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465km (289 miles) W of Tokyo; 100km (60 miles) S of Nagoya

Blessed with subtropical vegetation, small islands dotting its shoreline, and the most revered Shinto shrine in Japan, Ise-Shima National Park merits a 1- or 2-night stopover if you're anywhere near Nagoya. Located on and around Shima Peninsula and covering 518 sq. km (200 sq. miles), this national park has bays and inlets that make up the home of the Mikimoto pearl and thousands of pearl-cultivating rafts. Although you could conceivably cover the major attractions on a day's outing from Nagoya, I've recommended accommodations in case you'd like to take in the sights at a more leisurely pace.

Ise-Shima's major attractions are concentrated in the small towns of Ise, Futami, Toba, and Kashikojima, all in Mie Prefecture. Ise (also called Ise-Shi, which translates as Ise City) is where you'll find the Ise Grand Shrines. Futami is famous for a theme park based on Japan's history from 1477 to 1598 and a majestic traditional inn, now a museum. Toba contains Mikimoto Pearl Island, which offers a pearl museum and demonstrations by its famous women divers, as well as the Toba Aquarium. In Kashikojima, there's an amusement park with a Spanish theme and boat trips around Ago Bay that, with its islets and pearl-cultivating oyster rafts, is one of the most scenic spots in the park.