranes dancing against the marshland's backdrop is a must-see.

8.) Wakkanai Prefecture: Hokkaido's northernmost city, known for its coastline, Cape Soya (Japan's northernmost point), and views of the Sea of Japan.

9.) Abashiri Prefecture: Famous for its drift ice during winter, Abashiri offers attractions like the Abashiri Prison Museum, Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum, and icebreaker boat tours.

10.) Obihiro Prefecture: A foodie's paradise known for Hokkaido wagyu beef and delectable dairy treats. Tokachi red bean pies are a must-try, blending local flavors into delightful pastries.

11.) Kitami Prefecture: Kitami is known for its Tokoro Ruins, a historic site with ancient archaeological remains. It's also a prime location for stargazing due to its clear skies.

12.) Muroran Prefecture: Muroran is a port city with industrial areas and beautiful viewing spots like Cape Chikyu, with its sights of the Pacific Ocean.

13.) Tomakomai Prefecture: Tomakomai is known for its hot springs, seafood, and outdoor activities like golfing and fishing. It's also home to the Lake Utonai Wildlife Conservation Center.

14.) Iwamizawa Prefecture: Iwamizawa is known for its parks and gardens, including the Iwamizawa Park and Iwamizawa Botanical Garden, highlighting Hokkaido's thriving plant life.

Sapporo

Tohoku boasts scenic beauty with its rocky coastlines, lakes, and picture-perfect mountains. The region is made up of six prefectures — Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Akita, Yamagata, and Fukushima.

1.) Aomori Prefecture: Located at the northern tip of Honshu, Aomori is known for its apple orchards, Hirosaki Castle, and the Nebuta Festival — part of Tohoku’s great summer festivals — featuring impressive illuminated floats.

2.) Iwate Prefecture: Iwate is home to aesthetic spots like the coastline of Sanriku, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hiraizumi, and the majestic Mount Iwate.

3.) Miyagi Prefecture: Miyagi is famous for Matsushima Bay, considered one of Japan's three most scenic views, as well as Sendai City, known for its Tanabata Festival and culinary delights like beef tongue.

4.) Akita Prefecture: Akita boasts natural beauty with attractions like Lake Tazawa, Nyuto Onsen, and the Kakunodate Samurai District, known for its well-preserved samurai houses.

5.) Yamagata Prefecture: Yamagata is known for its hot springs, majestic nature landscapes like the Dewa Sanzan mountains, and cultural events like the Yamagata Hanagasa Festival.

6.) Fukushima Prefecture: Fukushima offers diverse attractions including the historic city of Aizu-Wakamatsu, the stunning Bandai-san mountain range, and the charming Ouchijuku post town.

Gozanoishi Shrine in Tohoku

SOUTHERN JAPAN: CULTURAL HERITAGE, SPIRITUAL RETREATS, TROPICAL NATURE

Southern Japan, encompassing regions like Kyushu, Shikoku, Chugoku, and Okinawa, offers a blend of historical affluence, cultural diversity, and sun-kissed landscapes.

Kyushu is the third-largest and southernmost of Japan's main islands, and is a must-visit for those interested in historical sites, hot springs, natural beauty, and hiking trails. Kyushu has seven prefectures — Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Oita, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima.

1.) Fukuoka Prefecture: Located in the northern part of Kyushu, Fukuoka is known for its lively city life, historical sites like Fukuoka Castle, and delicious food, including Hakata ramen.

2.) Saga Prefecture: Known for its ceramics industry and notable sites such as Yoshinogari Historical Park, Saga offers a blend of old Japanese heritage and natural beauty with places like Mifuneyama Rakuen garden.

3.) Nagasaki Prefecture: Famous for its tragic history related to atomic bombing, Nagasaki also boasts attractions like Glover Garden, Dejima (historic Dutch trading post), and the beautiful port town of Shimabara.

4.) Kumamoto Prefecture: Home to the iconic Kumamoto Castle, Kumamoto Prefecture is rich in history and nature sights. Visitors can also explore Suizenji Jojuen Garden and the hot spring town of Kurokawa Onsen.

