A Road Trip from Tokyo to Nagano with Nissan Rent-a-Car: Sakura, Wasabi, and the Nakasendo’s Naraijuku

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Nissan Rent-a-Car x JAPANKURU
Nagano・Spring Tour
When you imagine Japan in the spring, what images pop into your mind? Budding flowers? Cherry blossoms coming into bloom, and then raining petals down in light pink showers?

This time, JAPANKURU hopped in a Nissan rent-a-car in Tokyo, and headed east towards Nagano.
On the way we saw the blush of sakura cherry blossoms, the blue of the warming sky, the snowy white of Mt. Fuji's peak, and the green of the lakes and mountains along the road.
Our trip was painted with all the colors of Japan's spring palette!

Iron Out the Rent-a-Car Details Before You Leave

Since we were starting from Tokyo, this time JAPANKURU used the Nissan Rent-a-Car Tokyo Station Yaesuguchi Branch. It's just a 3 to 5 minute walk south of Tokyo Station's Yaesu Exit, making it an easy trip over. It's definitely a convenient location if you're dragging around luggage. Even if you're starting your road trip in another part of Japan, though, Nissan's website lists clear information about what services are offered at each Nissan Rent-a-Car branch. On the Tokyo Station Yaesuguchi Branch's page, you'll see that it has ETC card rental available.

Tokyo Station Yaesuguchi Branch
Address: 2-5-4 Yaesu, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Hours: 24/7
Phone: 03-3274-4501
Branch Info
Online Reservations

◆ Before you start planning your trip, remember: in Japan, cars drive on the left side of the road. (Learn more about why!) If you're from a country that drives on the right side, it's not too hard to get used to the switch, but it's a good idea to keep it in mind before you get on the road. Once you're confident in your left-side-of-the-road driving skills and you've determined your itinerary, confirm the following information and have all your documents ready before going to rent your car!

◆ For reservations:
□ Ready your passport.
□ Obtain an international driver's license. (More details on international permits for Americans, and some information from Nissan.)
□ Learn about what ETC (electronic toll collection) cards are for, and how to use them with Nissan Rent-a-Car.
□ Check in at the rental counter, and confirm your vehicle rental!

◆ Renting a car on site:
□ Find the perfect rental in their garage.
□ Pay with cash or credit card.

Starting Our Nissan Nagano Road Trip: The Fuji Shiba-sakura Festival

On our way to Nagano Prefecture, we stopped in for a lap of the Fuji Shiba-sakura Festival in Yamanashi!

In addition to wandering the shiba-sakura grounds and enjoying gourmet sweets, there's plenty else to do at the festival. If you want to admire the flowers from a new perspective, take a hot air balloon ride and view them from the air! Or relax and soak your feet in a foot bath while you look on at the flowers. If you're used to Yoshina sakura, Japan's most common cherry blossom variety, these new sakura will be a treat!
The Fuji Shiba-sakura Festival 2019 (Annual Event)
Event Dates: April 13 ~ May 26
Address: 212 Motusu, Fujikawaguchiko, Minamitsuru Yamanashi
Admission Fee: Adults 600 yen/Children 250 yen
Official Website (en)

Driving Info
Parking: 2 lots available
Fee: compact vehicles 500 yen/larger vehicles 2,000 yen/motorbikes 300 yen

More in Yamanashi Prefecture

Did we get lost and find ourselves in the Alps? Wait, no, this pastoral wonderland is still Yamanashi!

Seisenryo is a natural retreat and resort area in Yamanashi Prefecture with hotels, restaurants… and farms! The surrounding scenery certainly makes for a relaxing spot, with breathtaking mountains around the compound and a view of Mt. Fuji in the distance.

Seisenryo was originally constructed as a Christian youth retreat center in 1938, but was rebuilt in 1957 with the current business model, open to the public. The retreat now specializes in delicious food made with fresh seasonal ingredients, many of which are purchased from the local farms. It's especially famous for the soft-serve ice cream made with milk from Jersey cows living in nearby ranches. Get a taste of this fresh and deliciously milky ice cream for 400 yen.

You can get the famous soft serve at the Seisenryo Jersey Hut. Within the hut is the Seisenryo Baker's Workshop, which sells freshly-baked bread, burgers, produce, and souvenirs. You can spend some time outside the shop on their 300 square meter (3230 sq ft) wooden deck, and savor the burgers and ice cream while you gaze at the mountain view.

