There are nearly six thousand islands that make up Japan, divided across numerous archipelagos. As well as the more famous, the others too deserve to be discovered, explored and experienced, because they are all part of this authentic treasure.
There’s also a curious fact about the islands of the Land of the Rising Sun: some of them did not occur naturally, but rather, they are “artificial”, such as the island of Dejima, which was literally made by man to host the commerce of traders from Europe
Visiting the islands of Japan means becoming immersed in an almost dreamlike, parallel dimension, where it is possible to experience Japanese traditions to the full, transported into the dreamy atmospheres, fairy-tale landscapes, delicious foods and timeless stories.
Because once you have discovered the islands of Japan, they will stay in your heart. Forever. If you want to discover this Asian paradise, all you have to do is read the presentation of each of Japan’s 25 most beautiful islands:
If you’ve ever dreamed of ending up on a desert island, then you have found the perfect place. Because the island of Hashima is truly deserted. By everything and everyone. Since it was left to its own fate some forty years ago, there is nothing left on the island except some concrete buildings and abandoned places. And yet, once upon a time, so many people lived on the island.
Now it is one of the 505 uninhabited Japanese islands under the Prefecture of Nagasaki. Its history is linked to the discovery and development of one of the richest mineral sites in Japan. These deposits were what led to the island becoming a colony of thousands of people, who moved there to work in the mines.
It was later transformed into a work camp for prisoner of war soldiers from China and Korea, and went on to become the area with the highest population density on the whole planet, with nearly 1400 inhabitants for each square metre. Then the mines were closed and people began to leave, until the island was completely abandoned.
Now it offers a unique setting, that you can discover on one of the excursions available on a Costa Cruise. It is a setting that was chosen, not by coincidence, as the set for some of the filming on the movie Skyfall.
Aoshima, nicknamed “Cat Island” is located in the region of Shikoku. As the name suggests, it is one of the most popular destinations for cat lovers, as well as being very popular with street and portrait photography enthusiasts.
To tell the truth, this is not the only island in Japan to have a vast cat population, but Aoshima is without doubt the most famous, as well as the one with the highest number of felines, which having been the subject of splendid photos that have gone on to become viral on the web, have boosted the island's popularity with visitors.
An initial colony of cats was brought to the island during the mid 20th century to help the fishermen combat their rat problem. At first the feline population was just a small group of cats compared to just under a thousand inhabitants; however, over the years, the island’s population has fallen and now the cats outnumber humans to the extent that it is thought there are now six cats to every person. Cat island can be reached by boat, as part of a Costa Cruise excursion.
Experience Japan and all its traditions while you enjoy some relaxation. This is the experience you are sure to have when you visit the island of Miyajima, one of the most scenic spots in Japan, where visitors on the excursion proposed by Costa Cruises can enjoy first-hand experience of Japanese folklore and history.
A must-see on the island is the Itukushima shrine, which looks as if it has just surfaced out of the ocean. The shrine is world famous for its red Torii gate that seems to float on the water. The individual buildings that make up the shrine are connected to one another by a network of walkways and they are built on solid pillars that keep them above the water.
To admire the island from above, it is possible to climb to the top of Mount Misen, which at 500 metres, is the highest point of Miyajima. While walking up Misen, it is possible to visit the Buddhist temple of Daisho-i. Visitors should also be sure to take a look at the island's other shrine, Senjokaku, which literally means the “pavilion of a thousand mats” This is because the size of the building itself is equivalent to one thousand tatami mats.
Lastly, to travel even further into traditional Japanese culture, you can stop off at the history and folklore museum, as well as at the public aquarium, which contains native fish as well as other species from all over the world. A curiosity about the aquarium is that inside, it contains a large oyster farm.
The island of Dejima, located in the bay of Nagasaki, is known outside of Asian for the fact that it is entirely man made. The island was initially intended for the Christian missionaries from the Portuguese regions and that since they were “confined” on the island, could be carefully monitored during their evangelical activities.
The situation later changed and the missionaries were thrown out; Dejima was then made available to the Dutch traders, who established a trading post for the East India Trading Company.
This is why the island of Dejima, which is shaped like a fan, has characteristics linked to both Dutch and Japanese lifestyles. A rich combination of history and folklore that deserves to be discovered and its every facet savoured during the excursions organised by Costa Cruises.
How do you live inside a volcano? The answer can be found on an excursion to the island of Aogashima, a genuine natural wonder, featuring not one but two craters of volcanic origin, one inside the other. The smallest one may still be active, but this doesn’t seem to bother the two hundred Japanese people who continue to live there. The island’s very few residents live from fishing, agriculture and making sea salt.
