The rural mountainous island of Shikoku will charm you with its natural beauty, mild climate, laid-back atmosphere and friendly people. It is the smallest of the four major islands of Japan, and is also the one least visited by foreigners, although this tranquil island offers elements of traditional Japan that are hard to find elsewhere. For more than 1,000 years, Shikoku has been the focus of “henro” (pilgrims) following in the footsteps of Kobo Daishi (the 9th century Buddhist monk who helped to change Japanese religion forever) in their ever-elusive search for enlightenment.

Kyushu, the third largest and southern-most island of Japan, was at one time the most important gateway into Japan for foreigners. But at the same time, according to Japanese legend, it was from Kyushu that the first Japanese emperor, Kimmu, began his campaign to unify Japan. Kyushu is therefore considered to be the cradle of the Japanese civilization. With its grumbling volcanoes, steaming hot springs and rugged mountains along with its relaxed and uncomplicated atmosphere, Kyushu is not to be missed.

Follow in the footsteps of Kobo Daishi, the 9th century Buddhist monk, and visit numerous important religious centers in Japan including Kotohira Shrine, a favorite destination of pilgrims for hundreds of years and Takachiho, steeped in Japanese mythology. Visit Udo Shrine, said to be the birthplace of Emperor Jimmu, the first emperor of Japan born more than 2,000 yeas ago. Bathe in some of Japan’s oldest, most famous and largest onsen and climb to the top of Japan’s largest original Samurai castles. Discover Sakurajima, one of Japan’s most active volcanoes. You will visit some of Japan’s best gardens, and tour Nagasaki, once the only gateway to Japan for foreigners, and much, much more.