Address: 3545 Takanecho Kiyosato, Hokuto, Yamanashi
Jersey Hut Hours: 9:00 ~ 17:00
Seisenryo Official Website / Jersey Hut Official Website

Driving Info
Parking: 200 spots available
Fee: free!

The Yatsugatake Area

The mountains that stretch between Nagano and Yamanashi Prefectures are called the Yatsugatake range. It's a popular area among mountain climbers in Japan, but this time we just admired their beauty from afar.

Our Next Destination: Takato Castle Site Park (高遠城址公園)

According to legend, these are the first sakura cherry blossoms in the world.

After seeing the moss phlox shiba-sakura of Yamanashi, we hope you've gotten a taste for less orthodox sakura viewing. This time, we're taking you to Takato Castle Site Park to enjoy night time sakura viewing.

This park is said to be one of the top three cherry blossom viewing spots in Japan each spring, and it holds an annual Takato Sakura Festival. Luckily, you can enter the park and enjoy the beautiful sakura during daylight hours, and also after sunset! A night visit gives you the perfect opportunity to see the beautifully lit blossoms reflected in the water under the bridge, a big contrast in comparison to the bright sun that shines onto the grounds during the day. Of course, if you end up at the Takato Castle Site Park during the winter, you won't be disappointed then, either. Snow blankets the park's maple trees and Japanese-style buildings, giving everything lots of winter charm.

Takato Castle Site Park
Address: Higashi Takato, Takatomachi, Ina, Nagano
Hours: 8:00 ~ 21:00
Admission Fee: Sakura Viewing Period – Adults 500 yen/Children 200 yen
(Free entrance at other times of year.)
Official Website / Takato Sakura Festival Website

Driving Info
Parking: available
Fee: compact vehicles 700 yen


We wended our way through the roads once traversed by feudal lords of Japan, traveling between Tokyo and Kyoto.

During Japan's Edo Period, the "Five Routes" were the main arteries of the country. These five paths connected the capital, Edo (or modern-day Tokyo), to the rest of the country. These roads functioned not only as gateways for travelers, but also as the lifeblood of Japan's economy, with merchants taking advantage of the established routes. One of these routes was the Nakasendo (中山道 – literally central mountain route), which was commonly traveled by those going between the Tokyo area and Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital. Sometimes called the "Samurai Street", the ancient warriors supposedly walked the 550 km (340 mile) way in two weeks. Of course, since this was no quick trip, many towns sprouted up along the Five Routes as rest stops for travelers, usually called "stations" in English, or "shukuba" (宿場) in Japanese.

There are 69 stations along the Nakasendo Route, and one of the largest and most successful of these station towns was Naraijuku in Nagano. (The "juku" in Naraijuku (奈良井宿) and the "shuku" in "shukuba" (宿場) are actually the same Japanese word, meaning a place to stay! Just hearing the name can tell you about the town's origins.)

With so many visitors arriving since the Edo Era, the town has sometimes been called "Narai of 1,000 buildings" (Narai senken, or 奈良井千軒), and some of those old Edo buildings are still around! Naraijuku still bustles with same rest station spirit, and there are many hotels, restaurants, and small shops around town. If you really love the look of old Japanese buildings, with beautiful wood facades and carefully tiled roofs, this chunk of the Nakasendo path will make your heart sing.

We decided to stay in the Naraijuku guest house Ikariya Machida, which took us back in time with rooms that smelled pleasantly of the wooden floors, and with home-made traditional Japanese cuisine prepared by the facility's owner. After a night there, we could imagine how a similar stay might have erased the fatigue of Edo travelers, leaving them refreshed and ready for the rest of their trip along the Nakasendo.

Ikariya Machida Inn (いかりや町田民宿)
Address: 573-1 Narai, Shiojiri, Nagano
Official Website

Stay in the Neighborhood: Matsuyasabo Coffee Shop

As a rest stop, aside from traditional Japanese inns, of course Naraijuku has a (very) old-fashioned coffee shop! I mean, can you imagine going on a two-week trip without stopping even once for coffee? Matsuyasabo still keeps travelers going today, and it's the only coffee we drank on our road trip! The coffee shop is in an old two-story house built towards the end of the Edo Period. The first floor is a little more modern, and is set up as a western-style cafe, but the second floor has a Japanese-style room with tatami flooring, so you can plop down and enjoy your coffee or tea.

