The Land of the Rising Sun is more than just Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. Head north from the Japanese capital and you’ll discover a region that has it all: history, culture, food and adventure!
Easily accessible from the country’s major international entry points, Japan’s northern regions will give you a different taste and perspective on this unique destination.
In a nutshell, here’s what Japan’s north has to offer:
Located in the northeastern region of Honshu (Japan’s largest island), Tohoku is comprised of six prefectures (Akita, Aomori, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi and Yamagata) and offers the traveller nature, culture and history.
What to do: Go hiking in the Shirakami Sanchi mountain range in Aomori – a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring hiking trails, waterfalls, lakes and gorges. The park is also home to black bears and Japanese serow (goat-antelope).
Alternatively, take a 90-minute boat ride through the Geibi Gorge whilst being serenaded with local folk tunes sung by the boatman, or visit Matsushima Bay – one of Japan’s Three Great Views – and sail around the bay’s 260 pine-clad islands.
Time your visit to this region in spring and you’ll be surrounded by late-blossoming cherry blossoms; make sure you visit the ancient Samurai village of Kakunodate for some of the best views amid historic Samurai architecture. Oh, and whatever you do, don’t leave without visiting Hirosaki Castle, Aomori, which is the last remaining castle from the Edo period in the Tohoku region.
How to get there: Take the Tohoku Shinkansen from JR Tokyo Station or catch a domestic flight from either of the two Tokyo international airports.
Sparsely populated, wild and untamed, Hokkaido is an island in Japan’s north, famous for its exceptional powder snow, excellent seafood, and the Ainu people. With a unique culture that’s recently attracted renewed interest, this indigenous community and their traditions have been around since the 13th century.
What to do: Visit Akan Ainu Kotan, an Ainu village of 200 people, and learn about their culture through traditional crafts, song and dance, puppet plays and cuisine. Follow this up with a walk in Shiretoko National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, exploring one of Japan’s least frequented regions.
For a little relaxation, go for a soak in the mineral-rich hot springs of Noboribetsu in Jigokudani (Hell Valley); for a little adventure, paddle up and go canoeing on Lake Toya whilst watching the white smoke rise from Mount Usu – an active volcano located nearby.
If visiting in summer, definitely check out the Lake Toya Long-Run Fireworks in Hokkaido.
How to get there: Fly to various airports in Hokkaido from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, or catch the Hokkaido Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto.
Only two-hours north of Tokyo in Tochigi Prefecture, Nikko is a UNESCO World Heritage Site blessed with temples and shrines dedicated to the Tokugawa shoguns. This easily accessible region is made even more special thanks to its waterfalls, lakes and hiking trails.
What to do: Visit Toshogu Shrine and Taiyuin Mausoleum of Nikkozan Rinnoji Temple for a dose of culture, before marvelling at one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the country: the 100-metre Kegon Falls.
For some fun, head to Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura– a samurai and ninja theme park themed on 17th century Japan. Pose for photos dressed up as ninjas and geishas, stimulate the taste buds by tasting cuisine from the Edo period, and enjoy a variety of cultural performances.
Other activities include going for a boat ride on the Kinugawa River (in Tochigi), or visiting the 350-year-old Shinkyo Bridge – considered to be one of Japan’s most beautiful structures.
How to get there: Nikko is easily reached from Tokyo via the Tobu Railway from Tokyo’s Tobu-Asakusa station to Tobu-Nikko Station. JR Pass users can take the Tohoku Shinkansen to Utsunomiya Station then transfer to the local JR Nikko Line.