Japan’s efforts to become a world-class tourist destination have succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations. Visitors’ statistics are jumping off the charts. Over 30 million foreigners visited Japan in 2018, an increase of around 300 percent over the past five years.
The majority of visitors travel the Golden Route — Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima — on their first journey into Japan. Those famous cities are all on Honshu, Japan’s largest island. But while they're definitely well worth visiting, over-tourism is taking its toll.
To explore the wonders of Japan sans the crowds, why not explore its lesser-known islands instead?
Although Japan is smaller in land size than California, the country is an archipelago of 6,852 islands that stretch across 2,000 kilometers, from subarctic Hokkaido to subtropical Okinawa. Which of the thousands of islands are most worth visiting? We asked long-term foreigner residents and Japanese travel authorities to choose the most exceptional options from among all the islands they have visited, and compiled this list of 12 must-see destinations.
Some contain UNESCO World Heritage Sites. All offer a multi-sensory kaleidoscope of cuisines, sports, temples, shrines, art, hot springs and more. Get a taste of just one of these islands and you’ll be coming back for more.