Matsuyasabo Coffee Shop
Address: 583 Narai, Shiojiri, Nagano
Hours: 9:00 ~ 17:00
Official Website

Address: Narai, Shiojiri, Nagano
Official Website

Driving Info
Parking: available around the area.
Fee: both free and paid, see the official website for details.

Daio Wasabi Farm

Did you know that most of the wasabi eaten outside of Japan… isn't really wasabi? Your local sushi joint might do a reasonable job approximating the sinus-clearing flavor, but this farm has the real thing, and a lot of it!

Daio Wasabi Farm was established in 1917, giving it a history of more than 100 years. Covering an area of 15 hectares (more than 1.5 million square ft), it's the largest wasabi farm in Japan. Wasabi is rare outside of Japan because it's notoriously difficult to grow, but Daio Wasabi Farm clearly has the process down pat!

The farm is a wasabi wonderland, and lovers of the green stuff will rejoice in the 150 metric tons harvested annually. Aside from being a functional farm, Daio Wasabi Farm also provides wasabi snacks of all kinds, and of course wasabi souvenirs. Have you ever imagined wasabi as anything other than a tool for adding a little kick to your sushi? The on-site restaurant will open your mind and your sinuses to the many ways it can be eaten and thoroughly enjoyed.

If you're a fan of famous director Akira Kurosawa, don't miss this chance to visit the setting for the final segment of his 1990 film Dreams. 

Daio Wasabi Farm
Address: 3640, Hotaka, Azumino, Nagano
Hours: 9:00 ~ 17:20 (Mar ~ Oct)/9:00 ~ 16:30 (Nov ~ Feb)
Admission: Free!
Official Website

Driving Info
Parking: 350 spots available
Fee: free!

The Hakuba Area

After our trip to the Daio Wasabi Farm, we took our Nissan Rent-a-Car into the Hakuba area of Nagano. Hakuba is known as a ski resort area, but even in the spring and summer the mountains are beautifully snow-capped.

Lake Kizaki

This popular resort lake is one of the "Nishina Three Lakes".

Close to Hakuba, the surrounding mountains reflect on the lake water, making the glassy surface look like an impressionist painting. When the weather gets nice in the spring and summer, it's a popular destination for visitors who want to spend time camping, hiking, or hanging out in and around the water. Take a kayak out into the middle of the peaceful lake, and then just lay back and relax.

Kizakiko Pow Wow Campsite & Outdoor Club
Address: 19004-1 Taira, Omachi, Nagano
Fee: See the website for prices.
Official Website

Driving Info
Parking: available
Fee: free!

Obinata no Yu Hot Spring

Is it truly a trip through Japan's countryside without a stop at a hot spring bath?

With Hakuba being a popular winter tourist destination, luxurious hot springs (or onsen in Japanese, 温泉) are a must! This one, called Obinata no Yu, flows right from a natural source, and includes an open-air bath surrounded by the mountainous scenery. It's beautiful year-round, but in winter the snow piles up outside while the hot water keeps you warm and cozy. We had to take a break here before hitting the road again!

Obinata no Yu
Address: 9346-1 Hokujo, Hakuba-mura, Kitaazumi, Nagano
Fee: Adults 600 yen/Children 300 yen (Bring toiletries and towels, or rent them for an extra fee.)
Hours: 9:00 ~ 18:00 (summer)/19:00 ~ 17:00 (winter)

Driving Info
Parking: 20 spots available
Fee: free!

Mountain Side Hakuba

While in Hakuba, we stayed in an apartment-style hotel right up against one of the many mountains.

Hakuba doesn't offer quite the same "step outside and you're there" convenience as a big city, so it's a great place to choose a hotel with apartment-style suites. We chose to visit Mountain Side Hakuba, a fresh new hotel that finished construction in just January 2017. Each of the suites comes with a complete living room and kitchen, along with bedrooms and baths. We got to take a trip to the supermarket together, cook up dinner, and have ourselves a dinner party. Why not give it a try with your friends and family next time you're in Hakuba?

Mountain Side Hakuba
Address: 4313-1 Hokujo Hakuba, Kita Azumi-gun, Nagano
Official Website/Reservation Page

Driving Info
Parking: available
Fee: free!


