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The second part of our Japanese bucket list dedicated to all travel enthusiasts!

Earlier this week, we began to take a look at some of Japan’s top travel destinations, focusing on one place representative of each prefecture. While Part I focused on 25 prefectures of northeastern and central Japan, from Hokkaido to Shiga, Part II begins with Kyoto Prefecture and moves south through the country all the way to the islands of Okinawa Prefecture.

26. Kyoto Prefecture – Saihoji (西芳寺)

Just for the record, it’s impossible to choose only place to highlight for Japan’s cultural heart and former capital city. However, instead of the heavily visited Kinkakuji, Ginkakuji, Kiyomizudera, or Fushimi Inari Shrine, we’ve decided to go with Saihoji, a slightly less known but just as rewarding spot to visit. Affectionately dubbed the “moss temple,” it’s particularly famous for its moss garden and pond shaped like the kanji for “heart” (心). Visitors should note that reservations are required for entrance as a measure to protect the delicate moss. All visitors must also agree to participate in a special spiritual activity which changes daily, such as sitting meditation or copying sutras.

27. Osaka Prefecture – Iwafune Shrine (磐船神社)

This large, boat-shaped rock is said to house a Shinto guardian deity and to be the vessel on which the gods descended from the heavens. Explore the sacred caves and end near the Gate of the Celestial Rock Cave, the very door that the Sun Goddess Amaterasu is said to have secluded herself behind in the myths after her brother’s ill-mannered behavior, thereby depriving the land of light until she was enticed to peek outside again.

28. Hyogo Prefecture – Takeda Castle Ruins (竹田城跡)

Though no longer intact, the ruins of Takeda Castle are still a popular place to visit due to their location at a high elevation. In the right conditions, the site appears to be floating in the clouds, like a real-world castle in the sky.

29. Nara Prefecture – Horyuji (法隆寺) 

As with Kyoto, the former capital city of Nara houses so many important historical monuments that UNESCO decided to name them a World Heritage Site collectively. Buddhist temple Horyuji is included on the list and is a standard stop on any tourist’s agenda. Its importance for not only Japanese cultural history but world history is underscored by its five-tiered pagoda, which is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, surviving wooden structures in the world.

30. Wakayama Prefecture – Nachi Falls (那智の滝)

nachiLaura Bocon

Nachi Falls is Japan’s tallest waterfall with a single, uninterrupted drop, measuring 436 feet (133 meters) high. It’s part of UNESCO’s “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range” World Heritage Site. The falls are often photographed together with the three-story pagoda of Seigantoji nearby.

31. Tottori Prefecture – Tottori Sand Dunes (鳥取砂丘)

Tottori boasts the only large sand dunes in all of Japan. Incidentally, Tottori was also the last prefecture to gain a Starbucks, and boy did the local Sunaba coffee chain take it hard (sunaba means “sand pit” and is also a pun on Starbucks’ Japanese nickname, sutaba).

32. Shimane Prefecture – Inasa Beach (稲佐の浜)

Modern-day Shimane Prefecture is home to Izumo Grand Shrine, which is second in importance only to Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture. The nearby Inasa Beach is supposedly the spot where eight million Shinto deities congregate every year in the tenth month of the lunar calendar. The Izumo Grand Shrine welcomes them with a ceremony on the shore and then hosts the Kamiari Festival to honor their presence.

33. Okayama Prefecture – Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter (倉敷市美観地区)

Kurashiki City’s picturesque historical district preserves examples of Edo-period wooden merchant warehouses and a canal lined by weeping willows. Thankfully, there are no electrical poles to mar the authenticity of your experience (but you might spot some denim-flavored food)!

34. Hiroshima Prefecture – Sensuijima (仙酔島)

Sensui Island is often overshadowed by one of Japan’s all-time famous sights, the red floating torii of Itsukushima Shrine, but it makes for a pleasant and less-crowded alternative trip. Its name translate as “Drunken Sage Island,” a reference to its reputation as being “beautful enough to make even mountain sages drunk.” Camping and hiking are popular ways to spend time there, but please don’t feed the wild tanuki.

35. Yamaguchi Prefecture – The Susa Hornfels (須佐のホルンフェルス)

Geologists would love this spot by the sea in the former castle town of Hagi, where banded hornfels (a metamorphic rock consisting of layers of sandstone and shale) is beautifully exposed to the elements.

36. Tokushima Prefecture – Iya Kazurabashi (祖谷のかずら橋)

This 148-foot (45-meter)-long suspension bridge was constructed from vines in the secluded Iya Valley region of Tokushima. Feeling a bit on edge? Don’t worry, the bridge is rebuilt every three years and has hidden steel cables for reinforcement!

37. Kagawa Prefecture – Benesse Art Site Naoshima (ベネッセアートサイト直島)

According to Benesse’s official English-language website, “Our fundamental aim is to create significant spaces by bringing contemporary art and architecture in resonance with the pristine nature of the Seto Inland Sea, a landscape with a rich cultural and historical fabric.” Naoshima and the other surrounding islands are also the setting of the Setouchi Triennale Art Festival, which draws huge crowds of art aficionados (including us in 2016).