It is an island paradise, which can be appreciated for its wild charm but also because it is a little like an open-air sauna. Its particular formation is reminiscent of a distant, undefined prehistoric period, when the island’s only inhabitants were dinosaurs and other creatures, now long extinct.
Aogashima is located in the Philippine Sea and is part of the Japanese Izu islands. It is also extraordinary because it is covered in lush vegetation.
The island can be reached by ferry, but only when the sea is calm, because otherwise, a helicopter is required.
Breathe in the fairy-tale atmosphere of the island of Miyakejima, where breath-taking excursions will take you to the hot springs, to go diving, and admire the dolphins. All this while you luxuriate in a stunning setting, created by the volcanic origins of the island and by the extremely pleasant climate.
The island is the perfect destination for fitness and wellness enthusiasts. As well as the many opportunities for water sports enthusiasts, there are also lots of ideas for other open-air activities and for enjoying regenerating moments in the fantastic spa waters of Miyakejima.
As well as enjoying the splendid black sand beaches, you can also go out to sea for diving into the waters filled with fantastically colourful tropical fish and marvellous coral species.
The island of Yakushima can offer you an unforgettable nature-lovers’ experience. Located off the south coast of Kyushu, Yakushima stands out for its subtropical features and specifically, its dense cedar forest, where you can admire some of the oldest trees in Japan. Experts on Japan say that the forest contains a tree that is actually 7000 years old.
Yakushima contains a national park and UNESCO has included it on its list of World Heritage sites. The forest, which covers over 400 hectares, can be visited along three trails, where you can admire the breath-taking rock faces that are covered in green and moss in many points.
There is also a museum on the island to provide lots more information about the cedar forest and in general, to illustrate the characteristic ecosystem of Yakushima.
And be sure not to miss out on the fabulous white beach, where you can also admire the splendid examples of sea turtle. There is also no shortage of waterfalls and hot springs to make this such an earthly paradise.
The island of Naoshima could be renamed the “island of art”. It is an obligatory stopping place for the visitor seeking out contemporary art.
Located in a stunning group of islands, its internationally famous symbol is the iconic polka dot pumpkin sculpture by Yayoi Kusama, which, from its location on the shore is literally submerged by the sea every high tide. The giant pumpkin is the emblem of the vast cultural heritage of museums and artistic and historic sites to be found on the island of Naoshima.
Whether you choose to visit on foot or by bicycle, Naoshima can easily be explored in just one day. While on the island, you can admire the particular style of some of the public buildings in the typical architectural style of Naoshima. At the same time, the tourist experience can be completed with a visit to the many art galleries there.
The island of Nishinoshima, like the majority of the islands that make up Japan, is volcanic. It has also been known by the name of Rosario Island, and in the late 1970s, it saw its surface area increased by a series of volcanic eruptions. More eruptions after 2010 increased the size of the island even further.
Nishinoshima is still a small island, with an area touching on just 3 square kilometres. This is because it is in fact the peak of an active underwater volcano. That's why Nishinoshima is completely uninhabited. It is, however, a popular destination for academics, scientists and researchers.
Okinawa is an unspoiled paradise and the fifth largest island in Japan. Mass tourism has not yet reached this extraordinary corner of Japan. This is because, often, the impression is that it is too far away and in any case, too little known. In actual fact, the group of islands of which it is a part is the southernmost archipelago of Japan, almost touching on the tropics and thanks to this position, Okinawa has been able to remain an absolute gem in terms of tranquillity and natural beauty.
It is a favourite honeymoon destination for many newly-weds in Asia, due to the fabulous scenery and crystal-clear (very warm) waters full of beautiful, multicoloured fish.
Honshu is one of the ten largest islands in the world, and it is also Japan’s largest. The island, which is vaguely arched in shape, is at the heart of Japan.
Its coastline measures over ten thousand kilometres with stunning coves, enchanting bays and little peninsulas. The landscape is mainly hilly and mountainous, and includes the legendary Mount Fuji, which is 3776 metres high. There is only one plain worthy of note, Kanto, home to the city of Tokyo.
Over 38 million people live in the Japanese capital and the island of Honshu itself has a total population of over sixty million. The most populated area is the south west coast, while the opposite side is well known above all for its fishing villages.
Honshu is connected to the three other main islands of Japan by a series of bridges and futuristic rail lines.
