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Tochigi Prefecture Points of Interest – Our Guide to Traveling around Southern Tochigi Part 1

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One of the main things to look forward to when traveling to Japan is experiencing Japanese culture. Whether it is wearing kimonos and walking around the old streets, tea ceremony, or going to a big anime festival, you become a part of something you have yet to experience in your home country. Towards the end of the summer, JAPANKURU went around Northern Tochigi and seeing its unknown beauty and experiencing things like zazen (Buddhist meditation where they hit your shoulder with a board).



This time we made our way to Southern Tochigi just in time for the autumn foliage. This trip seemed to be more about going back in time which gave us a whole new look at the Kanto region. Due to Tochigi is so close to Tokyo we just rented a car and made a road trip out of the whole thing. There are plenty of places to rent a car from in Tokyo but since we have always had such a great experience with Nissan as an agency and the reliability of the cars, we rented from there again this time too. 
 
🚙Nissan Rent-a-Car
Official website
Vehicles and Rates
Outlet Locations
 

 ASHIKAGASHI 
 足利市 

When it comes to Ashikaga, most people think of the Ashikaga Flower Park (あしかがフラワーパーク) where you can see one of the most beautiful and biggest displays of wisteria flowers. Ashikaga is known for a lot more though like their shogunate that ruled during 1300s~late 1500s. The Ashikaga clan's probably most famous part of history is reviving a school which had been opened in the 9th century making it the oldest school in Japan, the Ashikaga School (足利学校; Ashikaga Gakko). During this trip we did not go here unfortunately, rather we focused on a different side of Ashikaga culture and that is their silk textiles. Since the end of the Heian era (794 to 1185), Ashikaga has become an important silk producing area in Japan. Among some of the famous textiles that comes out of Ashikaga, the fashionable kimono "meisen silk" stands out the most. 

 Ashikaga Machinaka Yugakukan 
 Shogun, Kimono, and Meisen 

Entering the Ashikaga Information & Communication Space (足利まちなか遊学館 Ashikaga Machinaka Yuugakukan), the first floor mainly consists of exhibits of ancient fabric related materials like meisen kimonos. Meisen silk was a popular silk fabric used for casual kimonos during the Taisho and Showa eras (1920 to 1950). It is one of the Japanese silks fabricated by weaving pre-dyed threads, utilizing the tie-and-resist ikat technique making it a lightweight silk weave yet supple. Said to be heavily influenced by European painters, meisen silk exhibits striking, bold and geometric prints. You can wear a meisen kimono for 90 minutes for 3500yen, but if by chance you would like to extend the time, you can for an extra 500yen for every half hour for up to 90 minutes.
 
Unfortunately, only women can wear meisen but there is another option and that is becoming a bushido (Japanese warlord)! Which if you ask me is the better of the two. Both meisen kimono and bushido outfits can be around out so why not put one on and explore the town?! 



Although we came by car, you can get to the museum by train as well – just a 5min walk after getting off at Ashikaga Station.



There are many related historical materials on the first floor but if you want to put on the kimonos or armor head up to the second floor.



You can choose from some of these options if you would like to wear a meisen kimono.



Both men and women can wear the armor worn by Japanese ancient warriors!



The staff at the hall will of course help you put everything on and looking just right.

★Ashikaga Machikanaka Yogakudan (足利まちなか遊学館)
Google Maps
⏰9am~5pm
Closed: Every 3rd Monday, in the case the 3rd Monday is a Public Holiday, the following day will also closed
Official area homepage

 National Treasure Bannaji Temple (鑁阿寺) 
 The Birthplace of the Ashikaga Clan's Lord 

Approximately a 5mim walk from the Ashikaga School, you will come to the national historical site Bannaji Temple (鑁阿寺​). Bannaji Temple was once the home of the Ashikaga clan's founder, Ashikaga Yoshiyasu and much of it still remains as it was like with the moat around the temple. There are many important historical sites from the Kamakura period (1185–1333) to the Muromachi period (1336 to 1573), including the ancient gingko tree designated as a National Treasure and the Shoro bell tower which is a National Cultural Property.
 
While walking around the temple, we saw a small shop Dainichi-chaya (大日茶屋) selling Ashikaga steamed dumplings (足利シュウマイ; Ashikaga shumai). Normally shumai are stuffed with minced meat but Ashikaga shumai are vegetarian! Here was also the first time we have ever had the choice of having the shumai fried. It was a taste and texture completely new to us. If you are looking for something with more portions the yakisoba (grilled noodles) is another famous option. 



Bannaji Temple (鑁阿寺)



Dainichi-chaya (大日茶屋)



Ashikaga steamed dumplings (足利シュウマイ)



The 650 year old is a ginkgo tree inside the temple.



During the fall their leaves are bright and yellow.

