Japan’s 5 Best Hot Springs in the Snow ・ Enjoy the Winter Onsen Tradition of “Yukimiburo”

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Take a dip in one of Japan’s winter baths for a luxurious experience like none other.

Shared baths and onsen town vacations aren't just a novelty in Japan – they're a part of life – and while there's nothing wrong with a local neighborhood sento, there's nothing quite like the refreshing feeling of one of Japan's many outdoor baths. Called "rotenburo" (露天風呂), these luxurious baths are open to the elements, letting a cool breeze flow by as bathers soak in the hot waters of Japan's natural hot springs. Of course, many popular rotenburo baths are popular because of the beautiful natural scenery surrounding the steaming water. In Japan, watching the seasons change is an important part of making the most of every year.

The ultimate version of this experience is "yukimiburo" (雪見風呂), a "snow-watching bath," a specialty of Japan's coldest regions. When the snow starts to fall each year, visitors flock to rotenburo with great winter views in order to gaze out at the sparkling white snow while cozying up in the hot bathwater. It's a unique experience worth checking out for any traveler spending time in Japan during the winter, so here are just a few of the amazing baths where you can enjoy yukimiburo culture!



① Ashinomaki Onsen, Fukushima (福島 芦ノ牧温泉)



Up in Japan's northern region of Tohoku, it's no surprise that Ashinomaki Onsen is covered in snow each winter when the weather starts to cool. But all that snow does nothing to stop the scalding hot spring water that comes gushing out of the ground at a rate of 1,000 liters a minute on the outskirts of the castle town Aizu-Wakamatsu. Locals say these hot springs have been in use for over a thousand years, but since the village was once quite difficult to reach, Ashinomaki earned the title of the "phantom hot spring village." These days it's much more convenient, and the Japankuru team found the perfect ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) to enjoy the Ashinomaki Onsen waters while admiring the snow when we visited Okawaso, which sits on the riverbank of the Aga River. This onsen ryokan gets its hot spring water right from the source, and directs it into a variety of indoor and outdoor baths, the most popular of which is their outdoor tub arranged like a terraced rice field, which looks out over the snow-covered river valley.



In recent years, this popular high-end ryokan has found a different kind of fame on the internet thanks to the astute observation of one Twitter user with a particular love for the massively successful anime Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. After visiting Okawaso to enjoy the onsen facilities, they noticed that the ryokan's lobby reminded them an awful lot of one particular anime setting. The "floating stage" (浮き舞台) at the center of the ryokan juts out into the high-ceiling room amid a collection of traditional shoji paper doors, staircases, and wooden beams, and it is often used as a stage for traditional Japanese musicians. Altogether, the effect does look a little like the confusing arrangement of Japanese architecture found in Muzan Kibutsuji's Infinity Castle (異空間無限城) during the anime's first season, and it almost seems like the right set of notes from a traditional Japanese instrument might set the whole ryokan spinning!



Those visiting Ashinomaki Onsen shouldn't miss the chance to say hello to the unusually adorable Ashinomaki Onsen Station stationmaster, too! Ever since a stray cat named (ironically) Bus took over the job in 2008, the position has been held by a feline – currently a kitty named Love.

Ashinomaki Onsen Okawaso (芦ノ牧温泉 大川荘)
Otomachi Oaza Ashinomaki, Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima
Official Website (en)

② Kumanoyu Onsen, Nagano (長野 熊の湯温泉)



Nowadays, Kumanoyu Onsen is tucked away within the Shiga Kogen area of Joshin'etsu-Kogen National Park, a mountaintop ski resort purported to have the best snow quality in all of Japan, which means that Kumanoyu is a particular favorite among winter sports fans looking to relax after a busy day on the slopes. But this onsen has been popular since long before ski lifts started carrying people up and down the mountainsides – the "kuma" in "Kumanoyu" actually means bear, and the hot spring's name comes from the local legend that wild bears would soak their wounds in the hot spring and nurse themselves back to health using the healing waters. Eventually, the Edo-era (1603-1868) scholar Sakuma Shozan surveyed the site and spread the word, and the onsen became a favorite of a number of literary figures.
 



