Adventure

8 Of The Most Beautiful Islands To Visit In Japan

There are almost 7000 islands in Japan. These are the most stunning.

Japan is an archipelago made up of almost 7000 islands. Most people know the big four – Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu – but there are so many more beautiful, underrated gems to explore.

These smaller islands reveal a more relaxed side of Japan. They’re untouched by neon lights and free from traffic jams – the kind of places where checking your emails as soon as you wake up seems wrong. You’re more likely to spend the morning snorkelling over coral reefs or exploring forests.

We might not know when international travel will open up again, but we can start planning for the holiday we want to take when it does. We’ve rounded up some of the most beautiful islands in Japan so you’re ready to start exploring the quieter side of the country as soon as possible.

#1 Ishigaki Island, Okinawa Prefecture

 

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If you want to explore under the sea, there are few places better than the coral reefs surrounding Ishigaki Island. Depending on what time of the year you visit, you can dive with manta rays in Kabira Bay, snorkel above rainbow-coloured fish, or see whales during their annual migration. Back on dry land, there are two mountains on the island that are small enough for you to scale in a day and still have time to hit the beach afterwards.


#2 Nokonoshima, Fukuoka Prefecture

 

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The Nokonoshima Island Park is a huge and beautifully tended flower garden that blooms all year long, blanketing the island in technicolour. You can see fields of sunflowers in July and August, multi-coloured daisies in March to May, and sakura during the cherry blossom season in late March to early April. The island is small enough to easily get around on foot or by bike, and the beaches are perfect for summer BBQs. It’s the kind of place you dream of visiting on a warm, sunny day with friends.


#3 Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture

 

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Two hours from the nearest city by boat, Sado Island is well worth a weekend visit. Here you’ll find onsens, award-winning sake served direct from the brewery, rice paddies, and winding mountain roads. The best thing to do, though, is take a ride in a bathtub boat. Let locals dressed in authentic period costume steer you through the crystal waters in a traditional wooden tub-turned-boat.


#4 Oki Islands, Shimane Prefecture

 

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There are almost 200 islands in this archipelago, although you’ll probably spend most of your time on the four inhabited ones – Dogo, Nishinoshima, Nakanoshima, and Chiburijima. The Oki Islands are part of the Daisen-Oki National Park and feature some of the best swimming spots, outdoor adventures, and walking tracks in Japan. Visit a shrine inside a cave built into the side of a mountain, see the sacred Dangyo-no-taki waterfalls, watch the sun set above Candle Island, and explore under the ocean on a boat with a glass bottom and sides.


#5 Ikishima, Nagasaki Prefecture

 

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With such stunningly beautiful turquoise water, it’s not hard to understand why so many people flock to Ikishima. The white sand beaches on this island are some of the best in Japan. You can go to Tsutsukihama Beach to swim, and Kiyoshihama or Ohama beaches to surf. Then you can cap off your day with a soak in the famous mud-coloured water of the Yunamoto Hot Spring village resort.


#6 Yakushima, Kagoshima Prefecture

 

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Visiting Japan is almost a rite of passage for Studio Ghibli fans, and Yakushima has to feature on every Ghibli-inspired itinerary. A natural UNESCO World Heritage site, this lush island covered in 1000-year-old trees was the inspiration for Princess Mononoke. It’s every bit as enchanting as the movie makes it look. Hike through the Shiratani Unsuikyo ravine, visit the ancient Jomon Sugi cypress tree, and – if you’re there between May and July – head to Nagata Inaka Beach to see Japan’s largest turtle-nesting site.


#7 Ogasawara Islands, Tokyo Administrative Area

 

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It takes a 24-hour ferry ride from Tokyo to reach the Ogasawara Islands, but the journey is well worth it. This remote island chain is known as the “Galapagos of Asia” thanks to the unique plant and wildlife ecosystems that have developed here, which you’ll have plenty of chances to explore. Take an eco-tour through the forest, visit a volcanic hot spring, or swim around a submerged shipwreck off Sakiura Beach. There’s almost no artificial light on the islands, so at night you’ll be able to see the Milky Way clearer than ever before.


#8 Shodoshima, Kagawa Prefecture

The best time to visit Shodoshima is during the Setouchi Triennale – a huge art exhibition held every three years that spans twelve islands and two seaports. But don’t worry if you can’t wait for the exhibition to come around. There are permanent art exhibits dotted across the island and there’s plenty more to do here. Walk across the elusive Angel Road sandbar with your partner, which many people believe will grant them eternal love. You can also taste a peculiar local delicacy: olive-flavoured soft serve ice cream.

Ready to see the other side of Japan? Check out more amazing destinations here.

(Lead image: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock)