If you are looking for new places to explore other than the usual destinations of Tokyo and Hokkaido, then western Japan is your answer.
Hop on a direct flight to Fukuoka (Kyushu region) or Hiroshima (Chugoku region) and you are on your way to discovering new sights and experiences in western Japan.
Here are the highlights of four main reasons - food, nature, history and culture - to visit these two regions.
Kyushu is Japan's third largest island located on the southwest end of the Japanese archipelago, and is made up of seven prefectures, namely Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Oita, Kumamoto, Miyazaki and Kagoshima.
Blessed with rich nature resources and a warm climate, Kyushu is a haven for hot springs, great food and dynamic nature.
In Fukuoka, you can't miss the open-air food stalls or "yatai", which typically seats about eight persons. You can enjoy simple yet filling dishes such as grilled chicken skewers (yakitori), one-pot dish (oden) and Hakata-style ramen, a variety that packs a punch with its robust pork bone broth.
From Fukuoka, head up to Beppu in Oita prefecture. The city is famous for its hot springs and numerous boiling ponds called jigoku (hells). The natural steam from hot springs is used to cook food at stone cooking spots called jigokugama (hell pots). This local cooking method is called jigoku mushi (hell steamed) and is used to cook eggs, corn, seafood, pork buns and many more dishes. The taste? Heavenly, as the mineral-loaded steam gives a distinct flavour.
The next stop for foodies has to be Miyazaki, and home to the best Wagyu (Japanese beef) in the world. The prefecture won the first place three times in Wagyu Olympics, a nation-wide competition held every five years to crown the best Wagyu beef in Japan. One of the best ways to enjoy Miyazaki beef is at a local teppanyaki restaurant, matched with Honkaku Shochu, a specialty distilled alcohol.
The Uminonakamichi Seaside Park in Fukuoka city is made up of flower gardens, playgrounds, an amusement park, a water park, a zoo, a sports field and many other open spaces - in short, a fun destination for families.
In Miyazaki, enjoy the greenery and serenity as you cruise through Takachiho Gorge in a rowboat and see the cliffs and waterfall up close. Alternatively, you can take the paved path that runs along the edges of the gorge, a hike that offers equally beautiful views along the way.
Munakata Taisha is a collection of three Shinto shrines in Fukuoka prefecture - one each on Okinoshima Island, Oshima Island, and Kyushu mainland - and are dedicated to three Munakata goddesses. The deities are worshipped for sea and road safety.
When you visit the more accessible Hetsu-miya shrine on the mainland, you will be able to view artefacts unearthed from ritual sites from Okinoshima.
For some hot spring action, Kamado Jigoku located in Beppu, Oita prefecture, is well worth a visit. Beppu is home to a cluster of hot springs spread out across six districts, each with different hot spring attractions such as thermal mud, beautiful cobalt steam ponds and foot baths.
Don't forget to have an onsen egg there, which is said to have an extra creamy yolk.
Of the five prefectures in Chugoku, Hiroshima and Okayama may be more well-known, besides Shimane, Tottori and Yamaguchi. However, Chugoku is full of rural beauty and great historical significance.
One of the less-travelled regions in Japan, you may be surprised to find 50-m high sand dunes, a cluster of Unesco sites and a tiny island full of rabbits in Chugoku.
If you're visiting Hiroshima, you must try its oysters and sake. The water and weather conditions are great for oysters to grow and breed, hence, they can be enjoyed all year round. Go on an oyster crawl and try the diverse oyster dishes at various specialty stores. And with around 50 sake brewers in Hiroshima prefecture, don't leave the place without sampling the Japanese rice wine.
If you happen to be at Okayama and Tottori prefectures in the summer, you must join a fruit-picking tour. Fresh juicy grapes, strawberries and white peaches will be in season in Okayama, and pears in Tottori. Besides having a relaxing time picking and eating fresh fruits on the spot, there are also opportunities to learn how to make jams, parfaits and other delicious fruit-based dishes to add to the fun.
Thinking of visiting a natural park with geological heritages? Look no further than San'in Kaigan Geopark in Tottori prefecture. Designated as a Unesco Global Geopark in 2010, it has an area of 2,458.44 sqm - larger than the Tokyo metropolitan area. It is interesting to see the different terrains and rock formations that date back to the formation of the Sea of Japan, which is some 25 million years ago.
On a small island off Hiroshima, over 1,000 wild rabbits can be found roaming freely. Called Okunoshima (Rabbit Island), besides furry encounters, the island has many scenic walking trails along the coast and in the mountain for you to enjoy.
In the north of Yamaguchi prefecture, the westernmost prefecture on Honshu Island, lies Hagi, one of Japan's most beautiful and best Edo-era preserved castle towns. It is located near the Sea of Japan and has five Unesco World Heritage sites nestled within.
Take a stroll in the town's samurai and merchant district and you will experience the largely unchanged architecture since the Hagi Castle was built in 1604.
You'll be in luck to join in the celebratory mood of the Kurayoshi Utsubuki Festival if you are in Tottori on the first Saturday and Sunday of August as the festival is held only then every year.
Fit the two days of centuries-old culture and fun into your itinerary where a large parade will run through decorated streets on the first day and a "heavenly maiden" contest is held on the second. The festival reaches a grand finale with a spectacular firework display next to the Tengawa River.