Kyushu and Shikoku are two of Japan’s most fascinating islands, primarily because they contain rarely seen charms, hidden away from the guidebooks and must sees of other travelers. For anyone looking to get off the well-trodden tourist trail, this is the perfect adventure to experience unique landscapes, architectural wonders and towns rich in culture and history, all with the help of a local guide. You can even try your hand at Japanese cuisine and make your own noodles for lunch, before washing them down with a traditional cup of sake.
Hike to the largest waterfall in Yakushima Visit thousand-year old Hashikura Temple Make your own Udon noodles See the most ancient shrine in Japan
After arriving in Kagoshima, settle into Ibusuki Hakusuikan hotel and start exploring this historic city: stroll through Senganen Garden and Kagoshima Flower Park before heading to Cape Nagasakibana, where you will be rewarded with stunning views of Mt. Kaimondake, the city’s answer to Mt Fuji. Upon returning to your hotel, you will have the option of experiencing an onsen (Japanese hot spring), while gazing out over the sea.
On your second day in Ibusuki, enjoy a walk along the beach or through one of the many parks in the area. Later, visit Satsuma Denshokan Museum, which focuses on the history of the region since the Meiji restoration, and the village of Chiran, a preserved samurai district, before settling in for dinner and a relaxing evening at your hotel.
Today, you’re off to Yakushima Island, Japan’s first UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site. Awarded this accolade due to its abundance of rich flora, this island is home to the impressive Jomon Sugi, a sacred cryptomeria and a popular pilgrimage destination. Spend the day exploring the scenic trails and breathtaking views of several impressive mountains, rising up to 6,500 feet, and pay a visit to the local environmental and cultural village center, where you may learn about the area’s history and ecology. Settle in for the evening and enjoy an overnight stay at Sankara Hotel and Spa.
After breakfast, set out on a hike to Oko Waterfall, the largest waterfall in Yakushima and the highest in southern Kyushu. Next, learn how to make chopsticks and keyrings out of the ancient cedars at Kashima-Kougei, the oldest crafts business on the island. Later, stroll through Shakunage No Mori Park to enjoy views of the river, mountains and laurel-leaved forests as well as visit small workshops around the island, where you can witness local craftsmen at work and some small galleries displaying their goods.
After a short flight to Kagoshima, get ready to see the mountains of Kirishima, which offer some of the most fascinating volcanic landscapes and hiking opportunities in the country. Learn about these mountains, important in the creation mythology of Japan, and later relax in your room at the beautiful Wasurenosato Gajoen.
This morning, pay a visit to Kirishima Open Air Museum, a vast outdoor museum that uses landscapes and forest space in its sculpture exhibitions. Afterward, enjoy a hike to Sengri-ga-taki Waterfall or opt to visit the Kirishima-jingu shrine, a large and beautiful shrine rich in history, deemed a cultural asset to the nation. Enjoy another overnight stay at Wasurenosato Gajoen.
Today, experience a scenic train and ferry ride from Kagoshima to Uwajima, where you can explore the great coastal scenery and tasty local seafood restaurants of the waterfront. Try some local delicacies, such as Taimeshi (rice and sea bream) and Jakoten (fish cakes). Depending on the season, you may also be able to witness a one-of-a-kind bullfighting event, as these take place here five times a year. Later, enjoy a relaxing evening at Kiya Ryokan, your home for the evening.
Get ready for a day of cultural exploration! First up, visit Uwajima Castle, one of only 12 castles in Japan that has survived intact since the Edo period, and Doi Pearl Farm, where you will witness the entire line of pearl production and culturing. Later, explore two shrines: Warei, which is used by fishermen to pray for a good catch and safe voyage, and Taga, an ancient Shinto fertility shrine full of phalluses.
Today, you'll travel to the gorgeous Muroto Peninsula, full of lush sub-tropical plants, trees and hibiscus flowers - nature’s carpet that covers the ground. Learn how the area was once submerged beneath the sea and now lies at a collision point of the Earth’s crust, resulting in spectacular rock formations. Stay overnight in the Hoshino UTOCO Auberge & Spa.
