Have you already visited Japan, or are you put-off by big cities? The small pockets of land surrounding this island nation are perfect for you. Far away from the hustle and bustle, a total change of scenery is guaranteed, as are a fair share of surprises. Visitors will never want to leave these 10 corners of paradise.
Situated in the Pacific Ocean, Yakushima is a rich, verdant Eden with a mist-covered forest and a mysterious beauty that's said to have inspired the film Princess Mononoke. Camping, trekking and mountaineering in an otherworldly forest full of magical flora and fauna are all on the agenda here.
The islands of Oki are hidden in the Sea of Japan, surrounded by forest and encircled by white sand beaches. Of the 180 Oki islands, only 4 are inhabited. Sumo wrestling is famous worldwide, but what about bull sumo? Unlike in Spain and Portugal, Japanese bullfighting involves only two bulls fighting one another. The sport is believed to have originated in the Oki Islands in the 13th century.
The islands are also famous for their incredible seafood and specific type of beef, some of which is sent to Kobe and sold as Kobe beef. Campsites are also available for those who want to see the islands' incredible rock formations up close.
Toshijima is a mountainous island ringed by imposing ocean waters and other smaller islands. The island's inhabitants are the guardians of an ancient Japanese tradition: neyako, a custom specific to the Pacific Coast. At the end of high school, boys leave their parents' homes to live in groups of five to ten with a single foster parent supervising them until one of them is married. The intention is that they'll learn independence and life skills.
Fishing is still a main component of life on the remote island and its surrounding neighbors, and there are many local festivals that are open to tourists. It's a tranquil, peaceful retreat and the perfect place to experience rural living in Japan.
Miyajima is a mountainous land covered in forest. In front of its grandiose greenery stands an imposing wooden portico, implanted in the blue waters. The Itsukushima Shrine is a Shinto shrine that's become incredibly popular with professional and amateur photographers alike, but that doesn't detract from its beauty. The best time to visit the gate is during high tide, when the true magic of the place is revealed.
Benefitting from a tropical climate, Okinawa and many of its surrounding islands sport luxurious vegetation and superb beaches. The main island is also home to a huge group of centenarians. In fact, Okinawans are known for having the longest lifespan in the world, so maybe it's worth a trip to see exactly why and get some tips.
The other surprise is that Okinawa is home to a wide range of local languages, and the indigenous religion still permeates modern society. Although influenced by Chinese and Japanese religions such as Taoism and Shintoism, the Ryukyuan customs of ancestor worship and female-centric leadership remain strong, and the belief system still has many branches.