8: Exploring lesser-known Japan
Japan is most definitely not all about Tokyo and Kyoto. It's not even about cities. But Tokyo is nonetheless filled with Japanese people who have moved there from all over the country because, for decades now, it's been seen as the city of opportunity. The result is one gigantic metropolis, home to 27% of the country's population, and thousands of beautiful regional areas which aren't getting the attention that the better-travelled amongst you have long known they deserve.
Now, thankfully the secret is out, and things are starting to change. The Japanese government and national tourism organization are investing heavily in regional tourism, and the bullet train has extended to the islands of Hokkaido and Kyushu. Outsiders are growing more aware of the considerable delights of Japan's onsen culture, which involves heading out of town to bathe in natural volcanic hot springs, and feast on plenty of fresh local food.
The green island of Shikoku, which isn't yet on the bullet train network, can be reached by cycling along the Shimanami Kaido. This snaking route of flat roads and graceful bridges connects Honshu (the biggest island, where you'll find the Japanese cities you've heard of) with Shikoku, via six of the charming little islands that are clustered in Japan's Inland Sea.