5.) Oita Prefecture: Known for its hot springs (onsen) including Beppu, Oita Prefecture also offers attractions like Usuki Stone Buddhas, Yufuin Village, and the scenic Takachiho Gorge.

6.) Miyazaki Prefecture: Famous for its stunning coastline, surfing spots, and Aoshima Island with its mythological connections, Miyazaki Prefecture also has historical sites like Miyazaki Jingu Shrine.

7.) Kagoshima Prefecture: Home to the iconic Sakurajima volcano, Kagoshima is known for its hot springs, Ibusuki sand baths, and historic sites such as Senganen Garden.

Dejima in Nagasaki

Shikoku, is made up of four prefectures — Ehime, Kagawa, Kochi, and Tokushima. This region is the perfect place to visit for those looking to experience peaceful rural life and pilgrimage trails, particularly the Shikoku Pilgrimage, a sacred journey that encompasses 88 Buddhist temples associated with the monk Kukai, also known as Kobo Daishi.

1.) Ehime Prefecture: Located on the northwestern part of Shikoku, Ehime is famous for Matsuyama Castle, one of Japan's original 12 castles. Matsuyama also boasts Dogo Onsen, one of Japan's oldest hot springs with a history spanning over 3,000 years. Ehime is also known for its citrus fruits, especially mikan (mandarin oranges).

2.) Kagawa Prefecture: Kagawa is known for its udon noodles, particularly in the city of Takamatsu. Visitors can explore the historic Ritsurin Garden, a beautifully landscaped garden dating back to the Edo period. Naoshima Island, part of Kagawa, is famous for its contemporary art museums and installations.

3.) Kochi Prefecture: Kochi is known for its coastline, mountains, and traditional culture. The city of Kochi is home to Kochi Castle and the lively Sunday Market. The Shimanto River, known as "Japan's last clear stream," is a popular spot for river activities and scenic cruises. Kochi is also famous for its katsuo no tataki (seared bonito) and other fresh seafood dishes.

4.) Tokushima Prefecture: Tokushima is known for the Awa Odori dance festival, held annually in August, where thousands of dancers and spectators gather to celebrate. The prefecture is also home to the beautiful Iya Valley, known for its vine bridges and natural scenery. Naruto Whirlpools, caused by tidal currents in the Naruto Strait, are another natural attraction in Tokushima.

Shikoku Mura

Chugoku region, located in western Japan, is known for historic war and spiritual destinations, natural attractions such as sand dunes and caves, as well as notable gardens and castles. The region consists of five prefectures: Hiroshima, Okayama, Shimane, Tottori, and Yamaguchi.

1.) Hiroshima Prefecture: Famous for its tragic history during World War II, Hiroshima is now a thriving city known for its Peace Memorial Park, Hiroshima Castle, and the iconic Atomic Bomb Dome. The city also offers delicious Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki and picturesque Shukkeien Garden.

2.) Okayama Prefecture: Known as the "Land of Sunshine," Okayama is famous for the stunning Korakuen Garden, one of Japan's Three Great Gardens, and Okayama Castle. The city is also home to the charming Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter with its well-preserved Edo-period architecture.

3.) Shimane Prefecture: Shimane Prefecture is rich in mythology and history, with attractions like Izumo Taisha, one of Japan's oldest and most important Shinto shrines. Matsue Castle, known as the "Black Castle," with views of Lake Shinji. The Adachi Museum of Art is praised for its beautiful gardens.

4.) Tottori Prefecture: Tottori Prefecture is famous for the Tottori Sand Dunes, a unique natural attraction along the coast. Visitors can enjoy sandboarding, camel rides, and magical sunset views. The prefecture also boasts Uradome Coast, Misasa Onsen, and the historical ruins of Tottori Castle.

5.) Yamaguchi Prefecture: Yamaguchi Prefecture is known for its ancient cultural heritage and ecological sites. Visitors can explore places like Akiyoshidai Quasi-National Park, Akiyoshido Cave, and the scenic Kintai Bridge in Iwakuni. Hagi, a former castle town, is famous for its samurai heritage and pottery.

