Japan, being also called the land of islanders, is situated on almost 7 thousands of islands and islets, which, for ages, had been a land isolated from the rest of the world. Discover Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku – 4 biggest islands of Japan – and find out what you should see when visiting each of them.

Honshu – the largest island of Japan

Between the Sea of Japan, the Pacific Ocean and the Seto Inland Sea the greatest and the best known among the Japanese islands is situated. Honshu is about 1400 km long and has an area of almost 230 000 km2, which makes more than 60% of the total territory of Japan; it is the 7th largest island in the world. It is inhabited by about 104 million people (2010), i.e. over 80% of the Japanese population. The Honshu island is the most densely populated island (429 inhabitants per km2) and the most economically developed area of the country. This is where the largest industrial centres, on which the power of modern Japan is based, are concentrated.

Also in terms of history and culture, the islands constitutes a crucial part of the Cherry Blossom Land. It is where not only the present capital of Japan – Tokyo – but also the former residences of the rulers, such as Nara and Kyoto, are situated, and there the history of the island country is recorded. That is why Honshu is the main destination for travellers visiting Japan. The Tokyo Imperial Palace, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion and Temple of the Silver Pavilion in Kyoto, meeting sika deer in Nara or tasting famous wagyu in Kobe are only some among numerous attractions the island provides. Honshu, full of mountainous areas and which surface is covered in forests in 60% delights the natural beauty lovers, too. The Fuji mountain and the surrounding Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, also known as Five Lakes area, is one of its most picturesque locations.

Hokkaido – Japan’s second largest island

Hokkaido, the second largest island in Japan, is also worth a visit in search of natural attractions, as its cooler climate makes it an ideal shelter from the heat of the Japanese summer. Within its area (78.5 thousand km2) there are six national parks, in which one can find species typical for the northern areas, such as bears, deer, white-tailed eagles, Blakiston’s fish owl and cranes.

Since 1972, when in Sapporo – the capital city of the island – the Winter Olympic Games were held, the island has become an important and renowned worldwide centre of winter sports. Hokkaido is particularly important for the history of ski jumping. The Ōkurayama ski jumping hill in Sapporo hosts the biggest competitions of the sport, including the World Cup, which has been held on the Japanese island since its beginning in 1980. When visiting the winter capital of Japan, it is worth visiting Ramen Yokocho, an alley full of small restaurants serving the local versions of ramen, for which the area is famous.

The tourists are also attracted by Hakodate – a city situated in the northern part of the island, enchanting visitors with its exceptional night scenery. Mount Hakodate is one of the best scenic overlooks, from which the area of the commercial port and famous Goryōkaku fort can be admired. The star-like construction of the fort is one of the identifications of the city.

Kyushu – the third and the warmest island of Japan

When moving from Hokkaido to Kyushu, one can suffer a light thermal shock. In winter, the difference in the temperature on the northern and southernmost islands of the country can even reach several degrees. Although these differences are not so noticeable in summer, as the average temperature for Hokkaido is about 18-20°C and for Kyushu about 28°C, the third largest and warmest island in Japan is one of the most popular holiday destinations for the Japanese.

The mountainous interior of Kyushu is surrounded by coastal plains, and on its entire area there are hot springs, which attract tired tourists. The most famous bathing resorts are the springs in Beppu, Oita Prefecture. Their ‘hellish waters’ take on a unique, quite unusual colour thanks to the minerals found in the area. Chinoike Jigoku (blood pond hell) is filled with cloudy, light red water, while Umi Jigoku (sea hell) astonishes with its cobalt colour.

Kyushu is also home to one of Japan’s most important commercial ports. As a long-standing link between Japan and the Western world, Nagasaki has been exposed to foreign cultural and architectural influences. This is clearly visible in the city landscape and in buildings such as Ōura Tenshu-dō – the oldest Christian church in Japan, or the merchant’s house in Glover Garden, built in the 19th century on the model of typical Western European buildings.

Shikoku – the smallest of the main Japanese islands

Steep mountains, which cover a large part of the smallest of the four Japanese islands, hamper the development of local industry and reduce its habitability. The area of 18.8 thousand square kilometres is inhabited by approximately 4.1 million people – slightly more than 3% of the Japanese population. However, the low population density is compensated by the density of… sacral objects. On the small area of the island there are as many as 88 temples, which are the destination of numerous pilgrimages. Japanese esoteric Buddhists come to the island to wander from temple to temple along a route of more than 1600 km. Their hike is often hampered by high temperatures, torrential rains and, above all, the mountainous terrain of Shikoku. And yet, there are people who manage to walk the entire pilgrimage distance on foot. And there are special buses for those who are less persistent.

Popular, typically tourist attractions of the island include huge water whirlpools, which can be admired in the Naruto Strait, and the Matsuyama Castle. The building is located on the top of a 132 m high mountain and offers an excellent view of the city and its surroundings. There, visitors can try on original samurai armour and relax after the trip in the Dōgo Onsen hot springs at the foot of the castle.

The Japanese archipelago

The Japanese islands form a 2990 km long arch on the Pacific Ocean. To facilitate the transport between the largest urban settlements of Japan, Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku have been connected by numerous railways and roads. Honshu and Hokkaido are connected by the longest submarine tunnel in the world, which is 54 km long. Kyushu and Honshu are connected in the same way. And since 1988 it has been possible to get from Honshu to Shikoku using the 9 km long suspended bridge, which is the longest of its kind in the world. Modern connections between the islands allow efficient and safe carriage of goods, facilitate travelling in the country for the Japanese, and for the tourists they make it possible to travel easily from one important attraction of Japan to another.

Each of the Japanese islands differ in terms of climate, buildings and ambience. In spite of the differences, they all create a unique, coherent landscape of the Cherry Blossom Land, where everyone will find something to enjoy.

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