38. Ehime Prefecture – Aoshima Cat Island (青島 猫の島)

This wouldn’t be a RocketNews24 article without at least one mention of a cat island! If you had to choose only one to visit, the tiny island of Aoshima is probably the best bang for your buck due to the disproportionate number of cats to humans on the island. It’s a veritable cat lover’s paradise!

39. Kochi Prefecture – Kochi Castle (高知城)

Kochi Castle is another one of Japan’s 12 surviving original castles. Its location in downtown Kochi City is perfect for visitors who want to get a taste of the past before they head back to the modern world.

40. Fukuoka Prefecture – Kawachi Wisteria Garden (河内藤園)

We’ve covered this breathtaking garden multiple times in the past, but it’s worth repeating how amazing it is. What could be more romantic than strolling through one of the park’s ethereal wisteria tunnels?

41. Saga Prefecture – Nanatsugama (七ツ釜)

While its name includes the kanji character for “seven” (七), there are actually a greater number of marine caves chiseled into these basalt cliffs after years of wave-pounding erosion. Visitors can explore the spectacle on a boat tour departing from the nearby bay.

42. Nagasaki Prefecture – Hashima (端島)

Hashima, more commonly known as Gunkanjima, or “Battleship Island,” is an uninhabited island off of Nagasaki Port which served as a coal mine until 1974. The ghostly remnants of the crumbling buildings have served as the backdrop for films such as 2012’s Skyfall and 2015’s live-action Attack on Titan. You can also explore the island from the comfort of your home using the digital 3-D model created by academics at Nagasaki University.

43. Kumamoto Prefecture – Nabega Falls (鍋ヶ滝)

Nabega Falls’ cascading curtain of water is absolutely spellbinding, and at times appears to resemble rays of sunlight. In fact, it’s beautiful enough to have been featured in many commercials for green tea and other drinks! You can even walk past the curtain of water and view the mystical sight from behind.

44. Oita Prefecture – Hells of Beppu (別府地獄めぐり)

Don’t be alarmed–despite the name, these “hells” are actually eight highly sought-after geothermal (literal) hot spots in one of the country’s most famous hot springs areas. Unfortunately, they’re for viewing only, but we don’t see why anyone would want to immerse themselves in boiling mud bubbles or the infamous “blood pond” anyway.

45. Miyazaki Prefecture – Takachiho Gorge (高千穂峡)

This gorge boasts precipitous cliffs and column-like rock formations formed by volcanic activity long, long ago. Take a boat ride down the Gokase River to marvel at the cliffs and an impressive waterfall.

46. Kagoshima Prefecture – Yakushima (屋久島)

yakushima01-mononoke-forestDanielle Huffman

Yakushima’s areas of primeval forest were real-world inspiration for the scenery in Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke. The island’s humid subtropical climate has allowed lush vegetation to flourish. A single jomonsugi Japanese cedar is estimated to be anywhere from 2,170-7,200 years old.

47. Okinawa Prefecture – Yonagunijima (与那国島)

Off the coast of one of Okinawa’s Yaeyama Islands (and the westernmost inhabited island of Japan) lies a peculiar puzzle. Is the so-called “Yonaguni Monument” (re)discovered in 1986 by local divers on the bottom of the sea man-made, or are the stair-like formations natural? Scientists continue to debate the origin of this underwater structure today.

Japan only has 47 prefectures, but to make a nice, round 50 entries, we’ve added three more bonus destinations.

48. BONUS: Miyagi Prefecture – Matsushima (松島)

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One of the traditional “Three Beautiful Views of Japan,” Matsushima consists of over 260 small, pine-covered islands. Don’t forget to try one of the local oyster specialties, sip tea while admiring the ocean view from the historical Kanrantei building, or go on a short boat cruise to explore the bay.

49. BONUS: Wakayama Prefecture – Mt. Koya (高野山)

koyasan03-cemetaryLaura Bocon

Contrary to popular belief, Mt. Koya is not the name of a single mountain, but is a range of mountains housing the headquarters of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. The area is included on the previously-mentioned UNSECO “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.” Visitors can stay overnight in temple lodgings to experience a bit of the daily lifestyle of a monk.

50. BONUS: Yamagata Prefecture – Ginzan Onsen (銀山温泉)

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Our last entry takes us back up north to one of Japan’s most beautiful hot spring towns lined with Taisho-period (1912-1926) Japanese inns evoking a nostalgic atmosphere. The town truly becomes magical at night when the gas lamps are lit and visitors stroll about in comfortable yukata kimono.

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of the list! Part II also showcased some spectacular sites, including impressive waterfalls, castles, and hot springs. Which of the 50 places featured in this two-part series are now at the top of your Japan travel itinerary? Let us know in the comments section below!

Reference: Naver Matome
Featured image: Krista Rogers, Laura Bocon, Danielle Huffman (edited by RocketNew24)

A special thanks to Laura Bocon and Danielle Huffman for contributing their photos to this article