For many people, a visit to Japan conjures images of gleaming skyscrapers, bullet trains and bustling crowds. But this group of islands, which is roughly the same size of New Zealand, also offers great outdoor experiences amid outstanding natural beauty. Here’s a few of our favourite ways to venture into Japan’s great outdoors.
You don’t have to venture far beyond the big cities to find yourself in some pretty incredible landscapes, from Lake Kawaguchi to the bamboo forest of Sagano. The Nakasendo Way was originally an ancient 500-kilometre Samurai walkway but today, the most popular one-day section will take you through the picturesque Kiso Valley: it’s a three-hour hike that allows you to enjoy the scenery and observe the rural Japanese way of life. Another popular hiking option during the months of July and August is the climb to the summit of Japan’s highest volcanic peak: Mt Fuji. The ascent was originally a sacred pilgrimage for the devout; these days anyone of reasonable fitness can manage the ascent, and timing your arrival at the summit to coincide with the sun climbing above the clouds at dawn is an awe-inspiring experience.
Japan is renowned as a winter destination thanks to its combination of reliable snowfall and excellent infrastructure. You can choose from a wide variety of destinations for your snow holiday, including two previous Winter Olympics venues: Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido, and Nagano, which is less than 300 kilometres (or a speedy two-hour train ride) from Tokyo. The Japanese have après-ski down to a fine art, in the form of mineral-rich hot springs, or onsen, which are wonderful for soaking tired muscles after a busy day on the slopes.
The Seto Inland Sea is the body of water that separates three of Japan’s four main islands, and the Shimanami Kaido is the 70-kilometre route that connects two of them, Honshū and Shikoku, using six tiny islands as stepping stones to cross the gap. This incredible feat of engineering includes a dedicated cycle path, making it a dream destination for cyclists: relatively flat, incredibly scenic, and dotted with ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) along the route so you can break up your journey. The Shimanami Kaido is just one of many amazing cycling routes in Japan – other popular options include the 200-kilometre circuit around Lake Biwa and various options that take you through the famed flower fields of Hokkaido.
The Tone River is Japan’s second-longest, and during the late spring the section near the outdoor adventure capital of Minakami is renowned as a white-water rafting destination, thanks to the spring meltwater that flows down from the surrounding mountains. The 12-kilometre journey takes rafters on a Grade 3-4 level roller coaster ride through three canyons. But if you prefer a more sedate experience, the flow is reduced to a more moderate level during the summer months. If you need further thrills, there are plenty of other activities available in the area: canyoning, mountain biking, trail running and bungee jumping are other options that will get your heart racing and your adrenaline pumping.
Roughly 640 kilometres to the south of Japan’s four main islands, the Okinawa group of islands feels a world away, thanks to its subtropical climate and unique geography. Picture a collection of white, sandy beaches, warm waters filled with colourful coral and diverse marine life, where world-class snorkelling and diving adventures await you every day. Venture inland and you’ll find dense tropical jungle, rare and unusual wildlife and a unique culture – all of which combine to make this a very special destination. Be sure to include time on stunning Tokashiki Island: not only is it renowned for its amazing beaches, but if you visit between January and April you may also catch sight of migrating Humpback whales.
Whether your preference is for the buzz of city life or the thrills of the outdoors (or an ideal combination of both), your personal travel manager can help you tailor an itinerary that takes in the best of everything that Japan has to offer.