I’ve been dreaming of a Japan adventure. Something fun like hiking through the mountains, skiing down a slope, or soaking in a hot spring. For adventures outdoors, Japan is the place to go.
Unfortunately, I have not yet visited Japan, but in order to do a little armchair research I asked fellow travel bloggers to share their favorite outdoor Japan story. I compiled them here so you can plan your own adventure travel in Japan.
Check out these books set in Japan to inspire and inform your trip!
Hiking in Japan
I know my Japanese adventure will include hiking. Japanese pilgrimage trails wind through the islands and trails climb Japan’s mountains.
Some of the best hikes in Japan are listed below.
Kamikochi, in the Japanese Alps, is one of the most beautiful places to go hiking in all of Japan. There are several ways to enjoy your time there.
You can either make a reservation at a hotel in Kamikochi near the famous “Kappa Bridge”, or you can stay in the nearby village of Takayama and visit Kamikochi as a day trip. It’s an easy and affordable round-trip ticket by bus from Takayama.
Just keep in mind that Kamikochi is not open in the colder months, so make sure you check the opening hours while planning your trip.
If you are looking for a shorter, more relaxing hike, walk to Myojin-ike. This pond is where a shrine called Hotaka-jinja is located. It only takes three hours to make this hike, round-trip. Along the way, you will find some of the most beautiful scenery in all Japan. The water is so clean it literally sparkles, and the air is breathtakingly fresh. Don’t forget to stop for a lunch of fresh river trout at Kamonji-Goya, right by Myojin-ike.
More experienced hikers will want to climb Mt. Chogatake or Mt. Jonen, but be aware that these hikes can take more than one day and be very windy. Expect to spend the night at the mountain hut if you try these. But other than that, be sure to go and enjoy one of the most gorgeous pieces of nature in all Japan.
— Stella Jane from Around the World in 24 Hours
Miyajima Island is known for being one of Japan’s most scenic locations and a fun way to experience its beauty and history is with a hike on Mount Misen.
The most common way to do this hike is to take a ropeway up part of the mountain then hike to the summit. Afterwards you can hike down the other side of the mountain to return to town.
At the top of the ropeway there’s an observation deck where you can admire the Seto Inland Sea. From here, the hike begins with an ascent through the forest before arriving at a group of Buddhist halls on the mountain. The trail then continues up the mountain and above the tree line to the summit. At the top there’s a wonderful panorama of the sea, Miyajima Island, and mainland Japan.
The return hike descends through the forest, passes through Niomon Gate, then ends at Daishoin Temple at the bottom of the mountain.
This hike is a must-do in Miyajima because it combines some of the best elements of Japan- nature, history, and spirituality. The trail is easy to follow so can be done without a guide. Plan for about 3 hours to enjoy this hike.
— Rhonda at travelyesplease.com
Hiking to the top of Mount Tate is a great way to experience Japan’s beautiful nature. Mount Tate (also known as Mount Tateyama) is only a day hike away from Toyama City, and it’s therefore a great choice for those with limited time to explore Japan’s nature.
The hike itself is less than 6 kilometers long and it’ll take you to the incredible 3015 meters high mountain peak. On the way you’ll get beautiful views over the Hida mountain range, and on top of that, you can also experience several hot springs and waterfalls in the area.
It’s a non-guided tour to the mountain top but it’s relatively easy to get there by yourself. The hike is free, but the transport to the trailhead is a bit expensive. You buy your tickets at Dentetsu-Toyama Station, from where you’ll start your journey to Murodo Alpine Station and the beginning of the trail. Make sure to buy a return ticket directly at Dentetsu-Toyama Station and you’ll get a discount.
Hiking to the top of Mount Tate was honestly one of the best outdoor activities I experienced in my Japan trip. I can 100% recommend the day hike to anyone who wants to get off the tourist trail and explore Japan’s incredible mountains.
— Cecilie at Worldwide Walkers
An amazing outdoor activity in Japan is hiking the Koyasan Choishi Michi pilgrimage trail this 24-kilometer trail leads to the top of Koyasan, an important place in Shingon Buddhism. At Mount Koya there are many temples and the famous Okunoin, an ancient graveyard with thousands of overgrown tombstones. This is also where you can find the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, the founder of this particular type of Buddhism.
The Koyasan Choishi Michi pilgrimage trail is a unique hike through beautiful forest and offering nice views along the way. Completing the trail takes approximately seven hours, though this can be a bit shorter or longer depending on your pace and the number of breaks that you take.
The hike starts at Kudoyama station, you can easily get here by train from Osaka. This is an unguided hike but once you’ve found the first signpost (chôishi, hence the name of the trail) it’s pretty much impossible to get lost. These stone pillars are 109 meters apart and found along the entire trail.
Hiking or walking in Yamanashi prefecture southwest of Tokyo is one of the more beautiful and serene outdoor adventures you can find in Japan.
Yamanashi prefecture is covered in national parks and is home to the Fuji Five Lakes. Mt. Fuji straddles the borders of Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures so there are spectacular mountains and lake vistas everywhere you go.
The best times to visit are spring and fall where cherry blossoms or fall foliage surround you.
There are many day tours but the cabins along the shore of Lake Yamanaka are perfect for a few days of fishing, hiking and water sports.
