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Relax on an Ocean Cruise Aboard This Tokyo ↔ Hokkaido Ferry Trip

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This Japanese ferry between Tokyo and Hokkaido is not only a relaxing escape from the stress of work, it’s also an 18-hour excuse not to check your e-mail!

“Out of Office: Currently at Sea, Get Back to You Later!”



In this day and age, where we're expected to be always online, it can feel impossible to escape from the internet, and all the information it bombards us with each and every day. There's always a work e-mail to respond to, social media to check, and endless notifications to distract us on a regular basis. Sure, we could always turn on "do not disturb," or even go so far as to set our phones to airplane mode, but choosing to really cut off contact with the outside world takes a level of self-control that can be hard to muster when needed most. Sometimes we even end up feeling guilty for "abandoning" our phones and everyone on the other side of the screen. The internet anxiety that comes with owning a smartphone is a modern curse, and sometimes it seems like the only escape is an actual getaway – to the mountains, to the countryside, or anywhere where the service is so terrible that using the internet becomes untenable.

For those looking to escape the grip of their phone screens, a ferry across the ocean is a great choice.



Frequent travelers in Japan might have heard of the Ferry Sunflower, from Mitsui O.S.K. Lines. To be entirely clear, the Ferry Sunflower isn't completely cut off – phone signal can be found, and wi-fi is also available in certain areas of the ferry. However, being at sea, reception inevitably gets a little unstable from time to time, dropping calls or slowing down internet speeds… which gives guests the perfect excuse to put down the phone, leave all the e-mails and messages for later, and enjoy a relaxing journey over the blue seas surrounding Japan!

From Tokyo to Oarai, Then Overnight Aboard the Ferry

In these days of lightning-fast internet speeds, there's nothing like the old-fashioned feel of slow travel, including the Ferry Sunflower's leisurely route to Hokkaido's little port city of Tomakomai, departing from Oarai, Ibaraki (just north of Tokyo). The most popular departure time for this 18-hour journey is in the evening (Oarai departures at 19:45, Tomakomai departures at 18:45), providing plenty of time to enjoy the rooms and facilities on board.







Image Source: Ferry Sunflower Official Website

There are all kinds of rooms on board the ferry, for a range of budgets and travel groups. There are generally 9 room categories: dorm-like Tourist Rooms, Comfort Rooms with capsule-style bunks, Inside Rooms with private bathrooms, Ocean View Rooms with their own windows, Inside Superior Rooms with upgraded beds, Japanese-Style Ocean View Superior Rooms, Japanese-Style Ocean View Superior Rooms with beds, Premium Rooms that come with their own balconies, and Suite Rooms – plus pet-friendly rooms, and accessible rooms too!





Image Source: Ferry Sunflower Official Website

The ship is full of comfortable spaces to spread out and relax, as well as a little arcade, a laundry room with coin-operated machines, a public bath, souvenir shops, and plenty of Japan's famous vending machines.



Passengers planning to take the evening ferry departing from Oarai at 19:45 need to arrive at Oarai Ferry Terminal around 17:30 to prepare for boarding procedures. To get to Oarai from Tokyo, passengers can either take the train (JR Joban Line) or catch a bus from Tokyo Station (the Mito-Nakaminato Express/高速みと号・那珂湊線) to the city of Mito in Ibaraki, and then transfer to an Ibaraki Transportation bus heading towards the Oarai Ferry Terminal. After disembarking in Tomakomai, Hokkaido, passengers can then take the Tomakomai Express bus (高速とまこまい号) from Tomakomai's port all the way to downtown Sapporo.

Mitsui O.S.K. Lines has also started offering one-way transportation-accommodation packages, which include bus tickets from Tokyo to Oarai and from Tomakomai to Sapporo, valid an extra day before and after the ferry ride to make it extra easy to plan your itinerary in Ibaraki and Hokkaido.

It's finally time to head aboard and embark on our journey away from the information overload of everyday life! Here are a few ways to make the most of this relaxing trip as you rest and recharge aboard the Ferry Sunflower.

Relaxation Tip ①: Bask in the Ocean Sunrise and Under the Stars





Whether we attribute it to biology, philosophy, or spirituality, watching the sunrise can feel like recharging in the brilliant rays, as the sun shines with the positive energy to face the new day. When staying the night aboard the Ferry Sunflower, we highly recommend getting up early in the morning to watch the sunrise from the ferry deck. From this unique viewpoint, passengers can watch the color of the morning sky and the placid waves start to change as the sun's glow peeks up over the horizon. It's a lovely chance to admire the natural beauty of Japan's open seas.



Just after dawn is also a great time to explore the deck of the ship and take lots of photos. When the weather is clear, the blue sea and blue sky are a brilliant backdrop for the white hull of the Ferry Sunflower, with the light and shadows from the morning sun providing appealing contrast. There are lots of hidden photo spots around the ship just waiting to be discovered by a curious explorer, and some great places to pose for artsy snapshots. After dark, the starry sky above the pitch-black seas is a little harder to photograph, but the brilliant glimmer from far above creates a magical atmosphere, perfect for quiet enjoyment without a camera.