Although the Amami islands are not well known to a large public, they are truly stunning. Their beauty is guaranteed by the presence of completely white sandy beaches, as well as for the rocky coasts which seem to come straight out of a book of fairy tales.
This corner of Japan is a little piece of heaven, thanks to the fact that it is as yet untouched by large-scale tourism. This is in spite of the fact that the Amami islands has everything to rival the islands that enjoy more publicity. They offer endless possibilities for relaxation, ranging from regenerating stays on the beach and diving, to excursions in the charming subtropical forest, where the flora and fauna are unique. We should also mention the island’s mangroves and population of special rare black rabbits.
If you think that Japan is a destination exclusively for those who love innovation, modernity and fashion are wrong, because the Land of the Rising Sun is also an opportunity to immerse yourself completely in nature.
One of the best examples is the island of Hokkaido, which has its own exclusive ecosystem. Two figures in particular reveal the natural beauties on the island: six parks inside which are some sixty volcanoes.
Cold temperatures in winter, followed by warm but dry summers make Hokkaido the perfect island for those looking to practise winter sports as well as the ideal destination for those who love camping or in any case, to soak up the sun on the beaches or on the coast.
What makes the island even more unique is the presence of sea birds that live exclusively in this corner of the planet, offering sights of their fabulous flights among the waterfalls, fir trees and bamboo forests.
The island of Rishiri is the ideal place in which to get lost forever. Few people known of this lovely Japanese gem, which can be seen on the horizon from the coast of Hokkaido.
The nature on Rishiri is completely unspoiled and offers visitors one marvellous thing after another. Among these is most decidedly the volcano, over 1700 metres high, which dominates the island, offering lovely walks and opportunities to explore during the warmer months. Excursions are an opportunity to admire the typical plants and flowers of the mountains. In the winter months, the island offers incomparable views of its snow-covered mountain, especially when admired from indoors, while sipping a cup of the renowned Japanese green tea.
Rishiri is part of a national park and has a population of just under six thousand people.
When the warm sunny days arrive, the island of Rebun is transformed into a watercolour, dominated by a colourful palette of myriad flowers that bloom wild over the sloping cliffs.
This is why Rebun is known as the “island of flowers”. It is north of Hokkaido island and its unspoiled natural setting is an ideal destination for a holiday that’s all about relaxation and authentic tranquillity.
At first sight, the calm atmosphere the reigns over the island could give the impression that it is deserted; however, this is just an impression, because every corner of Rebun is full of life.
In summer, the green slopes and blue sea form the dominant setting, while in winter, the more romantic of you will be sure to enjoy the fairy-tale, snow-covered surroundings. A little higher up, the views become absolutely breath taking, well away from the traffic and noise of Japan’s chaotic metropolises.
The island of Nokono stands out for its stunning panoramic views, with vast expanses of colourful flowers against a deep blue ocean. Nokono can be reached by ferry from Fukuoka and is an island that offers its visitors an excellent relaxing atmosphere.
Nokono is perfect for everyone, even children, which is why it is such a popular family destination for peaceful holidays away from the normal hubbub.
That's not to say there isn’t lots to do there, because the island offers a wide range of activities: from excursions on the flower-filled slopes, to outdoor barbecues and sporting activities that are totally immersed in nature to festivals and celebrations along the sea shore.
In the past, the island of Sado entered history as a place of banishment for illustrious characters who were sent there by the Japanese government. The discovery of gold then changed the fate of Sado, turning it into a perfect family destination and tourist location for those looking to discover the folklore and history of Japan in a way tat is a little different from usual.
The ideal thing is to experience the island by staying in one of the local ryokan and enjoying the culinary specialities prepared by local chefs using locally sourced, native ingredients.
The beaches are splendid, but then so are the rice terraces and the narrow roads connecting the mountain slopes to the coast. There are also lots of opportunities to enjoy outdoor sports on the island.
Iriomote is a popular destination with tourists, thanks to its marvellous, unspoiled nature. The island is dominated by majestic forests that are so typical of tropical areas, as well as by charming beaches and little villages.
Just two thousand people live on Iriomote, which has one road to connect the main towns. It is obvious therefore, that visiting Iriomote means choosing a relaxing holiday, where stress will become a distant memory, opting for a peaceful lifestyle that is all about simplicity and the desire to experience close contact with nature. All this in complete respect for Japanese traditions.
The country landscapes are the main protagonists of the island of Taketomi. The most important attraction here is definitely an old village, preserved intact since the period of the ancient kingdom of Japan.
