Explore the great outdoors of Hokkaido

As the largest and northernmost prefecture of Japan, Hokkaido offers ample opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors – from hiking the gorgeous Shiretoko or Daisetsuzan national parks in Autumn to snowing and skiing in Winter. In Spring, make the best of hanami (flower viewing) season by taking a scenic drive from Furano Town – resplendent with colourful tulips, poppies and lavender – to Biei, where you’ll find the Blue Pond, a photogenic body of water that was made famous after it was adapted as an Apple Mac wallpaper. When summer rolls around, cool off with a high-adrenaline ride down the Shiribetsu River in a white-water raft. “Apart from offering the beauty of nature, Hokkaido also offers visitors a glimpse into the traditional Ainu culture,” Tominaga shares, referring to the indigenous community that lives in Hokkaido. “The Ainu museum is a must-visit for anyone wanting to understand more about the Ainu people’s history and culture.”

Hit the hot springs in Akita City

Located along the Sea of Japan coastline in the northern Tohoku Prefecture, Akita Prefecture is known for its rich history and traditional hot springs. “Everyone needs to experience a Japanese onsen at least once in their lives,” Tominaga declares. “It offers many health benefits and is very therapeutic for mind, body and soul.” Some of the best onsens in Akita can be found around Lake Tazawa, a pristine caldera lake in the city of Semboku. Another way to experience Akita’s varied heritage is by participating in traditional celebrations such as the Akita Kanto Festival, which takes place every August. This event dates back to the mid-Edo era where locals would pray for a bountiful harvest, and features a dazzling display of performers balancing kanto (long bamboo poles) with paper lanterns attached to the end.

Slurp up the best noodles in Shikoku

Shikoku is the smallest of Japan’s four main islands, but it punches above its weight when it comes to culinary treasures. Kagawa Prefecture, which is located on the northeast of Shikoku island, is especially famous for its udon. Although it’s the country’s smallest prefecture, Kagawa is home to over 800 udon restaurants, from hole-in-the-wall family-run eateries to large restaurants catering for tour groups. “The udon in Kagawa is known for its excellent texture – firm yet smooth, and deliciously chewy,” Tominaga enthuses. For a dose of culture, Tominaga recommends heading to the city of Kochi in the summer for the vibrant Yosakoi festival, where dancers in elaborate costumes perform the lively Yosakoi Dance, a unique art form where dancers make use of naruko (wooden clappers) as part of the dance.

Explore the great outdoors of Hokkaido

As the largest and northernmost prefecture of Japan, Hokkaido offers ample opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors – from hiking the gorgeous Shiretoko or Daisetsuzan national parks in Autumn to snowing and skiing in Winter. In Spring, make the best of hanami (flower viewing) season by taking a scenic drive from Furano Town – resplendent with colourful tulips, poppies and lavender – to Biei, where you’ll find the Blue Pond, a photogenic body of water that was made famous after it was adapted as an Apple Mac wallpaper. When summer rolls around, cool off with a high-adrenaline ride down the Shiribetsu River in a white-water raft. “Apart from offering the beauty of nature, Hokkaido also offers visitors a glimpse into the traditional Ainu culture,” Tominaga shares, referring to the indigenous community that lives in Hokkaido. “The Ainu museum is a must-visit for anyone wanting to understand more about the Ainu people’s history and culture.”

Go art-hopping around the islands of Seto Inland Sea

If you’re an art aficionado, you definitely need to make your way to the Seto Inland Sea, where a cluster of 12 islands has been slowly transformed over the years to become “art islands”. As you make your way through the bucolic islands, you’ll find contemporary art installations and exhibits dotted along the sandy shores, tucked away on forested trails or even within the abandoned buildings of ancient villages. “My favourite of the art islands is Naoshima as it has a very laid-back feel but the art museums here are modern and interesting,” says Tominaga. “Don’t leave without taking a photo with the Red Pumpkin,” she adds, referring to Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s iconic sculpture perched at the entrance to Naoshima’s Miyanoura Port.

Hit the hot springs in Akita City

Located along the Sea of Japan coastline in the northern Tohoku Prefecture, Akita Prefecture is known for its rich history and traditional hot springs. “Everyone needs to experience a Japanese onsen at least once in their lives,” Tominaga declares. “It offers many health benefits and is very therapeutic for mind, body and soul.” Some of the best onsens in Akita can be found around Lake Tazawa, a pristine caldera lake in the city of Semboku. Another way to experience Akita’s varied heritage is by participating in traditional celebrations such as the Akita Kanto Festival, which takes place every August. This event dates back to the mid-Edo era where locals would pray for a bountiful harvest, and features a dazzling display of performers balancing kanto (long bamboo poles) with paper lanterns attached to the end.

Embark on an off-the-grid escape to Goto Islands

Translated to the “five-island island chain”, Goto Islands lie about 100km off the coast of Kyushu and are part of Nagasaki Prefecture. Accessible by ferry from Nagasaki and Sasebo, this remote cluster of islands is ideal for those looking to go off the grid and immerse in nature. “There are many small fishing villages here as well as secluded beaches to enjoy some peace and quiet,” Tominaga shares. Fukue Island is the largest and most populated of the five islands and has several noteworthy attractions, including the Lord Goto Residence, the former home of an Edo-era feudal lord, and the Bukeyashiki Samurai Street, where the warrior class used to live.

Slurp up the best noodles in Shikoku

Shikoku is the smallest of Japan’s four main islands, but it punches above its weight when it comes to culinary treasures. Kagawa Prefecture, which is located on the northeast of Shikoku island, is especially famous for its udon. Although it’s the country’s smallest prefecture, Kagawa is home to over 800 udon restaurants, from hole-in-the-wall family-run eateries to large restaurants catering for tour groups. “The udon in Kagawa is known for its excellent texture – firm yet smooth, and deliciously chewy,” Tominaga enthuses. For a dose of culture, Tominaga recommends heading to the city of Kochi in the summer for the vibrant Yosakoi festival, where dancers in elaborate costumes perform the lively Yosakoi Dance, a unique art form where dancers make use of naruko (wooden clappers) as part of the dance.

quot The energy in Shibuya and Harajuku is unlike anywhere else in Japan, or even the world. quot

For youthful fashion… Shibuya and Harajuku

Known as the birthplace of kawaii fashion (literally translated as “cute”, this style is known for pastel colours and extravagant hairdos), Harajuku is a fascinating destination in its own right. The bustling Takeshita Street is crowded with local fashion boutiques and while they’re targeted at a younger audience set, it’s still a heady experience for any first-time visitor to Tokyo. “Get your smartphone camera ready as you’ll be greeted by colourful fashion and eye-catching cosplay at every turn,” Tominaga says. From Harajuku, hop over to Shibuya, located just one train stop away. This vibrant shopping and entertainment district is a buzzing hub for youth fashion and culture, with dozens of department stores and shopping malls crammed within a 15.11 sq km space. “The energy in Shibuya and Harajuku is unlike anywhere else in Japan, or even the world. If you want to feel the pulse of Japan, you’ll definitely need to come here,” says Tominaga.

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