Part of what has made this onsen so popular over the past 170 years is the vivid green color that naturally occurs in the water, making it a "hisuiiro" or jade-colored onsen. The waters are rich in sulfur, giving them a strong smell as well, but it's said that you can actually drink it if you want! (The onsen staff recommend keeping it to about half a cup.) The distinct green color makes a beautiful contrast with the high-piles of bright white mountaintop snow that gather on the boulders around the outdoor bath at Kumanoyu Hotel, and the snow sticks around throughout the winter, as you might expect in a ski resort! Nervous bathers who are new to the onsen tradition may be happy to hear that Kumanoyu Onsen offers dress-style towels that can be worn into the water.

Kumanoyu Hotel (熊の湯ホテル)
7148 Hirao, Yamanochi, Shimotakai District, Nagano​
Official Website (en)

③ Jigokudani Onsen, Nagano (長野 地獄谷温泉)



Just down the road from the bear-loving onsen at Shiga Kogen is another hot spring deeply connected to the local wildlife: Jigokudani Onsen. With a name like Jigokudani (which literally means hell valley), you might expect boiling waters and bathers with a hint of the demonic, but travelers will tell you just the opposite. Each winter, the hot spring pools steam faintly against a background of cool white snow, and the guests you see at Jigokudani Onsen might just soothe your soul. That's because most of the bathers who use this hot spring are monkeys – wild "snow monkeys" or Japanese macaques that live up in the trees in Nagano's forested mountainsides. These monkeys skip their daily bath when the weather's warm, but once they start to feel the chill, they'll start to hop right into these hot spring baths to go for a swim, and leave nice and warm. The Jigokudani Monkey Park (Jigokudani Yaen Koen, 地獄谷野猿公苑) has become a go-to sightseeing destination ever since visitors to the 1998 Nagano Olympics made the monkeys an international phenomenon. But of course, the monkeys aren't the only ones allowed into the water at Jigokudani Onsen!

Jigokudani Monkey Park (地獄谷野猿公苑)
6845 Hirao, Yamanouchi, Shimotakai District, Nagano Prefecture
Official Website (en)



Just a few steps away from the Monkey Park, down the same long forest path, is a small ryokan founded back in the year 1864. (For humans.) Guests can visit the snowy ryokan baths to soak in the very same onsen waters as the monkeys enjoy nearby… and sometimes, it really is the very same water. The wild monkeys roam freely about the area, and are known to join people in the baths meant for human use on occasion!

Jigokudani Onsen Korakuen (地獄谷温泉 後楽園)
6818 Hirao, Yamanochi, Shimotakai District, Nagano
Official Website (jp)

④ Shikaribetsu Kohan Onsen, Hokkaido (北海道 然別湖畔温泉)



As the northernmost prefecture of Japan, Hokkaido is known for mild summers and cold, snowy winters, making it a hotspot for travelers searching for their own winter wonderland. One such sightseeing destination springs up as soon as the weather drops down low enough at the end of each year, and no sooner, because it's built entirely on the iced-over lake surface of Lake Shikaribetsu, a part of Daisetsuzan National Park at the heart of Hokkaido. The "Shikaribetsuko Kotan" (然別湖コタン) is a tiny village constructed anew each year on Lake Shikaribetsu, with a working bar sculpted out of ice, and an otherworldly "ice chapel," plus a series of igloos where visitors can choose to stay the night – but the star of the show is the bathing facilities! Right on the thick lake ice, in another world far from the shore and the picturesque mountains, a huge cauldron-like bathtub is filled with steaming onsen water that's piped over from Shikaribetsu Kohan Onsen on the lake's shore. Bathers can gaze out at a view like none other, icy white lake and dark mountains seen through a haze of hot spring steam.

The bath is really out in the open, and it's usually open to all genders as a konyoku mixed bath (aside from a few hours in the evening), so bathers are free to wear swimwear or towels into the water. Of course, the naturally-occurring minerals in the water are said to give you beautiful skin, so you won't want to cover up too much!

While the lake-top bath is, of course, only open when it's cold enough for the water to be covered in a thick layer of ice, travelers who arrive a little early or a little late in the season will be pleased to find that they can still enjoy a bit of yukimiburo fun! Even when the lakeside Shikaribetsu Kohan Onsen Hotel Fusui isn't piping the hot spring water out over the ice, they still run an outdoor footbath (an "ashiyu"/足湯), and travelers can warm up toes frozen from the snow in the hot water.

