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Japan’s Enchanted Islands on the BBC

| Words by Ellena Johnstone |

The BBC visits Japan to discover more about the islands wildlife and landscapes. Here’s our summary.

Japan is a land rich in wildlife, where the lives of animals and people often cross, and where the natural world thrives even in the most buzzing of Japan’s cities.

Comprising four major islands – (from north to south) Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu -, and over 3,000 smaller islets, many wild and uninhabited, nowhere in Japan is more than 150 kilometres from the sea. Its landscapes are rich and diverse, ranging from the magnificent Japanese Alps on the country’s main island of Honshu, with peaks reaching above 3000m, to the lush tropical islands on Japan’s southernmost tip.

More than cityscapes: nowhere in Japan is more than 150 kilometres from the ocean and landscapes range from sub-tropical islands to snow-capped mountains.

Here at the Insider Journeys UK office we are very excited about a new BBC documentary series celebrating the interplay between the people, plants and animals that call Japan’s incredible islands home. Japan: Earth’s Enchanted Islands is a three-part series covering Honshu, the southwest islands and Hokkaido. Catch up on the series so far here.

But for those of you outside the UK, here’s a roundup of some of the extraordinary relationships between people, plants and animals in Japan, a culture where reverence and respect for the natural world runs deep.

1. The Deer Park at Nara

Nara, close to Kyoto, boasts World Heritage listed temples and is famous for its tranquil Deer Park, home to over 1,200 wild sika deer. Considered national treasures, visitors can wander the temples and watch these curious creatures graze beneath the cherry trees. Nara’s deer are surprisingly tame, and special deer crackers are available for sale in the park for visitors to feed them. Travellers on our popular Highlights of Japan small group tour have the chance to visit the park and meet its famous residents.

Nara, close to Kyoto, boasts World Heritage listed temples and is famous for its tranquil Deer Park, home to over 1,200 wild sika deer.

2. Snow Monkeys

Japan’s hot springs are world-renowned, but it’s not just human visitors who enjoy taking a dip! Nicknamed snow monkeys, the Japanese Macaque delights visitors with its bizarre penchant for soaking in the steaming pools – expect plenty of dive-bombing! Besides humans, Japanese macaques are thought to be the most northerly-living primates on earth, and this top tip for keeping warm during Japan’s harsh winters has spread through the population, and down the generations.

3. Sakura

Springtime in Japan is nothing less than magical. Beginning in the south in mid-March, and hitting Tokyo in early April, the sakura zensen (cherry tree blossom trail) enchants locals and visitors alike, carpeting Japan in a swathe of beautiful pink petals. In a custom known as hanami (‘watching blossoms’) local people take advantage of the brief blooms with picnics and parties beneath the branches, a tradition that can be traced back thousands of years. Japan’s autumn colours are no less spectacular, with the leaves of its famed trees turning shades of warm orange and gold.

Cherry blossom is known as “sakura” in Japanese, and it’s the country’s national flower. A symbol of renewal and hope, cherry blossom heralds the arrival of spring each year, and you’ll see it in abundance from late March to mid-April.

There aren’t many places in the world where people and the natural world are so closely entwined – the Japan archipelago truly is an enchanting place.  

But why not explore Japan’s islands for yourself? Our popular 10 day Highlights of Japan small group journey visits Nara’s tranquil Deer Park. Plus, travel on our 21 March departure to give yourself the best chance of seeing the country’s famous cherry trees in bloom.

Browse our complete collection of small group tours to Japan, or see our private touring options

The final episode of Japan: Earth’s Enchanted Islands airs Monday 22 June on BBC2 at 9pm GMT. You can catch up on the series so far here