For those who have already visited Tokyo and Kyoto and want to discover other magical places in Japan, here is an amazing travel itinerary that will leave you speechless .....
This trip was developed as an "early" gift for my 40 years.
I can state that, of all the journeys made to date, this one is "THE JOURNEY".
The journey is really all-inclusive as it starts from Okinawa, passes through the Yaeyama islands, to arrive, passing from wonder to wonder, up to the extreme north of Japan in Sapporo. Are you ready to discover this fascinating journey?
Below is the travel story.
Let's start with the itinerary (20 days):
Departure from Milan Malpensa with destination Naha (Okinawa) with a 6-hours stopover in Hong Kong.
Don't worry, don't be alarmed, I know that a 6-hours stopover is devastating after a 12-hours flight. You just want to relax and take a shower. You have no intention of perching on an airport chair for 6 hours waiting for the new departure to reach your final destination.
Password is relax, everything must be "easy", we are on vacation. So when you arrive in Hong Kong, all you have to do is head to the Regal Airport Hotel (located within the gigantic Hong Kong airport), go up to the 4th floor and go to the Spa, saying that you want to take advantage of the package for non-hotel guests. At the cost of € you will have one indoor pool, an outdoor pool, deckchairs (where you can take a nap), sauna and showers to relax and start again full of energy heading to Japan.
Finally, we arrived in Naha, the capital of the island of Okinawa. Here you can enjoy a different atmosphere than that of traditional Japan. It feels like being at the sea, it reminded me a little of the atmosphere of Miami Beach. Kokusai (the main street) is very lively in the evening, with lots of bars and shops. Don't miss dinner at the Makishi Market. This traditional fish market is very characteristic. Inside the sales stalls also serve as restaurants. Here you can enjoy excellent sashimi accompanied by the local Orion beer. Taste the marinated seaweed they sell at the market: they are delicious. The city can be turned around quietly with the futuristic suspended monorail that can take you from the airport to the center in a short time.
We leave Naha to head towards the highest point of the whole journey: the island of Ishigaki.
I always wanted to visit an island in the sea of Japan as I heard that the sea is really beautiful and beaches are very little frequented.
I expected, even seeing the photos on the web, to find a beautiful location. Well, my expectations were not disappointed, I would even say that I have never seen such a beautiful place !!!
To make a premise I tell you that both my husband and I were amazed whenever we are arrived on a beach. It is not possible that one is beautiful than the other.
The beaches are deserted, at most you will find 3 or 4 people.
In Kabira, we did the whole tour of the island (about 1 hour and 30 minutes) and we were always completely alone!!
From Naha in less than an hour flight you get to Ishigaki.
I recommend renting a car to get around the island, it's the best way. In this way you will start to become familiar with the car guide that you will need later in the journey.
There are several car rental provider at the airport. I remind you that the guide is on the right and that you need an international guide license.
The island is very green, with tropical vegetation that stands out imperiously on the clear blue of the barrier Reef.
As for the accommodation, I decided to avoid the usual hotel facilities because I wanted my experience to be as much authentic as possible to make me savor the fact of being on a tropical island. For this reason I rented a hut on airbnb. What a wise decisione! The experience had been excellent. Sleep in a hut with refined details and with all the comforts and hear all the sounds of the night forest. And in the morning be woken up with a gorgeous breakfast served in the garden with fresh flowers and with the program and the weather details of the day, it really has no comparisons.
The hospitality of Miki and Masato was something exceptional.
The beaches are really sensational: white coral sand, clear blue sea, always warm water, lush nature. Sometimes it is a bit difficult to reach them but trust me, it's worth it!
We leave the beaches of Ishigaki with great sadness to reach Hiroshima. From Ishigaki, to reach Hiroshima, it is necessary to take a flight to Fukuoka and then the bullet train (Shinkansen). In order to avoid to carry our enormous suitcase with us, we have taken advantage of the TA Q BIN service provided by Yamato. This is an express courier that for a few euros will take care of shipping your luggage from one city to another in Japan. You can find it at Fukuoka airport (arrivals area). If you follow my itinerary, I advise you to send it directly to Kanazawa and travel with hand luggage only. But back to Hiroshima ... It is a big city whose main tourist attractions are, unfortunately, linked to the explosion of the atomic bomb. It is absolutely worthwhile to visit them as they will allow you to fully understand what the bomb release on the city meant.
Being in Hiroshima, you cannot miss the opportunity to visit the island of Miyajima with its spectacular red torii.