Bannaji Temple (鑁阿寺)
Google Maps
Official website

 COCO Farms and Winery 
 First Class Wine Tasting in the Vineyards 

The self-produced red wine Ashicoco was once used in first class on JAL and ANA flights, and the company it comes from COCO Farms and Winery is one of the popular attractions in Ashikaga's suburbs. At COCO Farms and Winery, there is a small building that is a shop and restaurant allowing you to dine or just simply try the wines from the winery if you choose. Also behind the restaurant is an area where you can learn about the history of COCO Farms and Winery and the processes involved in making their wine.



COCO Farms and Winery's small shop and restaurant face the fall colored hills where the vineyards are located.



Grab a bite or simply try the wines from the winery where they also sell homegrown fruit and veggies.



It costs 500yen, but with that you get to taste 5 kinds of wine and some small snacks.



If you want a tour of inside the winery, that also costs 500yen and a staff member will guide you in Japanese.



The high shelf wine from COCO Farms and Winery, "Ashicoco"



COCO Farms and Winery
Google Maps
⏰10am~6pm (tasting 10am~5pm, restaurant 11am~5:30)
Closed: 12/31~1/2, the 3rd week of January, and the day before Harvest Festival
Official website (ENG)



 Ashikaga Flower Park 
 A Garden of Light and Flowers 

 

Although there weren't any light ups at the Ashikaga Flower Park when we visited Tochigi, we have been in the past so we thought it was worth mentioning in this article. If you come to Ashikaga between October and the beginning of February you should be able to see the illumination at the park. Areas in the park have different themes and apparently change during the event. Before you go be sure to check out their website first just in case any information has changed.

 SANOSHI 
 佐野市 

As the fifth largest populated city in Tochigi Prefecture, Sano has become a topic in recent years because of Sano ramen. It has become such a big thing that the area made an official map of Sano ramen shops for those who enjoy ramen. But if you think that Sano only has ramen, you'd be wrong. In typical Tochigi fashion, the city of Sano has some very beautiful nature spots such as the Izuruhara Benten Pond (出流原弁天池) which was selected as one of the 100 best and cleanest water sources in Japan. There is a shrine nearby and the entire area is so beautiful in the fall, a must-see.





 Isoyama Benzaiten Shrine, Izuruhara Benten Pond (Isoyama Park) 
 磯山弁財天・出流原弁天池 (磯山公園) 
Inside Isoyama Park is a shrine and a beautiful pond. Benten Pond is Japan's hundred famous water along with being a prefectural cultural property natural treasure. This pond is made of freshwater discharged from the cave formed by melting limestone along the Paleozoic layer and has a temperature of 60℉ (16℃). Also, in this pond, there is a legend of the Asahi daughter who hid golden treasure here. 

The Isoyama Banzaiten Shrine has a very unusual construction and there is on the precinct of a rocky mountain. It is said to be a friend of the Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto due to its unique construction method that does not use nails. It is a beautiful spot where you can overlook the Sano plain. Also when you go to the shrine be sure to look for the statue of a white snake!  

Isoyama Banzaiten Shrine & Izuruhara Benten Pond 
Google Maps



Japanese architecture at its finest. Not a single nail was used at this shrine!



Just part of the view you get from Isoyama Banzaiten Shrine.



In the precincts of the shrine, there are places to wash money. So when you wash your money and put it in your wallet, its believed you will become richer!



Also on the grounds, there is a big clock that you can ring yourself by pulling the giant plank. 



 Sano Ramen Bari (佐野ラーメン  万里
 Sano's famous Hand-made Ramen 

As one of Kanto's ramen representatives, the biggest characteristics of Sano Ramen is its use of bamboo to flatten and prepare the dough and the soy sauce broth. This time, JAPANKURU visited "Banri" (万里) ramen shop, which is one of the most popular shops in terms of "Sano Ramen". What we found interesting was depending on the person the soy sauce broth tasted different. To some it was refreshing, others saltier. Even during on weekdays the store is basically full by noon. 



Ramen shop "Bari" may not look like much, but that's also how you know it will be great.



At Banri you can either choose between sitting at the counter or on the floor like in the picture. 



You can watch them pound and make the ramen using a giant bamboo log.



Since the ramen is handmade right there, you can expect super soft and chewy noodles that goes well with the soy sauce broth. 



In addition to ramen, the fried dumplings ("gyoza) at the store are also one of the popular options.

Sano Ramen Banri (佐野ラーメン  万里)
Google Maps
⏰11~6pm
Closed: Wednesdays

 MIBUCHO 
 壬生町 

The current town of Mibu has been orchestrated as a toy town. A lot of toy factories are gathered, offering toys in/from Japan and abroad, including manufacturers such as Bandai and Tomica. In the 1990s, the manufacturing of toys moved to China, but Mibu has made an area for these toys even holding events. It is from there that in 2007, the Bandai Museum opened.



©創通・サンライズ

 Bandai Museum 
 the Famous Japanese Toy Maker You Knew as a Kid 

Speaking of Japanese toy manufacturers, everyone should have heard the name of Bandai at some point in their lives. I mean, you have your classic figurines from Gundam, Sailor Moon, One Piece, Dragon Ball, Digimon, Astro Boy, etc. are all under Bandai. Bandai has built a new toy museum in Miyako-cho, displaying toys, accessories, and collectibles made by Bandai. Many are rare European/Western antique toys which surprised us.