Shikaribetsu Kohan Onsen Hotel Fusui (然別湖畔温泉ホテル風水)
Shikaribetsu Kohan, Kitaurimaku, Shikaoi, Kato District, Hokkaido
Official Website (en)



⑤ Nasu, Tochigi (栃木 那須)



The onsen of Tochigi, found in cities like Nasu and Nikko, are particularly popular among Tokyoites thanks to their conveniently close distance, and appealingly secluded atmosphere. Nasu might be an easy hour-long hop on the shinkansen out of Tokyo, but it feels like a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, with forested hillsides and luxurious onsen resorts. Kita Onsen in particular has found itself becoming a sightseeing destination after being featured in a successful Japanese film about a time-traveling ancient Roman hot springs lover who finds himself in modern Japan, called Thermae Romae. Of course, once the movie fans make their way into Nasu's mountains to take a dip in the hot spring water, they tend to become fans of Kita Onsen itself, too. The spring comes flowing down the mountainside before it's funneled into the baths at Kita Onsen Ryokan, including the outdoor bath tucked along one side of a valley, where snow piles up each winter.



The indoor bath at Kita Onsen is actually the more famous, thanks in part to the film Thermae Romae, and in part to the unique decorations. The walls are decorated with the faces of some rather large tengu (天狗), which are mischievous beings from traditional Japanese mythology!

Kita Onsen Ryokan (北温泉旅館)
151 Yumoto, Nasu, Nasu District, Tochigi
Official Website (en)



For those looking to try a peaceful konyoku mixed bath not too far from Tokyo, Nasu has one of those for you too. Over at Omaru Onsen Ryokan, 1,300 meters above sea level, bathers can wrap up in the onsen's green towels and soak in the hot waters while admiring the icicles forming on the roof! Omaru Onsen Ryokan has a history of over 200 years, but both Omaru and Kita Onsen are actually two of seven hot springs recorded in a historical document back in the year 1380, which means they've been popular for almost 650 years! Talk about traditional.

Omaru Onsen Ryokan (大丸温泉旅館)
269 Yumoto, Nasu, Nasu District, Tochigi
Official Website (jp)

Which Onsen Will You Choose This Winter?

Japan is onsen country, which means there are hot springs just about anywhere you look, but outdoor baths surrounded by snow are a much less common treat. So next time you're traveling through Japan during the coldest months of the year, keep an eye out for a chance at yukimiburo – or head straight to one of the spots mentioned above! It's truly a bathtime experience like none other.

For more info and updates from Japan, check Japankuru for new articles, and don't forget to follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook!

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NAME:Yukimiburo (雪見風呂)

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      Hokkaido (北海道) is the northernmost of the four main islands that make up Japan. The area is famous for Sapporo Beer, plus brewing and distilling in general, along with fantastic snow festivals and breathtaking national parks. Foodies should look for Hokkaido's famous potatoes, cantaloupe, dairy products, soup curry, and miso ramen!

    • Niki, in south-west Hokkaido, is about 30 minutes from Otaru. The small town is rich with natural resources, fresh water, and clean air, making it a thriving center for fruit farms. Cherries, tomatoes, and grapes are all cultivated in the area, and thanks to a growing local wine industry, it's quickly becoming a food and wine hotspot. Together with the neighboring town of Yoichi, it's a noted area for wine tourism.

    • Niseko is about two hours from New Chitose Airport, in the western part of Hokkaido. It's one of Japan's most noted winter resort areas, and a frequent destination for international visitors. That's all because of the super high-quality powder snow, which wins the hearts of beginners and experts alike, bringing them back for repeat visits. That's not all, though, it's also a great place to enjoy Hokkaido's culinary scene and some beautiful onsen (hot springs).

    • Otaru is in western Hokkaido, about 30 minutes from Sapporo Station. The city thrived around its busy harbor in the 19th and 20th centuries thanks to active trade and fishing, and the buildings remaining from that period are still popular attractions, centered around Otaru Canal. With its history as a center of fishing, it's no surprise that the area's fresh sushi is a must-try. Otaru has over 100 sushi shops, quite a few of which are lined up on Sushiya Dori (Sushi Street).

