The 14 Most Beautiful Islands of Japan
Japan is revered for many things: Buddhist temples, breathtaking Geishas, bustling metropolises, and the freshest, most far-out fish markets. But it also has thousands of spectacular islands, beyond the four main ones that make up a majority of the country’s 142,000 square miles — who knew? In fact, thanks to the north-south extension of the country from 20° to 45° latitude, Japan’s islands are among the most beautiful places on Earth, ranging from lush tropical paradises in the south to dramatic snow-capped volcano peaks in the north.
With this diversity of climate and landscape, Japan’s islands are home to stunning ecosystems that are little worlds unto themselves. Coral reefs, bottleneck dolphins, and loggerhead turtles? Head to the remote Ogasawara archipelago. Volcanic peaks surrounded alternately by plush powder snow and vibrant alpine flowers? The northern island of Rishiri is your spot. There are rock formations formed millions of years ago by contracting lava, primeval cedar forests that feel like a Tolkien fantasy, and sloping fields of technicolor flowers. It’s practically an embarrassment of natural beauty, begging the question: which island will you visit first?
With its ancient moss-covered cedar forests, natural hot springs, lush waterfalls, and otherworldly atmosphere, it’s no wonder Yakushima Island is a designated UNESCO World Natural Heritage site.
Mount Rishiri, a dormant volcano and symbol of this remote northern island, is breathtaking when snow-capped in the winter, but most spectacular when covered in summer’s alpine flowers.
Majestic mountains, craggy cliffs, vivid fields of wildflowers — if you don’t make it to one of the thousands of lesser known islands, Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main four islands, offers epic vistas, diverse landscapes and classic Japanese experiences in all seasons.
Hike up the mountainous Rebun Island for views of its 300 species of alpine flowers and neighboring Rishiri Island, but don’t miss the scenic drive along the steep southern coastline.
Bright yellow rape blossoms, purple cosmos, scarlet sage, and classic pink cherry blossoms — even beyond its famous Flower Park, Nokono Island is a one-of-a-kind technicolor spectacle.
The rocky coves and cliffs and emerald waters along Sado Island’s coast offer a stunning place to kayak or dive, but are no less dramatic than the haunting cedar forests on the island’s interior.
While there are plenty of spectacular beaches on Iriomote, the largest of the subtropical Yaeyama Islands, the real draw is inland: wild jungles, mangrove forests, and picturesque waterfalls.
The turquoise-green waters, white sandy beaches, and coral reef surrounding the petite Taketomi Island scream Fiji, but the utaki scattered around island — sacred shrines for showing respect to the gods — are most definitely Japanese.
Though Ishigaki, within the Yaeyama archipelago, has a thriving urban center, its secluded coves, white sand beaches, and pineapple plantations make it feel like a timeless tropical paradise.
Wild rock formations formed by contracting lava, craggy pools filled with tropical fish, and the 4.5-mile sandbar at Hatenohama Beach are just a few stunning signatures of Kume, a small, quiet island within the Okinawa Island group.
With its clear turquoise waters, powdery beaches, coral reefs, and picture-perfect sunsets, a visit to Miyako, the largest of the Okinawa Islands, is about as dreamy as island time gets.
Friendly dolphins, migrating whales, and star-filled night skies are simply distractions to the pure beauty of remote Chichijima’s contrasting green forested hills and turquoise blue waters.
The rocky cliffs, white sand beaches, and unspoiled nature that is a breeding ground for turtles and seabirds are a privileged sight for a mere 100 visitors a day to this small island.
With about 250 different coral species, Tokashiki Island, the largest of the Kerama Islands, is a snorkeler’s paradise — and the rugged hiking through its lush interior makes a compelling case for land lovers, too.