Thanks to NHK historical drama Sanada Maru, the city of Ueda was brought back to the time of warriors, and to the forefront of Japanese minds.

The Hokkoku Kaido Highway’s Historic Yanagimachi Street

We already stopped in at Naraijuku, a historic remnant of the Edo Period's Five Routes, so we thought we'd take a look at what some of the other main roads of Japan's past were like. Slightly less enormous in its importance, but still widely traveled, was the Hokkoku Kaido highway running the width of Japan. 

While travelers utilizing the Nakasendo, and the other Five Routes, were strictly inspected, the Hokkoku Kaido road was available for much freer use. Because of this, the road was crowded with the average citizens of Edo Japan, relied upon by many for everyday uses. Of course, this was no short path, and towns popped up along the Hokkoku Kaido to provide travelers with rest and refreshment, just like the more major roads. One of these rest stations with bits of the old town remaining is Yanagimachi in Ueda City, where many of the old shops and inns are still functioning buildings. Walk down the street these days and you'll find shops selling traditional snacks, souvenirs, and restaurants filling the air with the savory and sweets smells of the Edo Era.

Ueda Castle Park

A site good for history buffs and sakura lovers!

Ten to fifteen minutes walk from Yanagimachi's historic street is the Ueda Castle Park. This castle was originally built by the area's Sanada clan, which is indeed the same Sanada as in the popular NHK drama made in the area. The castle and the Sanada clan managed the impressive feat of forcing Tokugawa's army to retreat, not just once, but twice keeping a much larger and more powerful military at bay. Nowadays, the remnants of that powerful keep are just barely hanging on, but the park is still a rejuvenating visit. On the grounds is the Sanada Shrine (真田神社), a popular destination for students praying they pass their exams. And during the spring, blooming cherry blossoms cascade down the banks of the moat and around the park.

If you want to learn more about local history, check here for events on the theme. Watch history come to life in these entertaining performances.

Ueda Castle Park
Address: 2 Ninomaru, Ueda, Nagano
Fee: Adults 300 yen/High School Students 200 yen/Elementary School Students 100 yen
Official Website

Driving Info
Parking: available at the Ueda Castle Station lot and Ueda Castle Hokkoku Tourism lot
Fee: free for a limited period, details available here.

More to See

Thanks for coming along on our road trip to Nagano, everybody! These were our favorite stops on the way, but if you want to take a similar trip and you love packing days full to bursting with things to do, here are a couple more places you can check out.

Did you have fun joining us on the roads of Nagano this time around? If you like reading about road trips in Japan, this isn't our first time out!
We've explored some of the breathtaking nature of Japan's Kyushu Island in the south.
We ate cow tongue and met the friendly foxes of Japan's northern region, Tohoku.
And we once went on three little trips around the country!


Be sure to look out for more exciting articles every day at JAPANKURU
Or add us on Instagram and Facebook to share your pictures of Japan. 🗾


Follow us @Japankuru on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

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Which snacks make the best Japanese souvenirs?~ Jaga Pirika ~
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Which snacks make the best Japanese souvenirs?~ Jaga Pirika ~ 일본과자 선물 뭐하지?~자가피리카 편~ #pr #calbee #jagapokkuru #japanesesnacks #japanesefood #japanesesouvenir #japantravel #japantrip #naritaairport #hokkaido #나리타국제공항 #일본여행선물 #흔하지않은기념품 #일본쇼핑리스트 #일본과자추천 #고구마과자 #일본간식추천 #일본면세점쇼핑 #개별포장 #일본감자칩 #도쿄나리타공항면세점 #현지인추천 #일본여행 #일본기념품리스트 #자가포쿠루 #자가피리카

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Evangelion, in miniature!? Tokyo's SMALL WORLDS Miniature Museum is actually a must-see for anime lovers, thanks to the tiny Evangelion Hangar and Tokyo-III... plus a whole universe of other scenes both real and fictional. #smallworlds #smallworldstokyo #tokyotrip #tokyotravel #evangelion #eva #anime #miniature #miniatures #animefigure #japantrip #japantravel #에반게리온 #스몰월드 #에반겔리온 #スモールワールズ #오다이바 #아리아케

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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.

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    • 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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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)!


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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.


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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.


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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.