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Real Wasabi in Azumino! This Japanese Flavor Can Liven Up All Kinds of Cooking

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Wasabi: a key flavor in Japanese cuisine, but most people never even taste the real thing. Sushi and sashimi are just the beginning, so join the Japankuru team as we explore the secrets of wasabi in Azumino, Nagano, home to the largest wasabi farms in the world.

Is It Wasabi? Horseradish? Mustard!?

What Is Real Wasabi?

Thanks to the ever-growing popularity of sushi, wasabi has become a fairly well-known condiment all over the world. But that little lump of green paste that comes with a plate of maguro or salmon is just the start of what wasabi has to offer, and really, it's probably not wasabi at all! The wasabi plant is closely related to horseradish and mustard, but it's much more difficult to grow, so a quick glance at the ingredients on a packet of grocery store "wasabi" will show you that it's 99% horseradish, 99% of the time.

When you pull real wasabi from the ground, it almost looks like a bumpy, green carrot, and the rootstalk portion of the plant (also called the rhizome) is what's ground up to eat with sushi. Genuine wasabi has that sharp spice we crave, but also a pleasantly green aroma, a little more complex than the fake green paste. But this unique flavor is what makes the real thing so versatile―real wasabi is used to add a little zing and enhance the flavor of all kinds of food in Japan, from traditional cuisine to modern recipes.



Wasabi's history in Japan starts back in ancient times, when it was used mostly as a medicinal remedy, and there's even an entry on wasabi in Japan's oldest lexicon of meidicinal plants (the Honzo Wamyo, 本草和名). Back then, the people of Japan learned of wasabi's many uses through experience, taking advantage of wasabi's ability to mitigate the smell of fish, keep dangerous bacteria at bay, and lower the chances of food poisoning, back in a time before refrigeration was invented. Finally, during Japan's Edo era (1603 – 1868), nigiri sushi (the kind now popular worldwide) rose in popularity, and the popularity of wasabi quickly followed, finally finding its way into the culinary world.

In recent years, researchers have returned to looking closely at wasabi, and to this day continue to find more interesting qualities hidden in the wasabi plant. Not only does wasabi have plenty of nutrients and anti-inflammatory properties, there's even some evidence that it can help prevent the spread of cancer. Plus, the beauty industry continues to look into wasabi's many uses. It's truly one of Japan's most iconic healthfoods.



The City of Azumino, Nagano Prefecture ・ Delicious Wasabi Grown with Water From Snowy Mountain Peaks

When talking about wasabi in Japan, Nagano's city of Azumino is sure to enter the discussion. Azumino sits at the base of the northern Japanese Alps, and the clean water from melting mountain snow trickles down through the earth, becoming rivers and underground streams that run through central Nagano's Matsumoto Basin. The biggest reason why wasabi is so rare is that the plants are picky, and require lots of clean, cold water to survive. Azumino is famous for its abundant fresh springwater, which makes it a perfect environment for growing wasabi, and as interest in wasabi has grown, wasabi farms small and large have flourished throughout the area. The biggest wasabi farm in Japan, Daio Wasabi Farm, is found in Azumino, and it's now a popular tourist attraction as well.



Azumino: a city dotted with mountain springs bursting with cool snowmelt. Regardless of the season, this springwater stays around 12°C ~ 14.5°C (54°F ~ 58°F), meaning wasabi can be grown throughout the year. From planting to harvest, wasabi plants take about a year to a year and a half to grow, so farmers shift through cycles and harvest plants throughout the year.



Bringing Japanese Wasabi to the Masses

The wasabi grown in Azumino, the epitome of Japanese wasabi, isn't only sold throughout Japan, it's also exported overseas. Thanks to special methods established by local farmers, wasabi is kept in excellent condition throughout the shipping process, and arrives fresh into the hands of people all over the world. At Fujiya Wasabi Farm, using their own unique combination of vacuum-packing and flash-freezing technologies, they can get the flavor of fresh wasabi to last up to a year.



Of course, as a place famous for wasabi, fresh wasabi straight from the fields isn't all you see in Azumino. Wasabi is an ingrained part of the local food culture, and in Azumino it's served alongside sushi, sashimi, and soba noodles, like many parts of Japan. But Azumino also produces all kinds of unique wasabi products, like condiments, snacks, and side dishes ready to serve. Minced wasabi greens, pickled wasabi made with sake lees, wasabi cream cheese, wasabi-flavored snacks, wasabi salt, and more can be found on store shelves in Azumino, and also shipped abroad for people to enjoy overseas.



Fresh Wasabi: Flash Frozen and Vacuum Packed

As mentioned above, the staff at Fujiya Wasabi Farm are pros at taking their fresh-picked wasabi and locking in the fresh flavor and texture for export, using vacuum packing and flash freezing.

During the Japankuru team's visit, Fujiya's owner Keiichi Mochizuki explained that while wasabi is famously delicious with sushi and sashimi, it's also fantastic with steak, really bringing out the flavor of the meat. Wasabi isn't just for Japanese food; it adds flavor to all kinds of cuisine.



