The Japanese islands stretch for nearly 3,000 kilometers and form an archipelago whose landscapes, customs and climate are incredibly diverse. However, each of the islands of the archipelago has particularities that make up their charm. Mountains or beaches, fields or thermal springs, a small glimpse of the richness of the landscapes and experiences to be lived in each of Japan’s islands.
- Shimoshima (574 km2)
Shimoshima is the largest island in the Amakusa Archipelago. It is not large with an area of 574 square kilometers. Only about 90,000 people live there.
The island borders no less than four seas: the Ariake Sea, the Amakusa-nada Sea, the East China Sea and the Yatsushiro Sea. The highest peak on the island is Mount Tenjiku with a height of 538 meters . Shimoshima is connected to Kamishima Island and thereby to mainland Kyushu by the Amakusa-seto Oohashi Bridge. It is also connected by the Ushibukahaiyao Bridge to Gezu Island in the far south. Shimoshima is located in the humid subtropical climate zone and has four distinct seasons. The island never sees snowfall in winter. Spring on Shimoshima Island starts out mild, but ends hot and humid.
- Awaji (592 km2)
Awaji is located in the eastern waters of the Seto Inland Sea between the islands of Honshu and Shikoku. It is a transit point between these two islands and originally means “the road to Awa.”
Awaji Puppet Theater is a traditional form of puppet theater or ningyō jōruri derived from the Osaka Bunraku puppet drama. Several performances are held daily. Awaji’s puppet shows , which enact traditional folk dramas rooted in religious rituals, are highly popular locally and have toured internationally, in the US, Russia and numerous other countries.
- Tsushima (708 km2)
Tsushima is located halfway between the Japanese mainland and the Korean Peninsula, and is divided by the Ofunakoshiseto and Manzekiseto channels : Shimono-shima to the south and Kamino-shima to the north.
By the way, we are still at the smaller islands of Japan. Tsuhima, together with 13 smaller islands around it, is no larger than 708 square kilometers. About 40,000 people live there. The vast expanse is largely protected by the Iki-Tsushima Quasi-National Park, which offers some of the most captivating scenery in the region.
Famous is the “ Battle of Tsushima ”, the last and decisive naval battle of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). The Imperial Japanese Navy destroyed much of the Imperial Russian Navy here. It was the first naval battle in which a non-Western navy defeated a Western navy.
- Amami Oshima (712 km2)
Amami Ōshima is Japan’s sixth largest island and is located in the South China Sea between Kyushu and Okinawa. Its pleasant climate is similar to that of Okinawa and its white beaches , beautiful coral reefs and clear waters make it one of Japan’s most popular places for snorkeling and diving. You can rent the necessary equipment and take lessons at various places on the island. The northern part, dotted with white sand beaches and extensive reefs, is a popular beach resort.
- Sado (855 km2)
Sado is Japan’s sixth largest island and can only be reached by ferry. Gold was discovered in the area in the 17th century. During this period, the poorest had to work as slaves in the minerals. To this day, the island bears traces of slavery. Therefore, cultural ballads, songs and dances have a more melancholy tone. It is common to see rice plantations and there are many huge farms. Sado is known for Kodo, meaning ‘Drum Children’ or ‘Heart Beat’, a performance that uses a variety of drums, flutes, songs and dances in celebration of the Earth.
5.Okinawa (1,206 km2)
Okinawa is home to the Gusuku Ruins , a World Heritage Site . The island is an oasis of peace, partly because of the climate: an average of 22 °C with the possibility to swim all year round. The island is rich in a culture that is the result of the mixing of neighboring countries.
Okinawaians speak in the local dialect, Okinawa-ben, which differs significantly from Classical Japanese. Their traditional music has undergone multiple Chinese, Indonesian and Polynesian influences. Okinawa’s culinary specialty is the goya champuru , a bitter, elongated gourd that grows only in this area.
- Shikoku (18,803 km²)
Japan has four main islands, Shikoku is the smallest of these four main islands in Japan with an area of 18,803 square kilometers. The quiet and rural rhythm, together with the traditions and little international tourism endorse Shikoku as the most traditional and rural island in Japan. On this island you can see an infinite number of incredible landscapes such as the Iya valley or the famous swirls of water ( Naruto ), but also cities with a lot of history and picturesque towns such as Uchiko. Not to mention the mythical pilgrimage path known as “the route of the 88 temples” which is the main reason why it is called the sacred island.
- Kyūshū (45,231 km²)
Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost island, is the third largest of the four main islands with an area of 45,231 km². About 13 million people live there.
Kyushu has a rich history. It is considered the cradle of Japanese civilization. There are many historical sites such as tombs, historical villages and artifacts. It is believed that Japanese civilization as it is known today originated on Kyushu.
On Kyushu, contact was also made for the first time with other countries such as China or Korea. Later the European settlers came to the island, first Portugal and later also the Netherlands, the ship ” De Liefde ” was the first Dutch ship to reach Japan in 1600 .
Kyushu is also called the ‘land of fire’ and this has everything to do with the many active volcanoes and hot springs that can be found on the island. With a peak of 1,592 meters, the “Aso” is the largest active volcano in Japan and even in the world. Until 2016 it was possible to get to the edge of the crater by cable car. In a violent earthquake it collapsed and became unusable. Nowadays it is still possible to go up by bus.
- Hokkaidō (83,456 km²)
Hokkaidō is Japan’s second largest island with an area of 83,456 square kilometers. This is about the size of Austria. It is the northernmost island of the big four. It is only separated from the main island of Honshu by the Tsugaru Strait. The Seikan tunnel connects both islands. This is the second longest railway tunnel in the world with a length of 53 kilometers.
Despite the island’s size, only about 5.5 million people live there. This has everything to do with the very volcanic and mountainous interior.
One of Hokkaidō’s quirks is that it is home to the enigmatic Ainu people , considered Japan’s indigenous ethnic group. They have their own language and even physical features, very different from other Asians.
- Honshū (227,942 km²)
The long sprawling island of Honshu is Japan’s largest island with an area of 227,942 square kilometers. It is 1,300 kilometers long and in some places only 50 kilometers wide. Honshu covers 60% of Japan’s total land area.
Honshu is also where Tokyo, the capital of Japan, is located and, according to Tokyo.nl , is called by many the New York of the East. A gigantic international metropolis that has something to offer every traveler. You will also find other famous cities such as Kyoto and Osaka.
The famous dormant volcano Mount Fuji can be found on Honshu. With a height of 3,776 meters, this is the highest mountain in Japan. The volcano is only 112 kilometers from Tokyo. Everyone knows the iconic image of the metropolis with the white-topped volcano in the background.
As you can imagine, this Japanese island is the most popular among tourists who want to travel to Japan. Honshu, located in the Land of the Rising Sun, is a gigantic place where many cultures come together and show the contrasts of present-day Japan. There are thousands of things to check out and while there are other islands such as Kyushu, Shikoku and Hokkaido vying for the attention of tourists, Honshu is undoubtedly way up there in this Japanese game.