Explore UNESCO-designated national parks, stunning forests and volcanic mountains amidst the wilds of Japan’s last frontier. Look for whales in Goyaomai Suido, marvel at fields of flowers, and savor the serenity of untamed landscapes.
As it has been for centuries, Osaka remains a city of commerce, one of the original Japanese towns at the core of a developing society that grew around trade with China. Although the nature of the city hasn’t changed, it is presently undergoing an architectural revolution with a dazzling display of gleaming skyscrapers. Its prime geography makes it an excellent gateway to famed locales – including the sacred site of Kyoto and the majestic tranquility of Nara.
Mikimoto Kōkichi is credited with creating the first cultured pearls, subsequently turning his discovery into the luxury pearl company, Mikimoto. A visit to Toba takes you to the Mikimoto Pearl Island, where you’ll witness the dives for pearls, learn about the culturing process and the dazzling history of this small town.
The height of adventure is visible from downtown Shimizu, as Mount Fuji overlooks the city. A day trip to the legendary 12,388-foot peak promises high-adrenaline challenges and rewarding vistas, not to mention extreme bragging rights. Shimizu itself has also known a legend or two in its day, as the port city was referred to in Japan’s oldest texts, circa 700. It’s a bustling metropolis with a cultural charm that entices with fresh seafood and breathtaking views.
From the timeless beauty of the Meiji Shrine to the glittering Ginza District and impressive Tokyo Tower, Tokyo is a complex blend of East and West where houses of wood and paper stand beside soaring steel skyscrapers while kimono-clad women stroll along trendy teenagers. Here in this city of more than 11 million people, the timeless Imperial Palace bears testament to Japan’s enduring traditions, existing in a verdant parkland of isolation.
Arrive in Tokyo, Japan. Welcome to Japan! Your hotel room is available for mid-afternoon check-in.
Whether you reach the spectacular summit of Mt. Hakodate by gondola or invigorating hike, sprawling vistas of the town below offer a beautiful reward. Venture further into the rich natural wonders to Lake Onuma Park, where trails in every direction lead to adventure and tiny lake islands are just a canoe quest away. In town, the local fish market, modern Motomachi neighborhood and Russian Orthodox Church express the storied past and varied present-day culture of Hakodate.
Nature's splendor is on full display in this vibrant fishing port on the Japanese island of Hokkaido. Among its most famous natural attractions is Kushiro Marsh, an expansive wetlands area where you might spot deer, sea eagles and red-crowned cranes. Along the coast, a host of eateries at Fisherman's Wharf offers the chance to savor freshly caught seafood. For an appreciation of the works of local artists and photographers, check out the Kushiro City Museum of Art.
Shiretoko National Park, Japan
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Shiretoko National Park encompasses most of the Shiretoko Peninsula at the northeastern tip of the island of Hokkaido. Its vast stretch of forest-drapped volcanoes is sprinkled with steep cliffs, cascading waterfalls, pristine lakes, and nature trails. Popular with hikers and nature lovers, the area is home to a diversity of wildlife, including deer, foxes and numerous brown bears. The surrounding waters attract sea lions, seals and a variety of whales.
Fringed by the Sea of Okhotsk on Hokkaido's eastern coast, the town of Abashiri is a gateway to the scenic charms of nearby Akan National Park and the UNESCO-designated Shiretoko National Park, renowned for its wildlife, ecosystem and biodiversity. At the ice-focused Okhotsk Ryuhyo Museum, located atop Mount Tento, you can touch and feel an actual ice floe. The Koshimizu Gensei-kaen wildflower preserve is a popular spot for a stroll in early summer when blooms are at their peak.
Fishing is one of the main industries of Abashiri, and your first full day here offers tasty seafood and a choice of tours. A scenic, geological expedition to the south visits a number of calderas and volcanic features, including Lakes Kussharo and Mashu and the Iwo Sulphur Springs. Then try on a surprisingly heavy sumo apron at the Taiho Sumo Museum, before lunch in Kawayu. Or, choose a nature tour in Utoro where you will take a cruise to look for brown bears, white-tailed eagles, and spectacled guillemots. Then drive up to the 2,425-foot-high Shiretoko Pass (weather permitting) for stunning views of Mount Rausu, returning via Lake Toufutsu and Koshimizu Gensei-kaen, a 12-mile-long stretch awash in some 40 species of wildflowers.
Korsakov, Russian Federation
The Russian city of Korsakov is nestled on the southern end of Sakhalin Island in the Sea of Okhotsk, just north of Japan’s Hokkaido Island. Korsakov is a gateway to the capital of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, where the architectural style recalls an earlier Japanese presence. The Sakhalin Regional Museum, with elements of European and Japanese design, is the best example of this east-meets-west atmosphere and worth a visit. Other attractions include the Church of St. Nicholas, Lenin Square, and more.
Korsakov, Russian Federation
With street signs in Japanese and Russian, Wakkanai is a city situated at cultural and geographic crossroads. Roughly 27 miles south of Russia's Sakhalin Island, this northernmost city in Japan sits at the northern tip of Hokkaido and provides access to a beautiful national park located on nearby Rishiri Island. Within the city itself, enjoy a stroll through Wakkanai Park, with its grassy hills, monuments and panoramic views, or visit the Old Seto House, a historical showpiece.
Kutsugata, Rishira Island, Japan
Along the 39 miles of pristine coastline lie abundant opportunities for active pursuits. Gaze upward as you kayak from shore for expansive views of Mount Rishiri, the dormant volcano that rises from the sea. Ashore, Rishiri Island’s rich woodlands and ecologically significant wetlands paint a nature-lover’s paradise, with invigorating hikes through virgin forests that surround Mount Rishiri’s towering peak.
A small harbor city, Otaru once played a pivotal role as a fishing and trade port, its main canal still a beautifully preserved representation of that era. Today, the canal district is illuminated with character by old-fashioned gas lamps, lined with warehouses that have been transformed into museums, shops and restaurants. Adventure seekers have an easy quest from Otaru to Mount Yotei, the active stratovolcano that offers challenging hikes and extreme crater skiing.