Enjoy a peaceful day in Muroto, taking a gentle walk along the 1.4-mile Ransho Promenade stretching out into the Pacific Ocean. Absorb the stunning cliffs and reefs around you and keep your eyes peeled for dolphins and sperm whales. Later, visit the Mikurodo Cave and Hotsumisakiji Temple before returning to your hotel for a relaxing evening.
Pack up early today and head out on the road. First stop is Miyoshi, where you can explore the streets of Udatsu with their charming old architecture. Next, step back in time with a visit to the Iya Valley region, a scenic area known for its dramatic mountain valleys, beautiful bridges and misty gorges. Enjoy an overnight stay at the Iya Onsen Hotel.
This morning, enjoy a fun ride up in the cable car to an open air hot spring bath. After soothing your muscles and relaxing in this scenic setting, visit the Buke Yashiki Samurai Residence, a preserved house and garden that once sheltered a middle-ranking samurai family, and Iya Kazurabashi, one of three surviving vine bridges that span the valley. You will also get to see Hashikura Temple, a thousand-year old temple situated along the 88 Temple Pilgrimage through Shikoku, Japan's most famous pilgrimage route. At the end of the day, treat yourself to a sake at one of Miyoshi’s sake breweries before returning to your hotel.
This morning, you're off to the historical town of Kotohira, where you will visit a 400-year old shrine and have a go at making your own noodles at Nakano Udon School, which you can eat for lunch. Spend the rest of the day exploring: sites of interest include Ritsurin Garden, Yashima Peninsular and Marugame Castle, all of which can be reached by car, before indulging in a traditional Thai massage. Stay overnight at the traditional Kotohira Kadan ryokan.
This morning, explore your fascinating surroundings, including Kotohira shrine and Setonaikai National Park, a beautiful park that encompasses 10 prefectures and 3,000 islands throughout the Seto Inland Sea. Weather permitting, enjoy a cruise down Naruto Strait before enjoying a beverage at the Miyako Bijn Japanese Sake Brewery. In the evening, you can enjoy a performance of Awaji Ningyo-Jouri, traditional Japanese puppet theatre, at Awaji Ningyoza.
Today, you're off to Awaji Island, an island rich in history: learn how it was supposedly the first ever island to be created and see all the various different relics of Japan’s early history, such as Izanagi Shrine - Japan’s oldest shrine - which was built on the site of the divine couple’s dwelling. Enjoy a delightful stay at Villa Rakuen.
If you did not get a chance to visit Izanagi Shrine on your first day on the island, you will have another chance today. Accompany a local storyteller for a stroll around the grounds, before entering the worship hall and receiving a blessing from a Shinto priest, who will purify your body and soul in the traditional Shinto way. Relax and unwind with one more night in Villa Rakuen.
On your final day, you will either drive from Awaji Island to Kobe or Osaka to catch connections home or onto your next exciting destination.
Yakushima Island, on the southernmost tip of Japan’s toes, is a designated UNESCO world heritage site. Nestled between its mountains and cedar forests, still within close proximity of the ocean, is the Sankara Hotel & Spa. The ideal secluded retreat for nature lovers, the hotel is surrounded by stunning, rugged scenery and hiking trails which lead intrepid explorers to ravines and waterfalls and through forests filled with exotic flora and fauna. Guests seeking a more relaxing experience will be delighted with the cozy on-site library, a perfect spot to curl up with a good book. What’s more, the resort boasts the first Asia Herb Association spa in Japan, where a range of Thai herbal treatments are available. The auberge-style hotel pays homage to French style and elegance, with delicious French cuisine cooked in an open kitchen and served in Okas Restaurant. Meanwhile, the 29 suites and villas are warm and sumptuous, clad with deep cedar wood, yet maintaining a sense of space and light with their high ceilings.