In this corner of the island, everything is as it once was: the roads are still in coral dust, while the houses, some of which still have their red-tiled roofs, have extraordinarily carefully manicured, colourful gardens. Some houses have been converted into inns, while others contain small workshops, where it is possible to buy culinary products and artisan-made items, all in line with the local traditions.
The perfect destination for those looking to combine nature and urban relaxation. The island of Ishigaki and the town of the same name, which is the only urban location in this corner of Japan.
The island offers some stunning walks along charming trails through forests and wilderness or beautiful beaches that are ideal for appreciating a sea full of splendid fish and coral.
It also offers opportunities to enjoy town life, visiting the markets and enjoying typical cuisine in the area’s particular restaurants or relaxation in the stunning gardens surrounded by welcoming wooden huts.
The island of Kume offers the opportunity to enjoy the landscape and climate that are typical of the tropics, immersing yourself in the Japanese tradition that places meditation and tranquillity at the heart of all things. Here you will find all of the ingredients you need to regenerate yourself, starting with a seascape of rare beauty with stunning white beaches.
The sea itself is equally splendid, offering the possibility to snorkelling enthusiasts to see the charming sea bed and marvellous coral from close up, while surrounded by fish of extraordinary colours.
The island of Miyako is famed for its beaches, which seem to come out of an impressionist painting. White beaches as far as the eye can see, surrounded by stupendous waters that offer diving enthusiasts the chance to appreciate splendid corals.
And not to be missed is Cape Higashi-Henna Zaki, the southernmost tip of the island, which extends into the ocean for more than two kilometres, almost as if floating on the water. It is possible to enjoy some fantastic views from there, and also from the lighthouse of the same name, which stands on the cape itself. The town of Hirara, the main town on Miyako contains a mausoleum, a botanical gardens and expanses of flowers.
There are walks to be enjoyed on the island's many bridges, which offer routes covering various kilometres suspended over the sea. You cannot leave the island without first enjoying some of its typical cuisine and the local produce, including - of course, artisanal sake and the salt that comes from the sea around Miyako.
The island of Chichijima is listed as a World Heritage site and is known for its extraordinary natural countryside. If on one hand, it stands out for its forests, on the other, it offers breath-taking white beaches that stretch among the marvellous cliffs, beaten by the ocean waves.
To admire the island in all of its beauty, the ideal thing is to take a boat tour, where you may be lucky enough to see whales and dolphins. There are lots of opportunities to enjoy snorkelling, fishing and windsurfing, or simply walking along the gorgeous beaches.
And in the south of Chichijima, the island of Minamijima, a characteristic gully surrounded by an extraordinary cliff with an opening in the middle. Not forgetting the traditional cuisine, including the very popular specialities made with turtle and rum made with passion fruit.
A special atmosphere is what you enjoy on the island of Tokashiki which, with its little characteristic beaches, combines sensational forests with glorious trekking trails. The trails along the slopes of the higher mountains offer incredible views and deep blue horizons, as far as the eye can see.
Tokashiki is the ideal location for those looking to leave the stress of work and everyday living behind them, and enjoy some R&R, that is all about nature, outdoor activities, resting up on the beach and - why not? - some good food.
The island of Shikoku is an incredible opportunity to enjoy the true heart of Japan. This is because, travelling along the island’s coastline, which covers a total of more than a thousand kilometres, it is possible to complete a pilgrimage dedicated to 9th-century monarch, Kūkai. Along this charming and exciting trail, you will come to 88 Buddhist temples.
Eight of these temples are located in one of the largest towns on Shikoku, the city of Matsuyama, where it is possible also to visit a majestic castle and an ancient hot spring.
If you don’t have the opportunity to take the temple route, which in fact takes several weeks, you can still enjoy the wild spirit of the island, along the trails passing inland, surrounded by fantastic trees and little waterfalls.
Set Sail for Japan with Costa
Japan is most definitely well known for its futuristic metropolises, with their high-tech innovations and cutting-edge infrastructure. And if on one hand, these aspects reveal the most important benefits guaranteed by progress in science and technology, on the other, they pay the price of this progress by giving their citizens and as a result, also their visitors, crowded, fast-paced cities, which don’t always satisfy a need for a holiday with rest and relaxation or offer the experience of every facet of Japanese, with its nature and folklore traditions.
Here we have a holiday that is all about discovering the twenty-five most beautiful islands in Japan that can offer the ideal solution. These locations, which are characterised by unspoiled settings or in any case, by unique and curious features that can offer you a dream holiday, in which it will be possible to discover the many faces of traditional Japan.