Biei Blue Pond
©Charlie / Flickr
The Blue Pond in Biei, Hokkaido Prefecture, also called Aoiike, is known for its ethereal blue colour. Tree stumps protruding from the surface of the water add to its otherworldly appearance. This artificial pond was created as part of an erosion control system, designed to protect the area from mudflows that can occur from the nearby Mt. Tokachi volcano. The pond’s eerie blue colour is caused by natural minerals dissolved in the water.
Tottori Sand Dunes
At just less than 1.5 miles wide, Tottori is a small piece of something bigger: Japan’s San’in Kaigan National Park (Tottori Prefecture), a UNESCO Global Geopark and symbol of the country’s commitment to conservation, cultural history, and biodiversity. Stretching for 16 kilometers along the Sea of Japan coast, the dunes are the largest in the country. Tide movement and wind cause the dunes’ shapes to change constantly, but they can be up to two kilometers wide and 50 meters high. Camel rides are widely available, causing the area to have an enchanting, desert-like atmosphere.
Hitachi Seaside Park
Hitachi Seaside Park is famous for its fields of baby-blue flowers, called nemophilas, which bloom across the park in the spring. The park encompasses 190 hectares (470 acres), and more than 4.5 million blossoms blanket its fields every April. During the autumn, the park’s rounded shrubs called Kochia (Bassia in English) turn a bright crimson color, creating an almost equally mesmerizing sight.
Comprising the northern section of Ishikawa Prefecture, the Noto Peninsula is home to some of Japan’s most stunning coastal scenery and untouched countryside landscapes. Aside from admiring the natural scenery, the peninsula offers a number of spots for fishing, swimming, and camping. Its main tourist center, Wajima City, is home to fewer than 30,000 people and serves as a wonderful place to experience Japanese small-town life.
Nachi Falls is the tallest waterfall (with a single drop) in the country, tumbling down 133 meters (436 feet) into a rushing river below. The waterfall is overlooked by the gorgeous Nachi Taisha Shinto shrine, which is said to be more than 1,400 years old. Built in honour of the waterfall’s kami (spirit god), the shrine is one of several Buddhist and Shinto religious sites found around the waterfall.
To the south of Osaka City in Wakayama Prefecture is Mt. Koya, often referred to as Koyasan. In this highland valley lies a complex made up of temples, shrines, and pagodas which date back to the year 816 AD. It became the birthplace and home of Shingon Buddhism-also known as Esoteric Buddhism-founded by Kobo Daishi thousands of years ago.
For about 1,200 years, Mt. Koya has been a sacred place that welcomes pilgrims and visitors of all races and religions from all over the world. It is regarded as a hub of spirituality, peace, and refuge. Mt. Koya's complex extends 6km (4 miles) east to west and 3km (2 miles) north to south and is the largest religious center of Buddhist study in Japan. Since 2004, UNESCO has deemed Mt. Koya a World Heritage site where beautiful nature sites, Japanese tradition, Shintoism, and Buddhism come together as one.
Shikoku is Japan’s fourth-largest island, located southwest of the main island of Honshu to which it is connected via two bridge systems. This island is also tied to influential monk Kobo Daishi as the home of the 88 Temple route, one of the country’s most important pilgrimages. Aside from attracting those seeking spiritual fulfillment, the island offers some spectacular coastlines, mountain ranges, and tumbling rivers.