Kurashiki Canal

Okinawa prefecture, is a tropical paradise made up of several islands, including Okinawa Island, Ishigaki Island, and Miyako Island. Experience a unique blend of island charm, indigenous culture, and marine adventures.

1.) Okinawa Island: This is the largest and most populous island in the prefecture, where the capital city of Naha is located. It is known for its vibrant culture, historical sites, beautiful beaches, and vibrant city life.

2.) Ishigaki Island: Located southwest of Okinawa Island, Ishigaki is known for its stunning coral reefs, clear waters, and pristine beaches. It's a popular destination for snorkeling, diving, and water sports.

3.) Miyako Island: Situated southeast of Okinawa Island, Miyako Island is famous for its picturesque beaches with fine white sand and turquoise waters. It's a great spot for relaxation, beach activities, and exploring natural attractions.

Ishigaki in Okinawa

INDIGENOUS CULTURE

Both north and south Japan are home to native communities — the Ainu and Ryukyuan people.

The Ainu are the indigenous people of Hokkaido and parts of the Tohoku region. They have a distinct language, traditions, and spiritual beliefs centered around nature worship and animism. Ainu cultural elements include traditional clothing (attus), woodcarving (mukkuri and tonkori instruments), and rituals like the bear-sending ceremony (iyomante) to honor and thank bears for their spiritual significance.

If you would like to learn more about Ainu, visit the Upopoy National Ainu Museum, a treasure trove of Ainu heritage and traditions nestled in Shiraoi. Here, find traditional Ainu dwellings showcasing architecture, intricate crafts and artifacts that whisper tales of ancient wisdom. Get ready to be enchanted by Ainu dances, music, and storytelling that celebrate the resilience and beauty of this indigenous community. It's not just a museum; it's a heartfelt embrace of Ainu identity and heritage.

Ainu Heritage

The Ryukyuan people are indigenous to the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa Prefecture. Their culture is influenced by Chinese, Japanese, and Southeast Asian elements. Ryukyuan culture features traditional dances (eisa), music (sanshin), martial arts (karate and kobudo), and unique textiles (bingata) with vivid patterns.

For those who want to experience the vibrant culture of the Ryukyu Kingdom, pay a visit to Ryukyu Mura in Okinawa. This living museum is a playground of history, where traditional Okinawan houses, lively performances, and hands-on workshops await curious travelers. Picture yourself weaving through quaint streets lined with colorful houses, encountering artisans crafting pottery or weaving textiles with intricate designs. Ryukyu Mura is not just a museum; it's a spirited celebration of Okinawa's heritage, where every corner unfolds a story of resilience, cultural fusion, and the timeless charm of island life.

Shisa guardian in Okinawa

Both Ainu and Ryukyuan cultures have faced challenges in preserving their languages, customs, and identities over time. Visiting historical sites and learning about their cultures provides visitors with a deeper understanding of Japan.

DIFFERENCES IN NATURE

Northern Japan is known for its powdery snow, vivid seasonal blooms, unique wildlife, and grand parks and lakes.

Hokkaido dances to its own cherry blossom beat, with blooms gracing the late spring scene, making Northern Japan a floral paradise from late April to early May. In summer, nature's palette explodes with Furano and Biei lavenders, adding pops of color alongside columns of common sage, lupine, tulips, and Japanese anemone. It's like stepping into a vibrant rainbow painting at Farm Tomita and Shikisai Hill!

And who can resist the fall allure of the Salmon Run spectacle? The Chitose River plays host as thousands of salmon make their upstream pilgrimage, a surreal sight that reels in pro fishermen and nature enthusiasts alike.

Winter? It's a wonderland of festivals and wildlife wonders! Hokkaido's red-crowned cranes, Ezo deer, and mischievous Hokkaido foxes add charm to the snowy landscapes, while the Sapporo Snow Festival sprinkles magic with intricate ice sculptures and snow statues. Explore Hokkaido's nature at Shiretoko National Park, a UNESCO gem, invites you to traverse mountains, dense forests, and a dramatic coastline. Boat tours offer sights of playful seals and majestic whales, while the aesthetic Shiretoko Five Lakes steal hearts.

