Japan consists of 47 prefectures. The prefectures are also often grouped into eight regions: Hokkaido (Red), Tohoku (Yellow), Kanto (Green). Chubu (Cyan), Kansai (Blue), Chugoku (Orange), Shikoku (Purple), Kyushu & Okinawa (Grey). From north to south, climates vary a lot and you can enjoy totally different activities in each reagion.
Hokkaido is the second largest island of Japan, and the largest prefecture. As the island of Hokkaido is located at the north end of Japan, Hokkaido has the coldest climate in Japan, characterized as relatively cool summers and icy winters. Unlike the other areas in Japan, Hokkaido is normally not affected by the June–July rainy season and has very moderate and confortable summer, which attracts many tourists from other parts of Japan. In winter, the generally high quality of powder snow and numerous mountains in Hokkaido make it a popular region for snow sports.
The lagrest city in the region is Sapporo, which is the forth largest city in Japan. Hakodate, located in south of the island, is also attracting many tourists. Meanwhile, Hokkaido has the smallest population density among all prefectures. Thus, beautiful natures and dynamic landscapes are well preserved, which makes Hokkaido as one of the most popular destinations in Japan.
Tohoku region located in the northeastern portion of Honshu, the largest island of Japan (“Tohoku” means northeast in Japanese). Tohoku region consists of six prefectures: Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata and Fukushima. The largest city is Sendai located in Miyagi prefecture, which is nicknamed the City of Trees, named after its beautiful gardens and streets. The main cities including Sendai are connected directly to Tokyo with Tohoku Shinkansen (bullet train), which enables tourists to visit the region conveniently.
Bacause of its location, Tohoku region has relatively moderate summers and cold winters. Thus, Sakura (cherryblossoms) in Tohoku region bloom later than those in other regions. Especially, Hirosaki in Aomori prefecture is very famous for its Sakura and known as one of the three most beautiful Sakura spots in Japan. In relatively short summer, each city in the region has unique summer festivals. In particular, Nebuta festival (Aomori), Kanto festival (Akita) and Tanabata festival (Sendai) are known as the Tohoku three largest festivals and attract many tourists from all over the country.
Kanto region includes Tokyo, the capital city of Japan, and encompasses seven prefectures: Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Saitama, Tokyo, Chiba, and Kanagawa. Tokyo Metropolitan Area is the largest metropolitan area in the world and more than 30 million people live in the area. Tokyo Metropolitan Area is the center of economy, culture, politics and education. Since both of the two largest airport in Japan (Narita and Haneda) are located, Kanto region works as a gateway to Japan for foreign tourists.
In Tokyo, you can enjoy many cultural experiences, shoppings, as well as Japanese and international cuisines. Yokohama is also a large port city located next to Tokyo. Both cities are famous for very beautiful night views. On the other hand, the northern part of Kanto region is less populated and preserves beautiful natures. The northern area is also known for Onsen (hot springs), where many people spend their weekends.
Chubu is a region in the middle of Honshu, Japan’s main island. It encompasses nine prefectures: Aichi, Fukui, Gifu, Ishikawa, Nagano, Niigata, Shizuoka, Toyama, and Yamanashi. The main city is Nagoya, the third largest city in Japan, and the headquarters of Toyota is located around the area. Meanwhile, Chubu region covers a large and geographically diverse area of Honshū, which leads to it generally being divided into three distinct subregions: Tokai, Koshin-etsu, and Hokuriku. Tokai is the Pacific side and charactelized by sunny winter, while Hokuriku region lies on the Sea of Japan coastline and has snowy winter.
Koshin-etsu is an area of complex and high rugged mountains—often called the “roof of Japan”—that include the Japanese Alps. Mt. Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan is also located in the area. The Japanese Alps and Mt. Fuji attract many hikers during summer. Shirakawa-go and Gokayama, small, traditional villages showcasing a building style known as gassho-zukuri, are registered as UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
Kansai region is the cultural and historical heart of Japan. The region includes the prefectures of Mie, Nara, Wakayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyōgo and Shiga. Osaka Metropolitan Area is the second most populated in Japan after Tokyo Metropolitan Area. Kansai region is often compared with the Kanto region. Whereas Kanto region is symbolic of standardization throughout Japan, Kansai region displays many more idiosyncrasies – the history of Kyoto and the mercantilism of Osaka – and represents the focus of counterculture in Japan.
The most famous city for tourists is Kyoto, former Imperial capital of Japan for more than one thousand years. Because of the long history, Kyoto has many temples, shrines and other historical buildings across the city. The “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto” are listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Other large cities in Kansai – Osaka, Kobe and Nara – also have rich histories and cultures, which attracts thousands of tourists for many years.
Chugoku region is located in the westernmost part of Honshu, the largest island of Japan. It consists of the prefectures of Hiroshima, Okayama, Shimane, Tottori and Yamaguchi. It is generally divided into two different subregions: Sanyo and Sanin. Sanyo is the Pacific side and has little rains, while Sanin region lies on the Sea of Japan coastline and has snowy winter.
The largiest city, Hiroshima, is well known as the first city in history to be targeted by a nuclear weapon near the end of World War II. You can see the Atomic Bomb Dome in the city center, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. In Hiroshima prefecture, Itsukushima Shrine is another World Heritage Site, and Shimanami-kaido attracts many cyclists recently.
Shikoku is the smallest and least populous regions in Japan, located south of Honshu and east of the island of Kyushu. Shikoku refers to the four former provinces that made up the island. The region consists of the prefectures of Kagawa, Ehime, Tokushima and Kochi. The warm climate of Shikoku enable itself to cultivate citrus fruits and wheat, which shape the regional cuisine such as Udon (a type of thick wheat flour noodle).
Shikoku is famous for its 88-temple pilgrimage of temples associated with the priest Kukai. Shikoku is also known for summer festivals, such as Awa Odori and Yosakoi festival. Island in Seto Inland Sea also gains popularity recently. One of the most famous islands is Naoshima, which is known for its many contemporary art museums.
8. Kyushu & Okinawa
Kyushu is the third largest island of Japan and located most southwesterly of its four main islands. The names means “Nine Provinces” that constitute the island. Most of Kyushu’s population is concentrated along the northwest, in the cities of Fukuoka and Kitakyushu. The area including the both city is the fourth largest metropolitan area in Japan. Southern parts of Kyushu have a subtropical climate, particularly Miyazaki prefecture and Kagoshima prefecture. Besides the volcanic area of the south, there are significant mud hot springs in the northern part of the island, around Beppu in Oita prefecture.
Okinawa is the southernmost prefecture of Japan. It encompasses two thirds of the Ryukyu Islands extending southwest from Kyushu to Taiwan. Most of the area have subtropical or tropical climate. The islands of Okinawa are surrounded by some of the most abundant coral reefs found in the world, which attract many divers all over the world.