Kawachi Fuji Garden (Fukuoka): This fragrant wisteria tunnel is the most stunning display at the Kawachi Fuji Garden. With flowering vines overhead, the walkway is said to inspire a zen-like calm in visitors. The garden displays about 150 wisteria plants of 20 different species. It hosts the annual Wisteria Festival at the end of April, when the flowers are in full bloom.
Happo Pond (Nagano): The hike to Happo pond from Hakuba -- a village known for its winter skiing amid the mountains of Nagano Prefecture -- is a classic trail in the Japanese Alps. Surrounded by the Hakuba Peaks, the pond is 2,060 meters above sea level. What the pond lacks in size, it makes up for in beauty, reflecting the 3,000 meter tall peaks in its quiet waters.
ourism Commission of Hakuba Village/JNTO
Motonosumi-inari Shrine (Yamaguchi): The 123 Torii gates stretches from the Motonosumi-Inari Shrine to the cliff overlooking the ocean. Motonosumi-Inari is a popular shrine where locals wish for success. The final Torii's donation box is placed out of reach at the top of the gate. It's believed that if you can successfully toss money into the box, all your wishes will come true.
Nachi Falls (Wakayama): Nachi Falls, at 133-meters high, is the biggest waterfall in Japan. It steals some of the attention from Kumano Nachi Taishai, a sacred shrine built close by. It's usually the last stop of the scenic pilgrimage known as Kumano Kodo.
Zao ski resort (Yamagata): With 15 slopes and 12 courses, Zao Onsen is one of the most well known ski resorts in Japan. But travelers come to Zao not only for the snow-capped mountain but the trees. Extreme snow and seasonal winds cocoon the mountain's pine trees during the coldest winter months, creating snow towers in obscure forms known as "ice monsters" or Juhyo in Japanese.
Kintetsu Beppu Ropeway (Oita): For those who don't enjoy hiking, this cable car can carry 101 passengers at a time to the top of the 1,375-meter-high Mount Tsurumi in 10 minutes. From the top, there's a view of Beppu, Mount Yufu and Kuju Mountain Range. The best time to ride up is during spring when more than 2,000 cherry trees blossom on the mountain.
Matsumoto Castle (Nagano): Also known as the "crow castle" because of its black exterior, Matsumoto is Japan's oldest wooden castle, constructed more than 400 years ago. The years during the castle's construction were marked by near-constant military conflict. Rather than focusing on residential comforts, the castle is fortified with extensive interconnecting walls, moats and gatehouses.
Courtesy Matsumoto city/JNTO
Shiratani Unsuikyo Gorge (Kagoshima): Hayao Miyazaki fans will find this forest familiar. Shiratani Unsuikyo Gorge inspires Studio Ghibli's fantasy animation "Princess Mononoke." The otherworldly nature park on Yakushima Island offers a network of maintained hiking trails along the ravine. From historic tracks built in the Edo period to developed footpaths paved in stone and wood, the circuits range from one to five hours long, varying in difficulty.
Kagoshima Prefectural Tourist Federation
Koya Pond (Niigata): Fall at Mount Hiuchi brings out spectacular colors on Koya Pond. The shallow and marshy water covered with vegetation changes colors -- into red, orange, yellow and green -- like the forest around it. On the edge of the pond, Kouyaike Hutte provides beds and kitchen facilities if you need a rest on you hike up the 2,462-meter-tall mountain.
Poetry Reading at Motsu-ji Temple (Iwate): On the fourth Sunday of May, Motsuji Temple invites poetry lovers to write by the stream of the temple's garden pond. As they compose their verses, cups of sake float to them -- to help the float of inspiration, we assume. The event is concluded with the master of ceremonies reading each poem aloud.
Hitachi Seaside Park (Ibaraki): Also known as "baby blue eyes," more than 4 million nemophilas bloom from late April to May in Hitachi Seaside Park, the public park on Miharashi Hill. The Nemophila Harmony is the highlight of park's flowering events. The 190-hectare park constantly changes color with the seasons. During the transition into fall, puffy kochia shrubs turn from vibrant green to fiery red.
Hitachi Seaside Park Office/JNTO
Sagano (Kyoto): Considered one of the world's most beautiful forests, it's not just tranquil visually but also aurally. The bamboo grove is beloved for its distinct rustling sound, so much that Japan's Ministry of Environment included the Sagano Bamboo Forest on its list of "100 Soundscapes of Japan." The towering green stalks creak eerily while leaves rustle in the sway of the wind.