The flash-frozen wasabi can actually be used as-is, without thawing, and grated right out of the freezer. The flavor is just as fresh as wasabi pulled from the ground, but for the first few minutes after grinding the frozen wasabi, the pleasantly bitter, leafy flavors come out more strongly than the sharp nose-burning spice. After being left to warm for a moment, it shifts to the classic spicy flavor profile. For anyone who can't deal with the burn, the farmers recommend trying the wasabi while still chilled!



Wasabizuke (Pickled Wasabi): Not Just the Rootstalk, but the Greens Too

Wasabi paste is made with the plant's rootstalk, so in Japan most people only imagine using wasabi by grating or grinding up the plant's lower portion. But the truth is that the greens, the plant's stalks and leaves, are also high in nutrients and are a part of the everyday diet in Azumino. Anyone who visits Daio Wasabi Farm is also likely to try the wasabi green curry, or wasabi soft serve ice cream, both made with wasabi greens! And since the greens are much more robust than the rootstalk, they stand up better to export, as well. Daio's curry and ice cream don't travel so well, so we recommend preparations with a longer shelflife, like wasabizuke (わさび漬け, Japanese pickled wasabi).



The people of Azumino make a few different kinds of wasabizuke products, including both wasabi greens preserved with soy sauce, and wasabi pickled with sake lees. While the soy-sauce-marinaded greens are especially good for adding a burst of flavor to simple dishes, the wasabizuke with sake lees is more of a unique experience. The wasabi's pleasant burn and the sake lees' unique aroma blend to create a fresh, head-clearing flavor unlikely to be found anywhere else. Read on below for some ideas for how to use both kinds of wasabizuke to bring recipes to a new level.



Wasabi Cream Cheese: The Choice of Milder Palates

Doesn't "wasabi cream cheese" just sound delicious!? It truly is a dreamy combination, so you're right to trust your instincts here. Azumino's fresh wasabi, added to a base of rich cream cheese, is a luscious mix with a hint of green color, and the resulting mix of wasabi heat and creamy cheese works so perfectly together that it's hard to stop eating. For those who want to try real wasabi but can't quite take the heat, this is an easy way to enjoy a hint of the plant's true flavor.



The man who created Wasabiya Yuu, and this particular product, is Yuho Matsumoto, who began making wasabi cream cheese as an easy way for his to wife to eat wasabi when she was diagnosed with cancer. There's some evidence that wasabi is effective against cancer, possibly preventing the spread of cancer cells in the body. These days, now that Matsumoto's wife has happily won her struggle with cancer, they make the wasabi cream cheese to share with people in Japan and elsewhere, hoping to provide an easy way for anyone to enjoy wasabi.



Not Just for Sushi, Try Wasabi Cooking!

Using fresh wasabi, wasabizuke, wasabi cream cheese, or other wasabi ingredients as ingredients, it all leads to discovering new flavors and new ways to bring life to everyday cooking. If you like to cook, or just like wasabi, check out our wasabi recipes to find a few new ways to use this unique ingredient!

Appetizer: Wasabi & Prosciutto

Ingredients: prosciutto (or other cured ham), wasabizuke, nuts & raisins

With a base of deep, meaty flavor from the prosciutto, adding hints of sweetness with the raisins and a little bit of wasabi's heat creates new flavorful dimensions. While these make a great appetizer, they also go well with wine, or your beverage of choice.



Main Dish: Steak & Wasabi

Ingredients: your choice of beef or pork steak, fresh-ground wasabi paste (or wasabi salt)

There's no denying that wasabi goes great with sushi and sashimi, but the people of Azumino insist that wasabi is an excellent addition to meat dishes, especially steak. Considering steak sauce sometimes uses horseradish, it's not a huge surprise, but after giving wasabi a try there's no doubt that this is a great combination. Make sure you've got some of Fujiya Wasabi Farm's wasabi in the freezer next time you cook up a juicy steak―adding a dab to every bite really brings out the steak's umami, or cuts through the richness of well-marbled meat. For a bit of extra convenience, keep a shaker of wasabi salt nearby to add a little kick to any meat dish.



Main Dish: Wasabi Greens Pasta

Ingredients: pasta, fresh wasabi, soy sauce marinated wasabi greens, wasabi salt
Optional: lettuce, bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, grated cheese

Take your average boiled pasta and throw it in a pan with a little olive oil, soy sauce wasabi greens, and fresh-grated wasabi, and you've got yourself a uniquely Japanese pasta dish full of savory greens and hints of heat. Serve it on top of a bed of salad, with lettuce, peppers, and tomatoes, or top it with cheese, to add a whole new layer of texture to the dish.



Perfect With Wine: Cheese and Crackers, Azumino Style

Ingredients: wasabi cream cheese and crackers, plus your choice of cherries, fresh mozzarella, clementine slices, nuts, raisins, etc.