Feeling adventurous? Dive into Daisetsuzan, Japan's grandest national park, boasting volcanic terrain and alpine meadows. Scale Mount Asahi for aesthetic views of nature or soak in hot springs (onsen) in charming towns like Sounkyo. And let's not overlook the scenic splendor of Oirase Gorge, nestled in Towada-Hachimantai National Park. Waterfalls, crystal-clear streams, and beech tree forests await along the Oirase Stream Trail, treating hikers to nature's artistry at Choshi Otaki Falls and Kumoi no Taki Falls.

In Tohoku, discover dense cedar and beech forests in places like Towada-Hachimantai National Park and Shirakami-Sanchi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its ancient beech trees. Tohoku is home to several stunning mountain ranges, including the Ou Mountains, Dewa Mountains, and Kitakami Mountains. Onsen enthusiasts will find bliss in Tohoku's abundance of natural hot springs in places like Aomori's Sukayu Onsen, Akita's Nyuto Onsen Village, and Fukushima's Aizu region.

Hokkaido's red-crowned cranes

Southern Japan steals the cherry blossom show, flaunting its floral magic earlier than Tokyo, typically gracing the scene from mid to late March. Cherry blossom season in Okinawa is even earlier, typically starting from late January to early February.

Southern Japan is home to natural hot springs, mystical gorges, sand dunes, volcanoes, caves, and islands featuring thriving tropical plant-life, and mesmerizing waters.

Dive deeper into Beppu's wonders with the "Hells of Beppu," a fascinating collection of unique hot springs boasting vivid colors and volcanic activity. Surrounded by mountains, Beppu also offers hiking trails and nature walks, making it a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Takachiho Gorge, a breathtaking natural marvel in Miyazaki Prefecture, also on Kyushu Island — picture stunning basalt cliffs, emerald-green waters, and waterfalls creating a fairy-tale landscape. Take a boat ride along the gorge to soak in the towering cliffs and wilderness, especially enchanting during autumn when foliage turns into a vibrant canvas of reds, oranges, and yellows against the clear waters.

Prepare to be amazed by the Tottori Sand Dunes , also known as Tottori Sakyu, a visually appealing natural attraction in Tottori Prefecture. Stretching approximately 16 kilometers along the coast, these sand dunes are a sandboarding paradise, offering thrilling adventures surrounded by towering dunes reaching up to 50 meters high. Or wander through Japan’s longest limestone cave system at Akiyoshido Cave. The cave's natural beauty is enhanced by carefully placed lighting, casting ethereal hues and shadows that add to the enchantment. Akiyoshido Cave is also steeped in history — it served as a shelter for ancient humans thousands of years ago, leaving behind traces of their existence in the form of artifacts and markings.

Yakushima Island has its own mystical allure, and is home to ancient cedar forests and lush biodiversity. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, Yakushima boasts Yakusugi, some of Japan's oldest cedar trees, including the legendary Jomon Sugi. Hike through dense forests, encounter unique wildlife like Yakushika (Yakushima deer), and gaze upon breathtaking waterfalls like Oko no Taki and Senpiro no Taki. And let's not forget Aso-Kuju National Park, a volcanic wonderland in Kumamoto and Oita Prefectures. Mount Aso, an active volcano, dominates the landscape alongside the expansive Aso Caldera. Hike to Mount Aso's rim for unique sights, explore lava plateaus, and soak in natural hot springs scattered throughout the park.

Tottori Sand Dunes

PLACES TO VISIT

Although we’ve already mentioned plenty of popular destinations to check out, we would like to highlight an few emerging hotspots in north and south Japan.

IN NORTHERN JAPAN:

The Hokkaido Historical Village, also known as "Kaitaku no Mura," is an open-air museum located in Sapporo, Hokkaido. It offers a fascinating look into Hokkaido's pioneer era during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Visitors can explore restored buildings, including traditional houses, schools, and government offices, showcasing the lifestyle and architecture of early settlers in Hokkaido. The museum also features exhibits on agriculture, industry, and cultural practices of the region's past, making it a memorable educational and tangible experience for history enthusiasts.

