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Places in Japan

Most visitors will rightly prioritise Tokyo, Kyoto and one or two other well known destinations, but travel in Japan offers a long list of intriguing possibilities away from the usual tourist trail. Whether you are interested in exploring Japanese culture – traditional or modern – or seeking peace and quiet in the timeless Japanese countryside, there is always likely to be something of interest within easy reach.
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Japan encompasses almost 4,000 islands in the western Pacific, extending across almost 20 degrees of latitude from frigid north to subtropical south. The four major islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu.

Hokkaido has always been perceived as remote and strange, existing outside the normal sphere of Japanese life rather like Alaska is to the rest of the USA. Mountain wilderness scenery is on a grand scale up here, at its best in Daisetsuzan National Park.

Around 600 miles to the south on the main island of Honshu, is Tokyo. One of the largest cities in the world, it captures the tradition and futurism that is central to the magic of this extraordinary country.To understand Japan, some time spent in Tokyo is essential.

The Kanto plain wraps itself around the city.To the southwest is Mt Fuji, the iconic snow-capped landmark, within sight of downtown Tokyo on a clear winter day. Further north is the picturesque and historic city of Nikko. The forested mountains are at their most attractive in this part of the country, particularly in the autumn: a short distance southwest is the charming old town of Takayama and the beautiful Japan Alps.

Many of Japan's most noteworthy sights are clustered together in the Kansai region of central Honshu, focused on ancient Kyoto, the nation’s powerful city for well over 1,000 years: a fabulous collection of temples, sanctuaries, geisha and Zen gardens, it has played a key role in the establishment of national identity. Nearby is the beauty of Nara – the country’s cultural and artistic cradle. Osaka, Japan’s second city, is a lively business and nightlife centre. To the west, the snow-white castle of Himeji is unique in Japan.

Further southwest is the Chugoku region and the islands of Shikoku and Kyushu. Each is quite different yet all have one element in common: Seto Naikai, or the Inland Sea.The southern pace is mellow, if not downright sleepy, ­compared with Tokyo and Osaka.

The coast along the Inland Sea to Hiroshima is markedly different from the Sea of Japan side. As for Kyushu – there are those who believe that this large island, particularly the southern part, is a nation unto itself. The warm climate, hot springs and active volcanoes set it apart, while Nagasaki is a pleasant city.

A chain of small islands over 1,200 km (750 miles) in length extend southwestwards from Kyushu’s southern tip to within 200 km (125 miles) of Taiwan. Best known by foreigners is Okinawa for its historical importance in World War II and also for its cultural uniqueness.

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Central Honshu travel guide

Extending from the Tokyo suburbs across the Kanto plain and the mountains of Chubu, the central region of Honshu island is the geographical heartland of Japan.Descriptions of the K...

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Kansai travel guide

With the fabulous antiquities of Kyoto and Nara, the bustle of Osaka and Kobe, romantic scenery and sacred Shinto shrines, the Kansai region probably offers more to the first-time...

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Kyoto travel guide

Tokyo might have the national government and Osaka the entrepreneurial savvy, but Kyoto defines traditional Japan and possesses an ingrained ­aristocratic bloodline, punctuate...

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The North of Japan

The regions of Japan to the northeast of Tokyo are more sparsely inhabited and less often visited by tourists, either foreign or Japanese. Yet northern Honshu – which is more...

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The South of Japan

Southern Japan encompasses the islands of Shikoku and Kyushu, and Chugoku – the western extremity of Honshu. Each is quite different yet all have one element in common: Seto ...

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Tokyo travel guide

A vast concrete, steel and neon sprawl ­stretching seemingly to infinity, the world’s largest megalopolis is a place of superlatives. Until recently steep prices kept it ...

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Read more about Japan

Read more about places in Japan in Insight Guides: Japan

Insight Guides: Japan

Insight Guide Japan offers a uniquely comprehensive approach to getting the most out of one of Asia's most alluring destinations. Engaging History and Culture chapters explain the island's intriguing ...

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