Japan is made up of four main islands. Honshu, the biggest of the four, is home to the Japanese capital of Tokyo as well as several other large cities.
Hokkaido, to the north, is a popular holiday destination, especially when it comes to winter sports.
In the south, we find Shikoku, the smallest of these four main islands and famous for nature.
Kyushu is a mixed bag with volcanoes, historic sites, and small villages. Each of the islands is a great tourist destination and it’s difficult to choose which one to visit.
Here’s our guide to discovering Japan’s four main islands. Make sure that when you go to Japan, you don’t miss anything!
Japan’s Main Island: Honshu
Why should you visit Honshu?
There are several reasons to visit Honshu, the largest island in the Land of the Rising Sun and, generally, when people travel to Japan, they'll head to Honshu as it's the largest island, home to the major cities like Tokyo and Kyoto, Mount Fuji, Disneyland, and most of the other famous attractions and destinations that people have heard of.
The capital city of Japan is one of the main reasons people head to the island of Honshu. It’s almost impossible to visit Japan without visiting the capital.
You can’t visit Tokyo in less than a week as there’s just so much to see and do. A few notable ones are:
- Shibuya, the “city centre”.
- Shinjuku, home to Tokyo’s nightlife.
- The Japanese Imperial Palace.
- The artificial island of Odaiba.
- Akihabara, home to electronics, anime, and manga.
- Roppongi, home to Japan’s nightclubs.
- Sensō-Ji, the Buddhist temple in Asakusa.
- The Tokyo Skytree.
- The Meiji Jingu shrine.
- Tokyo Disneyland
- The museums around the city.
Of all the places in Honshu worth visiting, we also need to mention Kyoto, the former capital that’s famous for Geishas, temples, and shrines. Osaka is famous for its castle.
There are also cities like Hiroshima, Miyajima, Kamakura, Nara, and Nagoya.
Honshu is also home to Mount Fuji, Japan’s tallest mountain and a symbol of the nation itself. Its beauty will take your breath away. Fuji is perfect for a trip outside of the city. This world heritage site is filled with shrines and torii.
The Kansai and Kanto regions are also worth visiting. You can enjoy sushi, ramen, sake (in moderation), and yakitori. The cuisine in Japan is second to none. Of course, when you travel to Japan, you can visit whatever destinations you want and while Honshu has plenty of great things to see and do, that doesn't mean a holiday elsewhere in Japan is a wasted trip.
The Best Places in Hokkaido
Hokkaido is an island to the north of Japan that’s famous for being a popular holiday destination for Japanese tourists. There are plenty of places to visit in Hokkaido and you really have to visit Japan several times to see it all, but here’s a summary.
Hokkaido is famous for Japan’s winter sports scene with ski resorts like the one at Niseko. The tall mountains and cold weather are perfect for it, and the snowy scenery is also incredibly beautiful.
In Hokkaido, you need to visit the capital Sapporo, which is home to over 2 million people! This is a popular tourist destination and is famous for its food and hot springs.
Other cities worth visiting in Hokkaido include:
- Abashiri, a coastal town.
- Hakodate with its port.
- Asahikawa and the zoo.
- Chitose, where you’ll find the international airport.
- Furano and the ski resort.
Hokkaido is also home to Hell Valley (Jigokudani), the Hiyoriyama volcano, and many onsens. The Japanese hot springs here are famous and it would be a shame to miss them.
There’s also Lake Tōya and the Geopark, Mount Yōtei, and the Makomanai Takino Buddhist cemetery with its giant Buddha.
You won't get bored in Hokkaido.
Shikoku, Perfect for Holidays in Japan
Even though Shikoku is one of the smaller of Japan’s main islands, it’s still a wonderful place to visit and explore when you’re in Japan. It’s famous all over Japan and there are plenty of reasons to visit.
Shikoku is full of nature and you can feel Japanese tradition emanating off almost anything. You can see cherry blossoms all over Japan, but there’s no better place than Shikoku to do it.
Shikoku is home to several important Japanese towns and cities including the popular Matsuyama in the Ehime prefecture. This Japanese city is famous for its hot springs, the 19th-century castle, and the Ishite-Ji temple.
Takamatsu, Kochi, and Tokushima are also worth visiting.
There’s a tradition of pilgrimages to the 88 temples on the island, known as the Shikoku henro. To learn more about Japan and Buddhist rituals, you can also take part in Shikoku’s pilgrimages. They won’t cost you a single Yen, either.
You can also visit the town of Naruto, the Iya Valley, or the Oboke Gorge. There’s also the traditional village of Uchiko and the Kotohira-gū Shinto shrine.
Why Should You Visit Kyushu?
Our last island is Kyushu, the third large Japanese island. It’s famous for its volcanoes, historic sites, and coastal towns. There are a few reasons to visit Kyushu.
If you’re visiting Japan, you’ll find that there are onsen all over the country. This is particularly true in Kyushu, which is famous for the hot springs. The Unzen and Beppu onsen are particularly popular. Once you’ve tried them, you won’t want to leave so try to make the most of your time there.
The city of Fukuoka is home to over 1.5 million people and is worth visiting. There are skyscrapers by the beach and a fantastic transport system.
With shopping centres, Japanese markets, views of the Genkai Sea, noodles by Hakata Bay, and Japanese tea ceremonies, you won’t get bored here. You can also learn more about Japanese culture and history in the museums and at local monuments.
There are a few places in Kyushu that you have to visit:
- Mount Aso and Sakurajima, the island’s two volcanoes.
- Nagasaki and Japanese cultural heritage.
- The coastal city of Miyazaki.
- The picturesque city of Kumamoto and its castle.
- Kagoshima, the Naples of the East.
- The local culture of the Okinawa archipelago.
There are also festivals across Kyushu that you can take part in such as the Nagasaki Lantern Festival.
In terms of food, we recommend you try Hakata ramen and motsunabe.
Now you should know a little more about Japan’s main islands. To learn more about Japan and the islands, check out our other articles on the subject.
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