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      Sapporo, in the south-western part of Hokkaido, is the prefecture's political and economic capital. The local New Chitose Airport see arrivals from major cities like Tokyo and Osaka, alongside international flights. Every February, the Sapporo Snow Festival is held in Odori Park―one of the biggest events in Hokkaido. It's also a hotspot for great food, known as a culinary treasure chest, and Sapporo is a destination for ramen, grilled mutton, soup curry, and of course Hokkaido's beloved seafood.

    • Consisting of six prefectures, the Tohoku Region (東北地方) is up in the northeastern part of Japan's main island. It's the source of plenty of the nation's agriculture (which means great food), and packed with beautiful scenery. Explore the region's stunning mountains, lakes, and hot springs!

    • Akita Prefecture is on the Sea of Japan, in the northern reaches of Japan's northern Tohoku region. Akita has more officially registered important intangible culture assets than anywhere else in Japan, and to this day visitors can experience traditional culture throughout the prefecture, from the Oga Peninsula's Namahage (registered with UNESCO as a part of Japan's intangible cultural heritage), to the Tohoku top 3 Kanto Festival. Mysterious little spots like the Oyu Stone Circle Site and Ryu no Atama (Dragon's Head) are also worth a visit!

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      Fukushima Prefecture sits at the southern tip of Japan's northern Tohoku region, and is divided into three parts with their own different charms: the Coastal Area (Hama-dori), the Central Area (Naka-dori), and the Aizu Area. There's Aizu-Wakamatsu with its Edo-era history and medieval castles, Oze National Park, Kitakata ramen, and Bandai Ski Resort (with its famous powder snow). Fukushima is a beautiful place to enjoy the vivid colors and sightseeing of Japan's beloved four seasons.

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      Yamagata Prefecture is up against the Sea of Japan, in the southern part of the Tohoku region, and it's especially popular in winter, when travelers soak in the onsen (hot springs) and ski down snowy slopes. International skiiers are especially fond of Zao Onsen Ski Resort and Gassan Ski Resort, and in recent years visitors have been drawn to the area to see the mystical sight of local frost-covered trees. Some destinations are popular regardless of the season, like Risshakuji Temple, AKA Yamadera, Ginzan Onsen's nostalgic old-fashioned streets, and Zao's Okama Lake, all great for taking pictures. Yamagata is also the place to try Yonezawa beef, one of the top 3 varieties of wagyu beef.

    • Japan's most densely populated area, the Kanto Region (関東地方) includes 7 prefectures: Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Saitama, Tokyo, Chiba, and Kanagawa, which means it also contains the Tokyo Metropolitan Area. In modern-day Japan, Kanto is the cultural, political, and economic heartland of the country, and each prefecture offers something a little different from its neighbors.

    • Gunma Prefecture is easily accessible from Tokyo, and in addition to the area's popular natural attractions like Oze Marshland and Fukiware Falls, Gunma also has a number of popular hot springs (Kusatsu, Ikaho, Minakami, Shima)―it's even called an Onsen Kingdom. The prefecture is popular with history buffs and train lovers, thanks to spots like world heritage site Tomioka Silk Mill, the historic Megane-bashi Bridge, and the Watarase Keikoku Sightseeing Railway.

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      Tochigi Prefecture's capital is Utsunomiya, known for famous gyoza, and just an hour from Tokyo. The prefecture is full of nature-related sightseeing opportunities year-round, from the blooming of spring flowers to color fall foliage. Tochigi also has plenty of extremely well-known sightseeing destinations, like World Heritage Site Nikko Toshogu Shrine, Lake Chuzenji, and Ashikaga Flower Park―famous for expansive wisteria trellises. In recent years the mountain resort town of Nasu has also become a popular excursion, thanks in part to the local imperial villa. Tochigi is a beautiful place to enjoy the world around you.

    • Tokyo (東京) is Japan's busy capital, and the most populous metropolitan area in the world. While the city as a whole is quite modern, crowded with skyscrapers and bustling crowds, Tokyo also holds onto its traditional side in places like the Imperial Palace and Asakusa neighborhood. It's one of the world's top cities when it comes to culture, the arts, fashion, games, high-tech industries, transportation, and more.