Bandai has created a new toy museum, which has collected the childhood of many adults and children home and abroad.



©創通・サンライズ

There is a bust of the original size of Gundam in the center of the museum. Put on some costumes and get a pic!



In addition to Gundam, you can see toys such as One Piece, Dragon Ball, Kamen Rider, and other classic anime toys under Bandai.



Bandai isn't only toys, it also consists of video games! Which of course you will get to also see at the museum. 



Be sure not to miss Gundam special exhibition area!

Bandai Museum
Google Maps
⏰10am~4:30pm (admission ends at 4pm)
💴Adults 1000yen, Children 600yen, 65 and older 800yen
Official website
 

 Mibu Highway Park (みぶハイウェーパーク) 
 A Great Place to Make a Pit Stop 

The Mibu Highway Park, which is about 12 times the size of the Tokyo Dome, is an interesting rest stop.  In addition to the general resting facilities, it also has Tochigi Wanpaku Park and Mibu-machi Toy Museum. Just park your car at the rest stop and check out local vegetables and fruit for sale or walk to the park or museum mentioned above. Since it is along the main highway heading back to Tokyo, it is a great place to make a pitstop before making the trip home. Especially since anymore it is rare to see such rest stops (that includes things like a park and museum) in Japan. 



 Mib-TOWN 
 Eating Tochigi's Strawberries in a New Way 

There is a sweet shop called Mib-TOWN at the station on the way. "Shogun's Strawberry Ice" (将軍のいちご氷), which is shaved ice (kakigori) is currently very popular within Tochigi. Why though? It is because to make this shaved ice, ice is not used at all! Instead of ice, what they do is freeze ripened strawberries from Tochigi, freeze them, then slice the strawberries while still frozen. By far one of the coolest (literally) deserts/snacks we have ever tried. 



Mib-TOWN is a part of the rest station is small but offers all sorts of snacks special to Tochigi. 



The condensed milk that tops off the "Shogun's Strawberry Ice" plays off the sweet tartness that you get from strawberries. 



Another strawberry dessert, "Kohaku Fuku Ichigo" (紅白 福苺), is also popular with tourists wanting to try some of Tochigi's strawberries. 

Mib-TOWN
Google Maps
⏰10am~6pm, Sat and Sun 9am~6pm
Closed: Wednesdays 
Facebook page
 

 KANUMA 
 鹿沼市 

In the first two years, Kanuma City, which was officially announced as the "City of Strawberries", is also famous for its azalea flowers. Then in terms of crops, we were surprised to learn it is also famous for strawberries, leeks, pears, and tomatoes. Located in the north of the Kanto region, the area consists of mountainous hills and terraced terrain. Kanuma was once the country's first wild state hemp producing area so because of this, the barley was cultivated to make the buckwheat more delicious. Which is why this time while in Kanuma, fruit picking and eating soba (buckwheat) noodles became our primary purpose.



 HIZATSUKI Fruits Plaza (鹿沼ひざつきフルーツプラザ) 
 Try All the Apples You Want for 500yen!!! 

I remember the last time we introduced Watanabe Vineyard in Nasukarasuyama City where you can try a few of the homegrown grapes for 100yen, but HIZATSUKI Fruits Plaza raises the bar. In addition to eating all the apples you want for just 500yen, you also get to pick the apples yourself. Which is the real "fruit picking experience" in Japan if you ask us. Something else you may be happy to know is that this place has the qualifications of an organic farmer certified by Tochigi Prefecture. Along with apples, the orchard also grows fruits like strawberries, cherries, and grapes.



We were lucky to go during apple season! All you can eat full-size apples for just 500yen!



Using the bag-free organic cultivation method, we watched the mature and rosy color of Fuji apples.

HIZATSUKI Fruits Plaza (鹿沼ひざつきフルーツプラザ​)
Google Maps
⏰10am~6pm, Sat and Sun 9am~6pm
Closed: Wednesdays 
Official website

 Iori (手打ちそば 一庵) 

Most people when you eat soba (buckwheat) noodles, you eat it with leeks. However here was the first place we have ever heard of using a different greenery in place of leeks. As a special dish of Iori, you can eat soba noodles with chives. It is surprisingly fresh and does not overpower the soba taste. In addition, the tempura in the store is also very distinctive, rather than eating it with the typical tempura sauce, you pare it with salt.



Both buckwheat and chives are special menu items at Iori, so it only makes sense that they would decide to combine the two.



The refreshing taste from soba noodles together with the boiled chives leaves a natural taste in your mouth.

 ★Iori (手打ちそば 一庵)
Google Maps
⏰11am~2:30pm, 5:30pm~7pm
Closed: Wednesdays
Official area homepage

Our journey doesn't stop there! Be sure to check out the second half of our Southern Tochigi trip here!!

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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!

    • 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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