Otaru Snow Light Path Festival (Hokkaido): Hundreds of buoyed candles float in Otaru Canal every February in Otaru, during the Snow Light Path Festival. For 10 days, lanterns and snow statues for 10 days adorn the Hokkaido city. Lined with restored warehouses and gas lamps, Unga Kaijo -- the area around the canal -- is the prime spot to enjoy the festival.
Usa Shrine (Oita): Originally built in the 8th century, Usa Shine is the most important of thousands of shrines dedicated to Hachiman, the god of archery and war. After getting a fortune paper (omikuji) -- hopefully a daikichi (exceptionally lucky) one, visitors can enjoy a local specialty called negiyaki, or green onion pancake, in the shrine area.
Mt. Daisen (Tottori): Mount Daisen looks vastly different depending on which side of the mountain its viewed from. The 1,709-meter-tall volcanic mountain has been regarded as sacred since the ancient Jomon and Yayoi eras. Because of its importance, climbing was strictly prohibited until the Edo period about 200 years ago.
Tottori-sakyu Sand Hills (Tottori): Yes, there's a desert on Japan's islands. The Tottori Sand Dunes span 16 kilometers long and 2 kilometers wide and are the only large sand hills in Japan. The dunes are a blend of sand and volcanic ash mixed over 100,000 years then shaped by winds from the Sea of Japan. Part of the San'in Kaigan Geopark, they can be experienced via camel rides, dune buggies and sandboarding.
Itsukushima Shrine (Hiroshima): Believed to be the boundary between the spirit and human worlds, the Otorii's vermilion color is said to keep evil spirits away. It's possible to walk to it on the sand bar during low tide and enjoy the view of Mount Misen behind the gate. At high tide, the 16-meter-high Torii appears to float on the water.
Courtesy Hiroshima Prefecture
Lavender farm (Hokkaido): Farm Tomita has three lavender fields: Lavender East, Sakiwai Field and the Traditional Lavender Garden. Sakiwai Field, meaning "happiness field," has four types of lavender growing in rows, creating a gradient of purple with the rainbow colors of Autumn Field, Spring Field and Hanabito Field as background. Still not enough lavender? Try the farm's lavender ice cream.
Lake Toya (Hokkaido): Even in winters that plummet well below freezing point, Lake Toya never ices over. The near-circular lake is the remains of a volcanic eruption that hollowed out the ground. Mount Usu lies on the southern rim of the lake and Nakajima Island sits at the center.
Saimyoji Temple (Shiga): Located in the Suzuka mountain range, Saimyoji Temple is one of a trio of ancient Tendai Buddism temples in eastern Shiga, also known as "Koto Sanzan." The temple is renowned for the beautiful red and orange leaves that surround it in the fall and long blooming cherry trees.
Gokayama (Toyama): Gokayama is one of the greatest towns for architecture buffs in the world. The oldest traditional gassho style house in Ainokura is said to be about 400 years old. Part of the UNESCO-designated area of Gokyama, the village preserves an architectural design that dates back hundreds of years. The steep triangular thatched roofs were built without the use of nails and are designed to prevent snow buildup.
Lake Kussharo (Hokkaido): Some 300 whooper swans migrate to Lake Kussharo every winter. Geothermal springs prevent ice from forming along its sandy shores despite most of the water surface freezing. Reported sightings of a lake monster, dubbed Kusshii by the media, since 1973 earned Kussharo a reputation as Japan's Loch Ness.
Ini Tanada (Hiroshima): Ini has more than 320 terraced rice paddies. The oldest stone terrace dates back about 500 years. Using only pure natural water from mountain valleys, Ini Tanada's rice is particularly favored for its rich fragrance and taste. The town regularly holds a rice planting event on its terraces to pass on traditional farming methods.
Courtesy Hiroshima Prefecture/JNTO
Himeji Castle (Hyogo): Frequently called the "White Egret" or "White Heron" castle because of its white exterior and resemblance to a bird taking flight, Himeji is made up of 83 buildings. The 17th century castle is equipped with heavy defense systems. It featured extensively in Hollywood and Japanese films, making a prominent appearance in the James Bond movie "You Only Live Twice."