    • The Chubu Region (中部地方) is located right in the center of Japan's main island, and consists of 9 prefectures: Aichi, Fukui, Gifu, Ishikawa, Nagano, Niigata, Shizuoka, Toyama, and Yamanashi. It's primarily famous for its mountains, as the region contains both Mt. Fuji and the Japanese Alps. The ski resorts in Niigata and Nagano also draw visitors from around the world, making it a popular winter destination.

    • Nagano Prefecture's popularity starts with a wealth of historic treasures, like Matsumoto Castle, Zenkoji Temple, and Togakushi Shrine, but the highlight might just be the prefecture's natural vistas surrounded by the "Japanese Alps." Nagano's fruit is famous, and there are plenty of places to pick it fresh, and the area is full of hot springs, including Jigokudani Monkey Park―where monkeys take baths as well! Thanks to the construction of the Hokuriku shinkansen line, Nagano is easily reachable from the Tokyo area, adding it to plenty of travel itineraries. And after the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, ski resorts like Hakuba and Shiga Kogen are known around the world.

    • Aichi Prefecture sits in the center of the Japanese islands, and its capital city, Nagoya, is a center of politics, commerce, and culture. While Aichi is home to major industry, and is even the birthplace of Toyota cars, it's proximity to the sea and the mountains means it's also a place with beautiful natural scenery, like Saku Island, Koijigahama Beach, Mt. Horaiji. Often used a stage for major battles in Japanese history, Sengoku era commanders like Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu left their own footprints on Aichi, and historic buildings like Nagoya Castle, Inuyama Castle, and those in Meiji Mura are still around to tell the tale.

    • NIIGATA

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      Niigata is a prefecture on Japan's main island of Honshu, situated right on the coast of the Sea of Japan, and abundant with the gifts of nature. It's known for popular ski resorts such as Echigo-Yuzawa, Japanese national parks, and natural hot spring baths, plus local products like fresh seafood, rice, and sake. Visitors often spend time in the prefectural capital, Niigata City, or venture across the water to Sado Island.

    • SHIZUOKA

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      Shizuoka Prefecture is sandwiched between eastern and western Japan, giving the prefecture easy access to both Tokyo and Osaka. Not only is it known for beautiful natural attractions, with everything from Mount Fuji to Suruga Bay, Lake Hamanako, and Sumata Pass―Shizuoka's Izu Peninsula is known as a go-to spot for hot springs lovers, with famous onsen like Atami, Ito, Shimoda, Shuzenji, and Dogashima. Shizuoka attracts all kinds of travelers thanks to historic connections with the Tokugawa clan, the Oigawa Railway, fresh eel cuisine, Hamamatsu gyoza, and famously high-quality green tea.

    • Kansai (関西) is a region that includes Mie, Nara, Wakayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, and Shiga Prefectures. Kansai contained Japan's ancient capital for hundreds of years, and it's making a comeback as one of the most popular parts of Japan. Kyoto's temples and shrines, Osaka Castle, and the deer of Nara are all considered must-sees. Plus, the people of Kansai are especially friendly, making it a fun place to hang out.

    • Kyoto flourished as the capital of Japan between the years 794 and 1100, becoming a center for poilitics and culture, and to this day it's a great place for close encounters with Japanese history. The cobbled streets of Gion, the atmospheric road to Kiyomizudera Temple, Kinkakuji's golden walls and countless historic attractions, even Arashiyama's Togetsukyo Bridge―Kyoto is a place of many attractions. With new charms to experience throughout the seasons, travelers can't stop themselves from returning again and again.

    • Nara Prefecture's important history reaches back to 710, a time now called the Nara era, when it was once capital of Japan. Called "Heijo-kyo" during its time as a capital, it's said that nara was once the end of the silk road, leading it to flourish as a uniquely international region and produce important cultural properties of all kinds. To make the most of each season, travelers head to Nara Park, where the Nara deer who wander freely, or climb Mount Yoshino, a famous cherry blossom spot.

