From snorkelling and scuba diving the historical reefs and historic World War II wrecks in summers, to carving up the powdered slopes of the wintry north, Japan is the ultimate paradise for adventurers and a land of endless discovery.
Upon visiting Japan, the visitors are surprised by the beauty of Japanese towns. However, what many don’t realise is that the beauty of Japan is not its technologically-tony towns, rather much of Japan is rural or wilderness that flaunts the rich emotive landscapes and vistas. An archipelago surrounded by the sea, Japan is a wonderful place to enjoy outdoor activities as 70 pc of the land is mountainous and 67 pc of it is covered with forest. Just like its wide variety of seasons, the country has a plethora of adventurous activities that would keep travellers’ adrenalin levels high all throughout their journey.
Trekking the less trodden path
What can be the best way to discover a country’s landscapes, mountains and the wilderness? Well take the path less trodden that is far away from the crowds. And how to explore these paths one may ask, then hiking or trekking can be the best option. Japan has jaw dropping landscapes, mountains and UNESCO World Heritage listed wilderness and whatever your hiking level is there are a variety of routes to explore. From leisurely strolls to more challenging climbs for seasoned hikers and climbers, Japan has innumerable trekking trails. The scenery changes dramatically with the seasons—from the colourful leaves in the fall, to powdered snows on the leaves during winters and blooming flowers in the spring; it’s a beauty to behold.
The stunning waterfalls, steaming geysers, crystal clear rivers and breathtaking views that one encounters on the way makes it a surreal yet thrilling experience. The Nakahechi trail in Kumano Kodo pilgrimage is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most popular treks to do in Japan. Kumano Kodo is actually a series of seven different trails that leads you to the three famous Shinto shrines of Hongu Taisha, Hayatama Taisha and Nachi Taisha, which are collectively known as the Kumano Sanzan. The Kamikochi-Yari-Hotaka Circuit takes trekkers through the northern Japanese Alps that is surrounded by incredible views of craggy mountains, cloud-filled valleys and dramatic cliffs. The Nakasendo Trail is the most popular trekking route amongst locals and tourists alike as it takes them through lovely mountainous countryside, passing traditional homes and inns, babbling brooks, ancient forests and more. Lastly, not to forget the hike upto Mount Fuji, the most famous hike in Japan. The hike even though is challenging but is worth once you get to the top and see the landscape in front of you. The official Mt Fuji climbing season starts in early July and lasts till early September.
“As known to everyone Japan has been famous for its Cherry Blossom but today Japan is also known for its adventures like mountain cycling, hiking Mt Fuji, Mt. Fuji Ropeway and many others. Even though I did not go hiking on Mt Fuji but decided to take the panoramic ropeway to Mt Fuji. The Hakone ropeway gave me one of my best views to Mt Fuji and lake beneath. It was breathtaking. There is a place called Owakudani which is surrounded by active volcano where hot springs and hot rivers can be experienced. Seeing Mt Fuji on screen doesn’t do much justice till you see and cannot help but just stare. There is also a pirate ship style sightseeing boat which takes you on the lake with a magnificent view of Mt Fuji,” Raktim Roy, managing partner at Dolphin Travels, a travel company in Kolkata tells India Outbound.
Exploring the underwater reefs and ruins
Japan is home to one of the largest coral habitats in the world boasting over 200 coral building reefs, and an ecosystem teaming with diverse marine life, that includes manta rays and hammerhead sharks. The impressive underwater landscape also has many World War II shipwrecks, making it a scuba adventure for many who come to explore the ruins and wrecks. One must not miss the USS Emmons off Okinawa that lies 43 metre underwater and was destroyed by a Japanese kamikaze aircraft.
For a scuba enthusiast, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Ogasawara Islands are a must. The islands’ remoteness and the fact that it is surrounded on all sides by nothing but the Pacific Ocean provides some unique flora and fauna on land and underwater, and the crystal clear waters reveal the spectacular marine life and beautiful coral reefs. One can also explore the Island of Shikoku on the mainland, where close encounters with whales and dolphins are just a few of the amazing dive experiences for all.
Skiing through the snows
If you happen to be in Japan during the winters then you can get to experience the most thrilling adventure sport – skiing. With the Northern Alps situated in the region and the famous resort for skiing Hakkoda, Japan proves to be a paradise for the powder hounds. Both get a heavy dusting of snow, and the season runs from late December to early March. The way to the Northern Alps is through an easy two to three-hour bullet-train ride from Tokyo, making it an ideal option for the weekends.
January is the most popular time to visit the skiing resorts and therefore it is been playfully referred to as “Japanuary” by the many hardcore skiers and snowboarders. With the help of the Hakkoda ropeway one can reach the top of the mountain and get a wide range of courses for all abilities. Mogul skiing or “zipperlines” as they are popularly referred to in Japan is immensely popular among Japanese skiers so there’s no shortage of runs to rip bumps. It’s actually an excellent place to try out moguls for the first time or perfect your technique, as most zipperlines are narrow and flanked by groomed terrain. Another kind of skiing activity that is quite popular is the backcountry and sidecountry skiing in Japan and is very easily accessible. The adventurous skiers and snowboarders can leave the resorts that have designated gates to enjoy untracked powder stashes. Lastly, if you want to take the adventure a notch higher then try skiing at night. The slopes are illuminated with big fluorescent lights, helping the skiers in where they are headed to. The bright lights along with a snowstorm can provide the most stunning view.
Japan is not just restricted to a few adventurous activities. For someone who is an adrenaline junkie they can find an array of options like mountain biking and cycling, surfing, camping and if you are looking for a luxurious adventure the East-Asian country can prove to be an ideal destination for golf lovers. And since it’s just February, it’s the ideal time to visit Japan for the most action-packed adventures.
Published in India Outbound Magazine, February 2020.