Since deciding to go to Japan I have been daydreaming endlessly about all the places I want to see while I’m there. So far I have spent five weeks exploring the country and I’ve seen many of its most renowned highlights. But this time I want to cover as much ground as possible and see everything Japan has to offer including remote windswept northern isles, traditional villages in ancient forests, mega cities up and down the country and tropical boltholes in the East China Sea.
I will start with a few destinations close to Tokyo, including the world heritage site Nikko, the seaside resort town of Kamakura and the dramatic volcanic beaches of Niijima island. After that it’s up to Niigata to see the wild beauty of Sado island. Next, visit the mountaintop shrines on Dewa-san and then on to Sendai for a tour of the stunning Matsushima Bay. Moving up to see the beautiful samurai houses of Kakunodate before visiting Hirosaki castle. The final stop is Aomori where I can catch a shinkansen over to Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest island.
The focus of my time in Hokkaido will be on walking its incredible national parks. Landing in Hakodate, a historic port town, I’ll then travel up towards the island’s capital city Sapporo via the beautiful Shikotsu-Toya National Park. From Sapporo I’ll do a day trip to Otaru before heading into the centre of the island to see the beautiful flower fields of Furano, the famous Asahiyama Zoo and the dramatic scenery of Daisetsuzan National Park. After all of that I’ll go to the far north of the island and catch ferries to the remote Rebun and Rishiri islands for more hiking and cycling. Next I will navigate over to the east of the island for the world heritage site Shiretoko National Park where you can take a boat tour to view bears in their natural habitat. Before returning to Sapporo I’ll visit Lake Mashu and Lake Kussharo for some more walking, if I’m not already sick of it.
After Hokkaido, I’ll fly back to Tokyo. My next goal will be to climb Mt. Fuji, the best time of year to do so being July/August. After that I will visit Kamikochi by way of Matsumoto for some alpine scenery. I haven’t quite decided whether I will stop by the Nakasendo Highway again (one of my all time favourite destinations) or Kanazawa (a cool little city where I have a few contacts) before Kyoto. After a city break in Kyoto and Osaka I will head down to the Kii peninsula for more walking through the ancient forests there. My final stop will be Kobe where I’m desperate to experience the city’s lively jazz scene.
Shikoku is the least visited main island of Japan and I can’t wait to see what hidden gems it contains. I’ll start in Tokushima, aiming to be there to witness the Festival of the Dead, Obon, the closest thing to Rio’s Carnival you’ll find in Japan. Next I’ll check out the best city in Japan for udon noodles, Takamatsu, also taking the opportunity to visit Naoshima, one of the art islands of the inland sea. I want to catch the view of the Seto Bridge from the Washuzan Observation Deck before heading into the forested interior of Shikoku. After some kayaking in the Oboke Gorge it’s on to the coastal city of Kochi. Then it’s over to Matsuyama to see its impressive castle and huge onsen, purportedly the inspiration for the bathhouse in the movie Spirited Away. From here I’d like to check out ‘cat island’ (Aoshima) before cycling the Shimanami Kaido back to Honshu (a 60km cycle path over nine huge bridges connecting nine different islands). Then it’s onwards to Kyushu via Hiroshima.
The first stop in Kyushu will be its largest city Fukuoka, before moving on to Nagasaki where I hope to learn all about the devastation inflicted upon it in WWII. Next it’s to the otherworldly onsen town of Beppu before viewing the largest caldera in the world on Aso-san and kayaking in the stunning Takachiho Gorge. Onwards to the conveniently located city of Kumamoto and then to Kagoshima, from where I will view the smoking volcano of Sakurajima. From Kagoshima I will take a ferry to Yakushima, an island covered in ancient forests perfect for hiking and exploring.
After Yakushima, if I have any gas left in the tank, I will go explore the tropical islands in Okinawa prefecture. These lie far off the southern coast of Japan (reference below). You can fly cheaply to Naha and from there I can take ferries to the other islands. I’ve heard the pace of life is slow, the beaches are fantastic and the locals friendly. It sounds like the perfect place to chill out for a bit after all this activity!
Is this trip overly ambitious? Yes. Will things likely change once I’m on the road? Definitely. But doing all of this planning was necessary so I could get it out of my system. Now I can begin to think about what I’m going to do once I’m finished travelling. But I’ll save that for another post.