    • Osaka is known for friendly (and funny) people, but its history is nothing to laugh at, playing a major part in Toyotomi Hideyoshi's 16th century unification of Japan. Thanks to long years of economic activity, it's one of Japan's biggest cities, and Osaka's popular food culture earned it the nickname "The Kitchen of the Nation." To this day Osaka is the model of western Japan, and alongside historic structures like Osaka Castle, it also has major shopping malls like Umeda's Grand Front Osaka and Tennoji's Abeno Harukas. Osaka is a place to eat, eat, eat, with local specialties like takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and kushi-katsu, and for extra fun, it's home to Universal Studios Japan.

    • CHUGOKU

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      The Chugoku Region (中国地方) consists of five prefectures: Hiroshima, Okayama, Shimane, Tottori, and Yamaguchi. In Chugoku you’ll find the sand dunes of Tottori, and Hiroshima’s atomic bomb site, plus centers of ancient history like Grand Shrine of Izumo.

    • HIROSHIMA

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      Hiroshima Prefecture has everything, from world heritage sites to beautiful nature and delicious local cuisine, and it's either an hour and a half from Tokyo by plane, or four hours by train. Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island and the Atomic Bomb Dome, two Hiroshima UNESCO sites, are famous around the world, but in Japan it's also famous for food. Seafood from the Seto Inland Sea, especially oysters, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, and Setouchi lemons are all popular, and the natural scenery alone is worth seeing.

    • SHIKOKU

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      On the other side of the Seto Inland Sea opposite Japan’s main island, Shikoku (四国) is a region made up of four prefectures: Ehime, Kagawa, Kochi, and Tokushima. The area is famous for its udon (in Kagawa), and the beautiful Dogo Onsen hot springs (in Ehime).

    • Kagawa Prefecture is on the northern part of the island of Shikoku, facing Japan's main island and the Seto Inland Sea. It's known for being the smallest prefecture in Japan, by area, but at the same time Kagawa is called the "Udon Prefecture" thanks to its famous sanuki udon. Aside from Kotohiragu Shrine and Ritsurin Garden, the prefecture's small islands are popular, and Kagawa is full of unique destinations, like Angel Road. They say that if you lay eyes on Zenigata Sunae, a huge Kagawa sand painting, you'll never have money troubles ever again.

    • Located in the most southwestern part of Japan, Kyushu (九州) is an island of 7 prefectures: Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Oita, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima. The island's unique culture has been influenced by Chinese and Dutch trade, along with missionaries coming in through Nagasaki's port. Modern-day travelers love the lush natural scenery and fresh food, plus the natural hot springs found all throughout the area (thanks to volcanic activity)!

    • FUKUOKA

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      Fukuoka Prefecture has the highest population on the southern island of Kyushu, with two major cities: Fukuoka and Kitakyushu. Thanks to growing transportation networks, Fukuoka is more accessible than ever, and so are the many local attractions. On top of historical spots like Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, travelers shouldn't miss Fukuoka's food scene, with motsu nabe (offal hotpot), mentaiko (spicy cod roe), and famous Hakata ramen―best eaten from a food stall in the Nakasu area of Hakata. Plus, it's full of all sorts of destinations for travelers, like trendy shopping centers, and the beautiful nature of Itoshima and Yanagawa.

    • KAGOSHIMA

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      Kagoshima Prefecture played a major role in Japan's modernization as a backdrop for famous historical figures like samurais Saigo Takamori and Okubo Toshimichi, who pushed Japan out of the Edo era and into the Meiji. Because of that, Sengan-en Garden is just one of many historical destinations, and when it comes to attractions Kagoshima has plenty: the active volcano of Sakurajima, popular hot springs Ibusuki Onsen and Kirishima Onsen, World Heritage Site Yakushima Island, even what Japan calls the "island closest to heaven," Amami Oshima. Kagoshima might be found on the very southernmost tip of the southern island of Kyushu, but there's plenty to see.

    • OKINAWA

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      The island chain of Okinawa (沖縄) makes up the southernmost tip of Japan, which is why it's also the most tropical area in the country. Thanks to a history of independence and totally distinct political and cultural events, Okinawa has a unique culture, and remnants of the Ryukyu Kingdom are still visible all over the islands. Food, language, traditional dress, it's all a little different! It's also said to be the birthplace of karate.

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