Encased in luxuriously rich forest and crisply flowing rivers, this incredible hotel is the epitome of elegant serenity. Set in one of the most naturally exquisite prefectures of Japan, this area is an adventurer’s dream, complete with ocean, forest and ancient volcano remains. The perfect placement of traditionally designed cottages - inclusive of modern amenities - within lush and undisturbed greenery makes this destination a superb oasis of tranquility. Guests have the option to stay in a choice of ten different rooms, each one featuring natural beauty, charming architecture and unique cultural elements. A renowned restaurant with a variety of finely crafted culinary delights readily welcomes guests at a moment’s notice. A gorgeously maintained golf course and a relaxing spa are the perfect activities in which guests may immerse themselves during their stay in paradise.
This traditional Japanese-style ryokan in Uwajima is a beautifully presented two-story wooden building providing comfortable accommodation, delicious local cuisine and luxurious natural hot spring baths. After closing in 1995, it was left untouched for several years before being brought back to life in the spring of 2012, thanks to a makeover by the famous Japanese architect Yuko Nakayama. She combined modern technology with traditional Japanese furnishings and it is this mix of contemporary and classic styles that makes Kiya Ryokan so unique. With just one room, which sleeps between two and 10 guests, you can enjoy a peaceful stay here with the utmost freedom while you take advantage of the ryokan’s many facilities, including massages and beauty treatments. In the room you will discover an air conditioner, an LCD television, dining table and safe, as well as an audio system with bluetooth connection.
On the very tip of Muroto in Kochi, surrounded by the rugged and dramatic landscape on the very edge of the ‘black sea’, the UTOCO Auberge is a truly unique retreat. The super-modern resort resembles a sleek, white, circular spaceship, amidst the craggy rocks of Muroto geopark and its mysterious caves. And from the black current, the bubbles from the seabed provide health-giving benefits available in the hotel spa. Guests can unwind in the pool or indulge in deep sea therapies designed to relax and re-invigorate the whole body and spirit. Meanwhile, the hotel restaurant, Italian Kuroshio serves a smorgasbord of flavorful dishes made from the freshest seafood and local ingredients and inspired by the Mediterranean. The 17 guest rooms are arranged so that each enjoys a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean; decorated with a simple and sleek style, not a single detail has been overlooked, and the accommodation at UTOCO is perfectly designed to conduce to a restful stay. At sunset guests can take to the fresh air on the Typhoon Terrace for unforgettable views of sea and sky.
This elegant 400-year-old ryokan is situated in the midst of a stunning Japanese garden just a three-minute walk from the center of Kotohira. Offering a broad selection of accommodation, from Japanese-style rooms to stand-alone villas, Kotohira Kadan exceeds the expectations of each and every one of their guests. Kotohira Kadan is renowned for its heartfelt service and atmosphere and has welcomed a number of famous visitors over the years, such as distinguished writers Ogai Mori, Hakushu Kitahara, and Akiko Yosano. Guests may soak their weary muscles at the end of a day of sightseeing in one of ryokan’s large outdoor tubs, which offer breathtaking views of Mt. Sanuki Fuji and Kotohira town. In the evening, guests can sit down to beautifully presented meals of seafood and other local speciality dishes.
At this quiet seaside resort in Awaji Island, guests will have the opportunity to experience an authentic ryokan, enjoyed by only a handful of other tourists. Here, guests will find themselves immersed in nature, embracing the feeling of sheer peace that Villa Rakuen evokes, with its Japanese garden and outdoor spas. Spread over 11 floors, the rooms are presented as spacious suites, with floor-to-ceiling windows allowing in plenty of natural light, and sprawling terraces complete with a private onsen overlooking the sea. The rooms offer Western-style beds for those who would prefer not to sleep on the floor. Guests can also take advantage of the spa’s indulgent facilities before sampling the delights of Awaji cuisine, namely its fresh seafood, which is served all throughout the day. The night lounge serves a select collection of liquors well into the evening.