For all of Japan’s charming, unique, and fascinating cultural heritage, it’s all easily matched by an amazing variety of natural splendour that beckons you outside.
From placid volcanic lakes to smouldering sulphuric peaks; from misty pine forests and roaring waterfalls to highland hiking and lowland cycling – Japan’s geographical spread and natural beauty has inspired poets, artists and emperors for centuries. And it’s sure to inspire you too, once international travel is back on the agenda and a holiday on the horizen.
If you’re looking for a little inspiration on where to experience the best of the Japanese outdoors, you’re in luck. Here’s a guide on where to have some unforgettable moments outside in Japan’s wonderful wilderness.
Experience Japan’s wild side inside Sanriku Fukko National Park in Iwate
Taste the salty sea-breeze on your lips and feel the wind through your hair as you walk along Japan’s northeastern coastline inside Sanriku Fukko National Park up in Iwate prefecture. Experience unforgettable moments along this 220km-long coastal trail that stretches from Aomori in the north to Miyagi in the south.
Walk past sandy beaches, tiny inlets colonised with nesting birds, gaze at monumental rock formations at Kitayamazaki in the small fishing village of Tanohata, and stop and take it all in as you watch Pacific waves foam against the jagged rocks of this wild landscape. Then, drop into one of the charming fishing villages along the way for some of the freshest sushi you’ve ever had in your life.
Say konichiwa to Japan’s majestic mountains on a highland hike
Confront the majesty of Mother Nature whilst trekking inside the Yatsugatake Mountains in Nagano, and experience Japan’s varied geographical characters. Have a moment gazing over the dramatic rolling highlands of Kirigamine, spot native wildlife – such as deer – inside Yatsugatake’s verdant forests, and, most seductively after a day (or days) of trekking, melt away in Japan’s highest outdoor bath at Honzawa Onsen.
There are multiple trails inside this mountainous region catering to all experience and fitness levels. If you’re looking for a more relaxing hike, opt for the northern part of the range. For a little more exertion, head south where dense forest and rugged peaks promise an exhilarating alpine trekking adventure.
Have a spiritual moment gazing up at Japan’s highest waterfall
Feel the reverberation of hundreds of cubic metres of water barrelling off a 133m rocky precipice at Nachi Falls in Wakayama Prefecture, Kansai. Not only is this Japan’s highest waterfall and one of the most awe-inspiring in the country, but it’s also a site of deep spiritual significance, believed to be the home of a Shinto god.
And trust us, you’d want to live here too as you listen to the roaring power of falling water whilst vapour clouds form overhead, drifting in and out of the towering pine trees all around like great misty spirits. Visit the Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine, a 30-minute trek up steep steps, for a little pilgrimage of sorts, and then reward yourself with a sip of the “holy” water back down below, which, for 100 yen, promises good fortune and long life. Score!
Learn about traditional Ainu culture and why Hokkaido is the most beautiful part of Japan
Explore Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido, and spend a few days inside the Akan-Mashu National Park where you can experience a taste of Ainu culture to a gorgeous backdrop of glimmering blue lakes, smouldering volcanic peaks, majestic mountains and pristine forests.
Immerse yourself right into the landscape with a 85-minute boat tour on Lake Akan, followed up with a visit to the Ainu theatre for a traditional dance show and introduction to Ainu culture. Or jump in the car and road-trip around the park, making sure to visit the onsen town of Kawayu where you can peer into the steaming sulphuric vents of an active volcano.
Stay in the small lakeside town of Akankohan, where traditional ryokans (Japanese hotels) complete with onsen welcome visitors home for a relaxing soak and delicious meal after a day exploring the surrounding wilderness.
Visit an otherworldly landscape and smell the rich sulphur in the air
As Japan’s most active volcano, getting up close and personal to volatile and smoky Sakurajima promises to be a moment you’ll never, ever forget. Standing sentry over the city of Kagoshima on Japan’s Kyushu island, this 1,117-metre-high volcano doesn’t like to keep its mouth shut, frequently erupting and throwing ash 5000m into the air – as recently as September 2020. It erupts hundreds of times a year, though most are little more then trembles.
You can trek through lava fields of black basalt up to the Yunohira Observatory which peers directly into the crater, opt for an e-bike ride around the base of the volcano (36km in total) past views of Kinko Bay and Osumi Peninsula, or opt for much more relaxing experience – still within eyeshot of the smouldering beast – with a foot spa in a real volcanic hot spring.
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