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5 Best Outdoor Adventures in Japan

Where to go in Japan to get out into the wild.

Mount Fuji Japan

Japan is famous as the land of Mt Fuji, sushi, and everything futuristic. However, it is also a country that is unusually blessed by nature which the Japanese have, with their characteristic meticulousness, diligently preserved though their thousands of years of history. As a result, Japan offers a variety of treats for outdoor enthusiasts.

Here’s our pick for the top 5 outdoor adventures to enjoy in Japan.

1. Hiking in the Japanese Alps

The Japanese Alps are a series of three mountain ranges in the central Japanese island of Honshu. There are several peaks in these ranges that rise above 3,000 m (9,842 ft), and remain covered in snow throughout the year, much like the famous Mount Fuji.

Given that the Japanese Alps stretch for about 200 kms, there are plenty of great places to go hiking in. However, if we had to pick just one, we’d go with Kamikochi.

A remote highland valley in the Hida Mountains of the Japanese Alps, Kamikochi is sometimes called the Yosemtie of Japan, after the famous national park in California. Although, one could argue that Kamikochi is prettier, albeit a lot smaller.

The Kamikochi valley is a highland of about 18 kms in length, with an average elevation of around 1,500 m above sea level.(4,921 ft). However, the mountains surrounding the valley easily top 3,000 m with the snow-covered Mt Hotaka at 3,190 m (10, 466 ft) towering over its northern end.

Kamikochi is an easy hike that takes a little over 3 hours to complete. Visitors can stay in the nearby village of Takayama. The scenery around is simply breathtaking, with clear mountain streams, pine covered mountainsides, and even a small shrine along the way.

The more experienced hikers can attempt to hike Mt Cho (2,677 m / 8,782 ft) or Mt Jonen (2,857 m / 9373 ft), both of which can take more than a day.

2. Cycling the Shimanami Kaido

The Shimanami Kaido is a world-famous highway connecting the islands of Shikoku and Honshu over the Seto inland sea. A 60-km section of it has a dedicated cycling and hiking path that passes over scenic views of the Seto inland sea, beaches, citrus plantations, forest-covered hills, and charming monasteries. The route has a total of 55 bridges, making it the world’s longest series of suspension bridges.

For those who don’t mind hauling their own bikes to Japan, the route is doable on its own. If you don’t want the hassle, you can do it as part of a guided tour. There are several good Japan cycling tour operators that run tours across Shikoku which include riding the Shimanami Kaido.

The Shimanami Kaido route is regarded as one of the best and finest cycling routes in the world. In fact, such is the interest in cycling this route that the Japanese government removed tolls for cyclists on a route that otherwise charges tolls from motorists to maintain itself.

Perhaps the only thing that comes close to cycling the Shimanami Kaido is doing a bike tour in Taiwan through the famous Cycling Route No 1 that has a similar quality of infrastructure, similar views of the ocean, and similar cult-like following of cyclists who descend on it each year in large numbers.

3. Whale Watching in Hokkaido

Hokkaido is Japan’s northernmost island, and quite different from the rest of the country in terms of its geography, climate, and culture. For one, Hokkaido is a lot cooler than most of Japan. In fact, northern Hokkaido has a Taiga-like climate.

The Shiretoko Peninsula in northern Hokkaido is separated from Russia by the Sea of Okhotsk. The entire peninsula is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its unique ecology which sees drifting sea ice floating down its coast, and several highly-endangered species of whales living in the seas surrounding it. This makes Hokkaido one of the best sites for whale watching anywhere in the world.

In fact, Shiretoko Peninsula is one of the few places in the world where you can spot sperm whales and Baird’s Beaked whales from the shore itself. To spot more elusive whales such as humpback whales and beaked whales, you will need to book a whale watching tour with a tour operator that takes you further into the Sea of Okhotsk.

4. Walking Ura Sabaku, Japan’s Only Desert

Ura Sabaku is a desert of black volcanic ash on the island of Izu Oshima. Izu Oshima is located off the coast of Honshu, and is easily accessible from Tokyo by ferry.

The main volcano on the island is Mt. Mihara, an active volcano with an altitude of 764 m (2,507 ft) above sea level. Its last major eruption was in 1986 that sent burning lava up to 1.6 km high into the air.

The volcanic ash combined with high winds and rain in the rain on the island ensure that nothing grows or miles around the volcano, giving the region a barren, moon-like appearance.

The island offers great hiking routes and you can do a guided tour of the region with an experienced guide to better understand the unique geography of the region.

5. Skiing the Slopes of Niigata

Niigata is a prefecture in central Honshu that is famous for its ski resorts, in particular the resorts located in towns of Myoko and Yuzawa, both in the Japanese Alps. Yuzawa, in particular, is famous for receiving some of the heaviest snowfall in Japan.

At last count there were up to 57 ski resorts in the entire Niigata prefecture with over 450 kms of ski slopes.

Perhaps the star attraction among the Japanese ski resorts is the Myoko Suginohara ski resort that has an 8.5 km run, the longest in Japan. There are a wide variety of slopes to ride on, and the resort also has snowmobiles for more snowy adventures.

Final Thoughts

The 5 recommendations listed here barely scratch the surface of all that Japan has to offer for outdoor lovers. We haven’t even talked about all the surfing, snorkeling, and scuba diving adventures that await outdoor lovers on the beautiful beaches of Okinawa, or the countless trails spread out through Japan’s numerous national parks waiting to be explored.

In a nutshell, Japan is an entire universe of outdoor adventures waiting to be explored. So pack your bags for Japan and enjoy.

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