Canapes don't get much simpler, but it's hard to beat this flavor! Top a cracker with a swipe of wasabi cream cheese and eat it as is, or add whatever suits your palate. (Even Yuho Matsumoto, who makes the wasabi cream cheese, thinks this is one of the best ways to enjoy it.) The Japankuru team particularly liked topping the cream cheese crackers with raisins (for a hint of sweet) and almonds (for a warm, nutty flavor), but there's no wrong choice, and adding fresh fruit to the mix brings a little bit of extra sophistication.



Bonus: Tips on How to Prepare Wasabi

These days, most restaurants serving fresh-grated wasabi rely on stainless steel graters, but in Japan wasabi is traditionally grated using boards covered in shark skin, and this practice is still common at high-end restaurants. Thanks to the rough, dense texture of shark skin, these boards help thoroughly grind the plant and release compounds important for wasabi's unique aroma and sharp spice.



However, as good as shark skin is at grating up delicious wasabi, it's not all that resilient when compared with stainless steal. When being used daily in a restaurant kitchen, a shark skin wasabi grater will only last about 3 months, before wearing down and no longer effectively grating the wasabi. They're not particularly cheap, either, so always keeping a high-quality shark skin grater around can be a little expensive. That's why Azumino's Keiichi Mochizuki, of Fujiya Wasabi Farm, has been working together with local Nagano steel-crafters to create a new kind of stainless wasabi grater, based off of careful calculations taken from real shark skin. This unique wasabi grater, called the "Oni Namida" (鬼泪, literally demon's tears), is reportedly just as good as real shark skin when it comes to grating wasabi, but without the short lifespan.



Trying Wasabi Cuisine in Azumino

If you do get a chance to visit Azumino yourself, don't miss the opportunity to try wasabi prepared in all kinds of ways! At Daio Wasabi Farm, for example, visitors can try wasabi-don (rice bowls topped with wasabi), wasabi green curry, wasabi beer, wasabi lemonade, wasabi ice cream, and more. After spending the day at the farm, we polled the Japankuru team to find out which wasabi treats were best, and when it came to lunch options the answer was unanimously "wasabi green curry!" As for wasabi ice cream, well, opinions were a little more split. Some people loved the flavor, and others were a little on the fence, so we recommend you try it to find out for yourself.



The view at Daio Wasabi Farm, with rows of growing wasabi plants stretching out into the distance, is a sight to be seen, and the food is definitely worth a try, but they've got a great selection of wasabi souvenirs to bring home, too. Wasabi peas (わさび豆) are a classic, and one of the most popular souvenirs, plus they also sell wasabi senbei (煎餅, rice crackers), wasabi cake, wasabi spice mixes, and various sauces like wasabi soy sauce―it's hard to decide what to try first. Still thinking about that wasabi green curry? They sell shelf-stable packages of that in the gift shop, too!



Aside from Daio Wasabi Farm, Azumino has plenty of great places to try the local wasabi, including great restaurants serving sushi and soba―must-eats when it comes to wasabi. After touring the city's restaurants, you might just be an Azumino wasabi expert.



Discover the Limitless Potential of Wasabi in Azumino

After taking a look at Azumino's wasabi, a product of beautiful mountains and fresh clear springwater, and after seeing all the ways that wasabi can be enjoyed, are you ready to taste it for yourself? If you get the chance, we invite you to try one of our wasabi recipes and share it with friends and family, or to come up with a wasabi recipe of your own. We'd love to see what you make! And for anyone without much confidence in their cooking skills, let us know if you find some good wasabi cuisine, at the Japankuru twitter, instagram, and facebook!



Interested in trying Azumino wasabi for yourself? Find them at the links below:

Daio Wasabi Farm
Official Website: https://www.daiowasabi.co.jp/
Webshop: https://www.daiowasabi.co.jp/shopping/

Fujiya Wasabi Farm
Official Website: http://fujiyawasabi.com/
Webshop: https://fujiyawasabi.theshop.jp/
※products mentioned above
・Fresh Wasabi small ¥500 / medium ¥950 / large ¥1,500
・Soy Sauce Wasabizuke ¥432
・Sake Lees Wasabizuke ¥1,080
・Special Oni Namida Stainless Steel Wasabi Grater ¥22,000

Wasabiya Yuu
Official Website: https://wasabiyayuu.com/
Webshop: https://wasabiyayuu.com/shop
※products mentioned above
・Wasabi 2L-size ¥1,296 / 3L-size ¥1,620 / King-size ¥1,944
・Wasabi Cream Cheese ¥1,200

​Learn more about Azumino's wasabi here:
・Azumino City (Wasabi Promotion): https://www.city.azumino.nagano.jp/soshiki/29/64480.html
・Grace of Azumino: http://grace-azumino.jp/category/wasabi/

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NAME:Azumino, Nagano (長野県安曇野市)

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    • FUKUSHIMA

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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.

    • YAMAGATA

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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.

    • TOCHIGI

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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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