Relaxation Tip ②: Nourishing Ibaraki & Hokkaido Cuisine with an Ocean View





Image Source: Ferry Sunflower Official Website

Meal times aboard the Ferry Sunflower generally consist of dinner on the first day, and then breakfast on the second day, followed by "tea time" around noon. The ship has its own kitchen and team of chefs, and they prepare each trip's plentiful food selection with fresh ingredients from Ibaraki and Hokkaido. Dinner and breakfast are served buffet style, with counters full of colorful dishes to cater to a range of tastes, while tea time offerings include lighter meal options and drinks available a la carte, perfect for lunch.



At dinner time, the Hokkaido jingisukan barbecue (grilled lamb) is particularly popular, along with the Japanese-style braised beef, fresh clams steamed in sake, and a squid stirfry with seasonal vegetables. During tea time, many passengers tend to go for the ferry's ramen, along with a selection of desserts and fruit smoothies.

*Dishes served are subject to seasonal change.





Image Source: Ferry Sunflower Official Website

Not only is the ship's dining area comfortably spacious, but there are even seats with a fantastic sea view! It's usually a little dark to see much at dinner time, but during breakfast and tea time on the second day, guests can grab one of the luxurious window seats to look out at the passing sea while enjoying their meal.

Concerned about safety with COVID-19 still around? Guests are asked to wear a mask and use plastic gloves when taking their food from the buffet, and restaurant staff also keep an eye out to prevent crowding in the dining area.

Buffet-Style Dinner
Dining Hours:
 Oarai Departures: 18:30 – 20:30 (LO 20:00)
 Tomakomai Departures: 18:00 – 20:00 (LO 19:30)
Meal Ticket Price: adults 2,000 yen | elementary school students: 1,100 yen (younger children eat free)
*Meal ticket includes unlimited soft drinks. Alcoholic drinks can be ordered for an additional cost.

Buffet-Style Breakfast
Dining Hours: 7:30 – 9:30 (LO 9:00)
Meal Ticket Price: adults 1,200 yen | elementary school students: 900 yen (younger children eat free)
*Meal ticket includes unlimited soft drinks.

Tea Time
Dining Hours: 11:30 – 12:30
A La Carte: 300 yen~

Buffet Dinner + Breakfast Deal
Meal Ticket Price: adults 2,700 yen | elementary school students: 1,700 yen (younger children eat free)
*Meal tickets include unlimited soft drinks.



Image Source: Ferry Sunflower Official Website



Even outside of meal times, the ferry's onboard shop offers plenty of tasty snacks and quick bites. Perfect for a trip over the ocean, there are some great seafood options like dry firefly squid and smoked Hokkaido scallops, which go great with Abashiri's Okhotsk Blue Draft beer, from Hokkaido. The shop has plenty of popular souvenir snacks, too, like Hokkaido's Shiroi Koibito cookies and Jaga Pokkuru potato snacks, or items made with Oarai's famously delicious monkfish.

Onboard Souvenir Shop
Hours:
 Oarai Departures: ~22:00 | 8:00 – 12:30
 Tomakomai Departures: ~21:30 | 8:00 – 12:30

Relaxation Tip ③: Soak Away the Stress, Before Bed and in the Morning



There's nothing better than a long, hot bath to soak away the stress and fatigue of a long day, and scientists agree that a relaxing bath before bed leads to a restful night of deep sleep. The Ferry Sunflower actually has large communal baths on board, and most Japanese passengers end the day with a trip to one of these huge, steamy tubs. We recommend checking it out in the morning as well! The windows next to the bath don't show much after dark, but at dawn, the bath offers a unique opportunity to relax in the hot water while watching the ocean waves rush past.



Image Source: Ferry Sunflower Official Website

Communal Baths
Hours:
 Oarai Departures: ~22:00 | 6:30~
 Tomakomai Departures: ~21:30 | 6:30~

Relaxation Tip ④: Ignore the Notifications, and Spend Some Quality Time with Friends or Family





For anyone heading out on the seas hoping to escape the stress of the internet, this is the time to enjoy a little peace and quiet, whether that takes the form of alone time, or a chance to connect with travel companions. Go for a walk on the deck after dinner, chatter away while stargazing under the dark night sky, or grab some drinks (from the shop or a vending machine) to enjoy in your room!

Mitsui O.S.K Lines has also developed its own onboard entertainment app called "Sunflower Smart Quest," which offers sightseeing guides and movies for guests to enjoy, far from the pressure of social media. Enjoy a little relaxation time enjoying a new movie, or plan an itinerary for after the ferry trip!

Need a Break? This Ferry Tour Is a Unique Escape from the Ordinary!





These days, sometimes it seems like life is all about being efficient, available, and always online. But when it all leads to burnout, or just a feeling of being stuck in a rut, that's a sign that it's time to shake things up! It might just be time to put aside "efficiency" for a few days in search of something a little more relaxing, and in this day and age, the retro travel of a ferry trip along the coast feels less old-fashioned, and more like a fresh new experience. Come aboard and let the slow rhythm of the sea waves, the brilliance of the sunshine, and the glittering moon and stars provide a little peace far from the chaos of everyday life.

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

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    • HOKKAIDO

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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).

    • SAPPORO

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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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