Hokkaido Historic Village

Tohoku — particularly in areas like Aomori, Akita, and Yamagata prefectures — is known for its beautiful rice paddy art, especially during the summer and fall seasons. Rice paddy art, also known as "tanbo art" in Japanese, involves meticulously planning and planting the rice fields in spring, using different types of rice plants that grow at varying heights and have different hues of green. As the rice grows and matures throughout the summer, the designs gradually emerge, transforming the fields into fun canvases of art. These rice paddy artworks often depict various themes such as traditional Japanese folklore, nature scenes, animals, cultural symbols, and even popular characters from anime and manga. The designs can be incredibly detailed and elaborate, ranging from simple geometric patterns to complex illustrations that cover large areas of the fields. Visitors can enjoy viewing these grand artworks from designated observation decks or nearby roads.

Tohoku Rice Paddy Art

Nikko Toshogu Shrine was originally built in 1617 by Tokugawa Ieyasu's grandson, Tokugawa Hidetada, as a mausoleum and shrine dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. It later became the final resting place of Ieyasu, who passed away in 1616. Nikko Toshogu Shrine is part of the "Shrines and Temples of Nikko," a UNESCO World Heritage site designated in 1999. The complex includes several shrines, temples, and mausoleums set amidst a densely forested area. The shrine's architecture is a blend of Shinto, Buddhist, and Chinese architectural styles. Notable structures within the complex include the Yomeimon Gate, which is adorned with over 500 carvings, and the Five-Story Pagoda (Gojunoto), a symbol of spiritual enlightenment. Nikko Toshogu is known for its extensive collection of artistic treasures, including the "Sleeping Cat" carving by Hidari Jingoro, the "Three Wise Monkeys" depicting "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil," and the "Crying Dragon" painting on the ceiling of the Sacred Stable. The shrine's surroundings are particularly stunning during the autumn foliage season when the striking colors of the leaves create an aesthetic backdrop for the buildings and pathways. Cherry blossoms in spring also add to the beauty of the shrine grounds.

Toshogu Shrine

Mt. Haguro is a sacred mountain that has been a site of pilgrimage for centuries, particularly in the Shugendo and Shinto traditions. The mountain is known for its "Goju-no-to" (Five-Story Pagoda), which stands at 30 meters tall and is a symbol of spiritual enlightenment and ascension. Imagine climbing over two thousand steps — each step steeped in history and tradition — to reach the top and be greeted by ancient cedar trees, historic temples, and surreal views. It's a journey where nature and spirituality intertwine.

Mount Haguro’s Five Story Pagoda

IN SOUTHERN JAPAN:

Miyajima is a small island in Hiroshima Bay is home to the Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage site, known for its Torii Gate that appears to float on the water during high tide. Visitors can explore the shrine complex, stroll along streets lined with shops and restaurants, and hike to the summit of Mount Misen — the highest peak on the island — for grand views of the island and surrounding sea. Miyajima is home to friendly wild deer that roam freely around the island. Visitors can interact with these deer, but they should be mindful of their belongings and avoid feeding them.

Itsukushima Floating Torii Gate

Koyasan, or Mount Koya, is a sacred mountain in Wakayama Prefecture and the headquarters of Shingon Buddhism, a major Buddhist sect founded by Kobo Daishi (Kukai) in the 9th century. It is home to over 100 temples, including the iconic Kongobuji Temple and Okunoin Cemetery, serving as the final resting place of Kobo Daishi. Visitors can experience temple stays (shukubo) for a deeper understanding of Buddhist culture, participate in morning meditation sessions, try Buddhist cuisine known as shojin ryori, and explore the serene forested surroundings and ancient pagodas.

Shukubo Temple Lodging

The Shimanami Kaido is a scenic toll road and cycling route that spans multiple islands and bridges between Honshu and Shikoku. It is known for its views of the Seto Inland Sea, coastal landscapes, and cycling-friendly infrastructure. Travelers can rent bicycles to traverse the route, stopping at charming seaside towns, scenic viewpoints, and cultural attractions like the Kosanji Temple and Onomichi City.

