We recently traveled to Japan with National Geographic Traveler to discover a land where history, culture and mother nature are all actively being preserved and celebrated. You could find the same discoveries that inspired National Geographic Traveler.
Take a quick look at each of the three sites below then enter for a chance to win a trip to your favorite location.
One of Japan's most sparsely populated prefectures, Shimane lies on the northwestern end of the main island of Honshu, off the beaten path of many visitors to Japan. Yet its natural beauty and history make it a compelling destination for photographers and for those in search of Japan's hidden charms.
Among its most unique geological treasures are the Oki Islands, created by volcanic activity millions of years ago. In 2013, the islands became part of the Global Geopark network due to their unique ecosystem and a local lifestyle adapted to the environment. Of the four inhabited Oki Islands and 180 uninhabited islets, Dogo is the largest. It's blessed with a rich and diverse landscape, dramatic rock formations and ancient Japanese cedar trees, some with fantastical shapes.
Shimane's other must-sees include Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine, generally thought to be the oldest shrine in Japan, and the Adachi Museum, which joins Japanese art and traditional gardens in one of the most awe-inspiring combinations anywhere. And while Japan's hot-spring spas are legendary, Shimane's Tamatsukuri Onsen Hot Springs are especially prized for their skin moisturizing qualities.
Located on the southwestern end of Honshu Island, Hiroshima Prefecture has always played a major role in the country's trade and cultural exchange. Separated from Shimane Prefecture by mountains and facing the Seto Inland Sea to the south with many bays, islands and islets, Hiroshima is blessed with a mild climate. Its two biggest draws are Hiroshima City and Miyajima Island, both of which have UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Hiroshima, which suffered huge losses from the world's first atomic bomb dropped on August 6, 1945, is a vibrant city with wide, tree-lined boulevards easy to navigate by streetcar, a network of waterways and a lively downtown. It attracts school groups and visitors from around the world with its Peace Memorial Park commemorating victims of the bomb. The city also serves as the gateway to nearby Miyajima Island, home to Itsukushima Shrine and considered one of the three most scenic islands in the country. Hiroshima is well known, too, for its oysters and its unique style of okonomiyaki, a type of Japanese savory pancake.