Regions of Japan

Hokkaido Tohoku Hokuriku
  • Hokkaido
Sub-zero temperatures and the greatest of outdoor environments, complemented by sizzling soul food and warm-hearted welcomes. Japan's great white north offers wild, white winters and bountiful summers—a haven for dedicated foodies, nature lovers and outdoor adventure fans seeking an adrenaline rush
  • Aomori
  • Akita
  • Iwate
  • Yamagata
  • Miyagi
  • Fukushima
Sleek apple-red and electric-green shinkansen whisk you up to a haven of fresh powder snow, fresh fruit and fearsome folk legends Fearsome festivals, fresh powder and vast fruit orchards—the rugged northern territory of Tohoku offers a fresh perspective on travel in Japan
Hokuriku Shinetsu
Hokuriku Shinetsu
  • Niigata
  • Toyama
  • Ishikawa
  • Fukui
  • Nagano
Mountains and sea meet in one of Japan's wildest regions, and the result is sheer beauty. Once largely inaccessible, Hokuriku is now reachable by shinkansen from Tokyo in a matter of hours An easily accessible slice of rural Japan offering unrivaled mountainscapes and coastlines, endless outdoor adventure and amazing ocean fare
  • Tokyo
  • Kanagawa
  • Chiba
  • Saitama
  • Ibaraki
  • Tochigi
  • Gunma
Characterized by the constant buzz of the world's most populous metropolitan area, the Kanto region is surprisingly green with an array of escapes that include mountainous getaways and subtropical islands Experience diversity at its fullest, from the neon of Tokyo to the ski slopes of Gunma, exotic wildlife of the Ogasawara Islands and cultural heritage of Kamakura
  • Yamanashi
  • Shizuoka
  • Gifu
  • Aichi
  • Mie
Served by the shinkansen line that connects Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, the Tokai region provides plenty of interesting diversions and easy excursions Tokai means "eastern sea," and this region stretches east from Tokyo to Kyoto and includes blockbuster attractions such as Mt. Fuji and Takayama
  • Kyoto
  • Osaka
  • Shiga
  • Hyogo
  • Nara
  • Wakayama
From raucous nights out to outdoor thrills to peaceful reverie, trying to categorize the Kansai region is a futile task The Kansai region is one of extreme contrasts—the neon lights of Osaka and glittering Kobe nightscape, the peaceful realms of Shiga, Wakayama and Nara, and the cultured refinement of Kyoto
  • Tottori
  • Shimane
  • Okayama
  • Hiroshima
  • Yamaguchi
Less-traveled and delightfully inaccessible at times, the Chugoku region is a reminder that the journey is sometimes more important than the destination Welcome to Japan's warm and friendly western frontier, where the weather is warmer and the pace of life is slower
  • Tokushima
  • Kagawa
  • Ehime
  • Kochi
Providing the stage for literary classics, fevered dancing and natural wonders Island-hopping, cycling, soul-warming spiritual strolling and red-hot dancing—the island of Shikoku gets you up and moving
  • Fukuoka
  • Saga
  • Nagasaki
  • Oita
  • Kumamoto
  • Miyazaki
  • Kagoshima
Easily reached by land, sea and air, the dynamic Kyushu prefectures are bubbling with energy, culture and activity The southern island of Kyushu is home to volcanoes ranging from sleepy to smoky, succulent seafood, steaming hot springs and the country's hottest entrepreneurial town
  • Okinawa
Ruins and recreated castles of the Ryukyu kings nestle amid magnificent beaches in Okinawa, a diver's paradise teeming with an amazing array of coral and undersea life Fly to Okinawa and discover a distinct island culture born of subtropical sun, white sand, coral, mangrove jungles and the age of the Ryukyu Kings

Festivals & Events

Aoi Matsuri 葵祭

See ancient Kyoto brought to life at the Aoi Matsuri

The Aoi Matsuri, or Hollyhock Festival, is held every year in central Kyoto on May 15. This spring festival is one of the three major festivals of Kyoto along with Gion Matsuri and Jidai Matsuri. It offers a glimpse back to the golden days of Kyoto's history and a chance to see locals in ancient costumes.

Quick Facts

Each year around 500 participants march in Heian Period (794-1185) attire during the parade

The central figure in the festival—the Saio—wears a silk kimono that weighs 30 kilograms

How to Get There

Aoi Matsuri takes place in central Kyoto and is easily accessible by public transportation.

The Imperial Palace can be reached by bus from Kyoto Station followed by a short walk. You can access Kamigamo Shrine from Kyoto Station by taking the Karasuma Line to Kitaoji Station. Walk about 2 minutes to the Kitaoji bus stop. Take bus number 3 to Kamigamo Misonohashi bus stop. It's a 5-minute walk from there.

To access Shimogamo Shrine, take the Keihan Line from Kyoto Station to Demachiyanagi Station. From there, it's a 10-minute walk north.

An appeal for protection

The festival originated in the 7th century, most likely as an appeal to the gods after a storm destroyed the harvest. The emperor made offerings to the gods of the Shimogamo and Kamigamo Shrines, believed to be the deities responsible for the destruction. After this, the harvest was saved. Because of its affiliation with these shrines, the festival is also known as the Kamo Matsuri.

A grand parade

The festival's main event is a procession of some 500 people in the intricate artistocratic costumes of the Heian Period (794-1185). Hollyhock leaves, a symbol of protection from natural disaster, are worn by the procession.

The parade is truly a sight to behold. It is led by a messenger on horseback carrying a gold sword, followed by his attendants, ox-drawn carts and a procession of women in beautiful kimono accompanying the most important figure, the Saio.

Enter the high priestess

Each year, an unmarried woman is chosen to play the Saio, the central figure of the festival. The Saio was once a royal who served as high preistess of the Kamigamo and Shimogamo Shrines and performed ceremonies during the festival. Following tradition, the chosen woman must undergo purification rituals before the event. She is carried on a palanquin and dressed in the most extravagant of kimonos, 12 layers of silk weighing 30 kilograms.

Following the procession

The procession begins at 10:30 a.m. from the Imperial Palace and goes north, stopping at the nearby Shimogamo Shrine. Once there, ceremonies are performed for 2 hours before the procession continues to Kamigamo Shrine at around 3:30 p.m. Most viewers choose to watch the procession from one shrine to the other, which lasts about one hour.

The best seats for the parade

You can pay for seating on the parade route at the Imperial Palace and Shimogamo shrine (2,500 yen, available at convenience stores or travel agencies). Arrive early if you do not intend to pay for seats. Seats at Kamigamo Shrine are either 1,000 yen or 5,000 yen, depending on location. These can only be purchased at the shrine.