Shimanami Kaido

Naoshima Art Island is home to several world-class art museums and outdoor installations created by well respected artists. The Benesse Art Site Naoshima, managed by the Benesse Corporation, includes the Chichu Art Museum, Lee Ufan Museum, and Benesse House Museum. Each museum features a distinctive collection of artworks ranging from modern paintings to sculptures and installations. One of the most striking aspects of Naoshima is its architecture. The buildings housing the art museums and accommodations are designed by famous architects such as Tadao Ando, who seamlessly integrate contemporary art with the island's natural surroundings. Visitors can admire the innovative use of space, light, and materials in these architectural masterpieces. Naoshima's art isn't confined to museums; it spills out into the open air. The island features outdoor sculptures and installations scattered throughout the area.

Naoshima Art Island

Hiroshima is another historically significant city in Southern Japan, known worldwide for the tragic events of the atomic bombing during World War II. Today, Hiroshima is a symbol of peace and resilience, with attractions such as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the Atomic Bomb Dome (Genbaku Dome), Hiroshima Castle, and the Shukkeien Garden. The city also offers cultural experiences, culinary delights (including Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki), and exciting shopping districts.

Atomic Bomb Dome

Shuri Castle, located in Naha, Okinawa, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a symbol of the Ryukyu Kingdom's ancient history and culture. Originally built in the 14th century, Shuri Castle served as the royal residence and political center of the Ryukyu Kingdom until the 19th century. The castle's architecture reflects a unique blend of indigenous Ryukyuan design, influenced by Chinese and Japanese styles. Its distinctive red-tiled roofs, colorful decorations, and intricate wooden structures make it a visually stunning attraction. Visitors to Shuri Castle can explore various buildings within the complex, including the main hall, living quarters, courtyards, and gardens. Inside, you'll find exhibits displaying artifacts, royal treasures, and historical documents related to the Ryukyu Kingdom's culture, politics, and daily life. The castle grounds offer views of Naha City, making it a popular spot for photography and cultural exploration. Visitors can also enjoy traditional performances, cultural events, and guided tours to learn more about Shuri Castle's fascinating history and its role in shaping Okinawan heritage.

Shuri Castle

THINGS TO DO IN NORTHERN AND SOUTHERN JAPAN

Northern Japan

- If you are looking for active things to do in Hokkaido, we suggest diving into the world of snow sports and Japan adventure travel — from skiing and snowboarding to snowshoeing and snowmobiling. For a unique winter activity, try your hand at smelt fishing, an exhilarating activity that will test your angling skills.

- Feast at the Autumn Festival in Sapporo's Odori Park. This culinary extravaganza showcases Hokkaido's must-try cuisine, from fresh seafood to savory grilled meats and mouthwatering desserts. Foodies, this is your paradise!

- Brace yourself for Japan's famous winter wonderland at the Sapporo Snow Festivals. Check out gigantic snow sculptures and detailed ice artworks crafted by talented artists and locals. Join many other visitors in celebrating the magic of winter surrounded by enchanting snow creations.

- Unwind in Tohoku's soothing hot spring baths, a perfect retreat for relaxation and rejuvenation.

- Don't miss Tohoku region's famous summer festivals, where traditional dances and cultural performances come to life in a burst of colors and energy.

Tohoku Summer Festivals

Southern Japan

- Head out on a journey to Southern Japan's off-the-beaten-path destinations, such as Kosanji Temple, Kitsuki Samurai District, or spiritual hiking trails.

- Dive into the rhythmic beats of the Awa Odori Folk Dance and Festival and immerse yourself in local culture. Join in as thousands of spectators and dancers flock to the city to watch the festivities.

- Escape to Okinawa's laid-back beaches, where relaxation meets adventure. Dive into crystal-clear waters for thrilling diving and snorkeling adventures, exploring underwater ecosystems teeming with marine life. Some popular beaches include Emerald Beach, Sunset Beach, Kouri Island Beach, and Naminoue Beach.