How to get there:
At Hiroshima station, take the JR Sanyo line train for 9 stops and get off at Miyajimaguchi station (the journey takes about 30 min). 100 meters from the station you will find the Miyajima Matsudai Kisen Terminal Ferry where to take the ferry to the island (about 20 min).
The island of Miyajima boasts a very ancient history that began in the Daido period (806) when the monk Kukai visited this place during his journey back to Kyoto and, walking among nature, he perceived in this place a great spiritual strength and decided to build a hall (hondo) on Mount Misen, the highest peak on the island.
Following Miyajima, the Itsukushima shrine was also built, and from this moment, the island became an important religious center, destination of emperors, monks, and faithful who went there on pilgrimage to pray.
Today the island and its treasures represent a cultural and historical heritage declared World Heritage by UNESCO.
12 centuries have passed since Kobo Daishi (founder of Shingon Buddhism) came here, but this place has not lost its mystical and wonderful charm. The tall and thick trees are like old guardians who protect the sacred treasures. In this place the atmosphere is solemn and conveys a sense of eternity: the trees seem to preserve a thousand-year history, one of those that once could only be told to those who were willing to venture up the mountain, to the plateau where it rises the temple.
This stage is a must!
The Okunoin cemetery is one of the most spectacular places you can ever see.
How to get there:
Mount Koya is about an hour and a half from Osaka. It can be reached by different means of transport, but I think the easiest way to access it is by car.
If you come from Hiroshima (and you are therefore following my itinerary) the best solution is to fly to Osaka (Kansai) and continue with a rental car to Mount Koya.
From Mount Koya to Kanazawa there is a journey of about 5 hours. The journey by car is all on the highway.
I recommend you stop at a roadside restaurant for lunch: it will be a fun experience!
Not to be missed is the garden inside the Omura family house, considered the third most beautiful garden in Japan, and lunch at the Omicho Market.
Kanazawa offers very special shopping opportunities that your relatives at home will surely appreciate. If you want to take advantage of it, you have to go to Higashi Chaya (the geisha district). Here you have to buy: the edible gold leaf powder to make your dishes sparkle at home and the perfumed and colored tissues to touch up your makeup.
To reach Shirakawa-go you can choose a scenic route that winds through a national park. This route is called Hakusan-Shirakawa-go White Road. The White Road is a winding mountain toll road that connects the city of Hakusan in Ishikawa prefecture with Shirakawa-go in Gifu prefecture. The 33.3 km long road rises to over 1400 meters above sea level and offers sweeping panoramic views, hiking trails and a variety of waterfalls along the way. Don't miss the natural onsen in Oyadaninoyu overlooking the river. From the road, a 15-minute walk will bring you to this small thermal bath with boiling water that offers stunning views of the Ubagataki waterfall.
Magome is one of those cities that will take you back in time, imagining the legendary Japan of feudal lords and samurai, where the landscape was characterized by green valleys dotted with traditional villages, mountains, and streams among which winding paths winded. Located in the Kiso valley, in the prefecture of Nagano, Magome was a "post station": one of those small villages where wandering travelers, merchants and samurai stopped and rested for the night in traditional inns. These villages were set on the Nakasendo: the ancient road that connected Tokyo to Kyoto.
Magome is a town that I strongly recommend you to visit if you love magical atmospheres and want to have a glimpse of what Japan used to be. Priceless to stroll in the evening in yukata on Magome's cobbled street!
A transfer stage is necessary between Magome and Hakone. I then identified Fuefuki as a stage. This stage, if you follow my advice, will be funny and unusual.
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If you love whiskey, on the way between Fuefuki and Hakone, you can stop in Gotemba for a visit to Fuji Gotemba distillery, producing Fuji Sanroku whiskey. Through scenic roads you will reach Hakone and, if you are lucky with the weather, you can admire the immensity of Mount Fuji.
Hakone, which is only a couple of hours from Tokyo, is full of attractions: there are spas, panoramic views of Mount Fuji, "infernal" valleys such as Owakudani, museums, national parks dotted with lakes and beautiful forests.
We leave Hakone and head towards Tokyo (Haneda airport) to return the rental car. Let's take the flight and reach the capital of Hokkaido: Sapporo. Many know this city concerning the beer that is produced here. Sapporo is a very modern and fascinating city, full of life and things to discover.
For those who still do not want to go back home .... it is possible to add to this itinerary an extension in China by visiting splendid Hong Kong and the magnificent Macau ... (you can find the details of this itinerary on the dedicated page)