Below are my highlights of visiting 20 of Japan's 47 prefectures in 2023:

#5: Wakayama Bamboo Forest

In recent years, I repeatedly came across the Four Seasons Bamboo Forest Wakayama Farm in various articles and TV shows, so I checked out the farm myself on a trip to Utsunomiya this autumn. I was able to confirm that the farm makes for a wonderful addition to a trip to Tochigi. Not only does it provide a photogenic setting for a walk through bamboo forests, but it also continues to grow bamboo (and chestnut trees) for the harvesting of bamboo shoots (and chestnuts) and for various other bamboo-related products and services, including ecotourism.

#4: Overnight stay along the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpen Route in autumn

Worried that the heat of the past summer would damage this year's autumn colors, I was relieved to encounter spectacular seasonal colors when traversing the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpen Route in this October. I opted to stay a night at a hotel along the route, which allowed me to enjoy the colors on a late-afternoon hike through the Midagahara Wetlands, while buses shuttled most other tourists back down the mountain.

#3: Surf and snow in Naeba

For over 40 years, one of Japan's most popular singers, Yuming, has been holding concerts at the Naeba Prince Hotel in winter, and I was lucky to get a ticket for the first show of this year. On the following morning, the skies were blue and I enjoyed a wonderful morning on the resort's ski slopes, standing on skis for the first time in three years.

#2: Hiking up the hot Kamuiwakka River

The shock was big when the upper, most interesting section of Kamuiwakka River on Hokkaido's Shiretoko Peninsula was closed to the public in 2006. Consequently, I must have been one of the first persons applying for a slot when it was announced that the naturally hot river would reopen to tourists from this year, albeit with an admission fee and with mandatory online reservation to reduce the impact of tourism on the environment. After revisiting it, I believe that it makes one of the best outdoor activities in Japan again.

#1: Finally Awaji

Awaji Island has been the most prominent item on my to-do list for the past few years, and this autumn I was finally able to take it off the list. We spent three full days on the island, checking out a spectacular new venue for Zen experiences, several sites related to the island's prominent role in Japan's creation legends (it was the first island created by the gods) and many beautiful scenic sites, while enjoying the local cuisine. My personal highlight was the Awaji Yumebutai, an architectural creation that beats everything I have ever imagined in my wildest concrete-related dreams. I was fascinated by the Ando Tadao-designed complex, which features a hotel, convention center, offices, shops, restaurants, a green house and a hundred mini gardens, built on a former excavation site used to collect soil for the creation of man-made islands in the bay of Osaka, including Kansai Airport.