Awa Odori Festival

WHAT TO EAT IN NORTH AND SOUTH JAPAN

Hokkaido Seafood - Hokkaido is famous for its fresh seafood, including sushi, sashimi, and seafood hotpot (kaisendon, kaisen-don). Don't miss trying specialties like Hokkaido crab (kani), salmon roe (ikura), and sea urchin (uni). The Otaru Sushi District, also known as Otaru Sankaku Market, is lined with numerous sushi restaurants and stalls showcasing an array of fresh seafood, including Hokkaido's famous uni (sea urchin), salmon, crab, scallops, and more. Savor the melt-in-your-mouth goodness of sushi prepared with the finest ingredients sourced from local waters.

Otaru Sushi District

Sapporo Ramen - Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, is known for its hearty and flavorful ramen noodles, typically served in a rich miso-based broth with toppings like pork, corn, and butter. Asahikawa Ramen Village features multiple ramen shops, each offering its unique style and flavor profiles. From rich and savory miso ramen to light and refreshing shoyu (soy sauce) ramen, there's a ramen variety to satisfy every taste preference. The ramen served in Asahikawa Ramen Village often incorporates local Hokkaido ingredients, such as pork, vegetables, and special soup bases made from Hokkaido-grown produce. This emphasis on freshness and quality enhances the overall dining experience.

Asahikawa Ramen Village

Genghis Khan BBQ - This is a popular barbecue dish in Hokkaido, featuring grilled lamb or mutton with vegetables, seasoned with a savory sauce.

Jingisukan

Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki - Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake typically made with cabbage, meat or seafood, and topped with a sweet and tangy sauce. In Hiroshima, the layers are distinct, with noodles added for extra texture.

Okonomiyaki is popular in Osaka and Hiroshima

Fugu (Blowfish) - Fugu is a delicacy in Japan, especially in regions like Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi Prefecture. It requires careful preparation due to its poisonous parts and is usually served as sashimi or in hotpot (fugu nabe).

Fugu

Kagoshima Black Pork - Kagoshima Prefecture is known for its high-quality pork, known as Kagoshima Kurobuta (black pork). It's tender, flavorful, and often grilled or used in hotpot dishes.

Kurobuta

Hakata Ramen - A specialty of Fukuoka, featuring thin noodles in a rich tonkotsu (pork bone) broth with toppings like chashu pork and green onions.

Hakata Ramen

Okinawan Cuisine - Unique dishes from Okinawa, such as Goya Champuru (stir-fry with bitter melon), Rafute (braised pork belly), and Soki Soba (noodles with pork spare ribs).

Champuru

WEATHER IN NORTHERN AND SOUTHERN JAPAN

In the enchanting lands of Northern Japan, winter paints a picture straight out of a fairy tale. Hokkaido, with its fluffy snow blankets and frosty landscapes, transforms into a winter wonderland fit for snowball fights and cozy evenings by the fireplace. Surreal scenes of snow-covered streets and charming snow sculptures await, making it a paradise for winter enthusiasts and avid skiers alike. Hokkaido's weather whims don't stop at snow. In summer, the region blooms into a colorful paradise of flower fields, with lavender fields in Furano and vivid flora in Biei. Don't forget your camera for numerous photo ops of flower-filled landscapes under the clear blue skies. If you are looking for the best time to visit northern Japan, look into this more detailed blog about Hokkaido

Down south in sunny Japan, prepare to be dazzled by a different kind of weather. With its subtropical climate, Kyushu and Okinawa invites you to soak up the sun in nature or on pristine beaches and dive into turquoise waters teeming with marine life. Okinawa is a beach lover's dream come true, complete with palm trees swaying in the gentle sea breeze. Typhoons may whirl in during the summer months, bringing a mix of excitement and occasional rain showers. Don't fret; it's all part of the adventure as locals and visitors alike flow along the rainfall and sunshine.

CHOOSING YOUR NEXT JAPAN ADVENTURE

Ultimately, whether you choose Northern or Southern Japan depends on your travel preferences and interests. Northern Japan beckons with its natural beauty, winter escapades, and highly praised cuisine, while Southern Japan offers tropical delights, spiritual landmarks, and coastal allure. Whichever region you choose, Japan's diversity will surely enchant and inspire you on your journey!

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