From Kawaguchiko station you can take short bus rides to many parts of the prefecture. A shuttle bus from the station goes to 5th Station and from here you can climb Mt. Fuji or walk in the forests surrounding the mountain.
Nearby Mount Monobu is full of shrines, temples, and the Steps of Enlightenment. Staying in the Temple Inns is a great way to extend your stay amongst nature in Yamanashi prefecture.
— Monique at Tripanthropologist.com
If you’re looking for outdoor activities in Japan, there is nothing quite like hiking the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trail in the Wakayama prefecture. While there are various routes and lengths of the hike to choose from, personally I opted for a 4-day trekking itinerary which I took on solo. Guided hikes and/or detailed maps are available.
The Kumano Kodo - once famously walked by influential Buddhists and samurais - takes today’s visitors through the same Japanese mountains and waterfalls that were once the subject of nature worship. Along the trail, you stop at various shrines where you can take a moment to consider your journey and your surroundings.
Depending on which route you take, hikers stop at amazing natural attractions including the healing Yunomine Onsen hot springs, Kumano-Gawa River and Nachi Falls. Also, take some time to enjoy Oyunohara (the largest torii gate in Japan) and the beautiful Kumano Nachi Taisha temple.
—Cassie at Cassie the Hag
Adventure Japan on a Bicycle
Biking in Japan is a popular way to explore the outdoors. There are multiple cycling routes in Japan and it’s well organized. Bike rental is possible in a lot of places so you don’t need to bring yours with you.
Whether you choose a guided bike tour in Japan or go on your own, you are bound to have a wonderful time.
The Shimanami Kaido is one of the best known cycling routes in Japan, and we definitely recommend that you plan to visit. The amazing journey of cycling 70 km from Onomichi City to Imabari across the six islands in the Seto Inland Sea near Hiroshima was a great way to get off the beaten tourist track, see spectacular scenery, and get closer to authentic Japanese culture.
You do not have to ride the full 70 km, it is very easy to hire a bike and do only part of the ride. There are many hire depots where you can easily drop off your bike and then catch a bus or boat the rest of the way!
Ensure you pre-book your hire cycle, as in busy times you may miss out. It is therefore a great option both for beginners as well as more advanced cyclists. If you plan to do the full route you should plan to take 2-3 days so you can maximize your opportunities to visit the local attractions and do some of the side routes.
We cycled the first 20 km of the cycling route from Imabari, as we wanted to travel across the beautiful Kurushima Bridge. We also travelled across Oshima and Hakatajima Island before deciding that we had travelled far enough. We enjoyed the views however there was one large hill we had to traverse along the way!
The route is well sign posted in English so is very easy for anyone to do independently, although there are also guided options if you prefer. There are also one way luggage delivery services available if you plan ahead.
— Anne at Pretraveller blog
During our visit to Takamatsu, we learned that we could rent bikes from the city government for just $1 a day! Japan is well known for its cycling community, and so like most other cities, Takamatsu is bike-friendly with plenty of cycle lanes. Our biking adventure through the city turned out to be a perfect activity on a hot summer's day.
After hours of exploring the city center, residential areas, and Buddhist temples, we made our way around the Shiunyama mountain, before finishing at the beautiful Ritsurin Gardens. Before heading back to the bike drop-off point, we stopped off for some delicious udon noodles, the city’s most famous dish.
The bike rental office is located at the underground Takamatsu station. Most people arrive at the city from here, so it's the perfect spot to pick up a bike on a day trip. Remember to bring your passport or other identification, which will be required to rent a bike.
Returns have to be before 5 pm.
— Matt from No Hassle Travel
Best Skiing in Japan
One of the outdoor adventures I am looking most forward to is skiing in Japan. The fact that you can combine it with hot springs just makes it even better. Skiing, hot springs, and snow monkeys?!? Get me to Japan asap.
While Japan may not be the first destination that comes to mind for skiing, it is an increasingly popular destination for those looking to hit the slopes with a slightly different flavor.
One amazing place to ski in Japan is Nozawa Onsen which is known for its varied terrain, insanely high average snowfalls (aka Japow), and delightful après scene.
Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort is an ideal destination for skiers of all skill levels on account of its vast and varied terrain, large beginner ski area, and lessons offered to children and adults alike.
The overall resort is fairly small, so it is easy for advanced skiers to go off in search of deep japow while novices stick to the well-maintained groomers. The two groups can then meet back up mid-mountain for a delicious ramen lunch.
Nestled in a quaint, authentic mountain town of the same name, Nozawa Onsen provides many opportunities for outdoor activities, as well as cultural ones. There are 14 public hot springs (onsens) in the town that people may visit, as well as nearby attractions such as the Kamakura Snow Hut Restaurants and Jigokudani Snow Monkey park.
It is easy to reach via train, bus, or shuttle from Tokyo or Nagano and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a delightful skiing adventure in the Japanese Alps with a side of culture.
— Thea at Zen Travellers
Experiencing Nature in Japan
The Japanese are known for paying attention to nature. Many find great spirituality in the natural world. Whether you believe deities exist in nature or not, a walk through the Japanese forest and watching wildlife is sure to be a special experience.
When I signed up to see the snow monkeys in the Jigokudani Yaen-Koen Snow Monkey Park located in Japan’s Nagano Prefecture, I had no idea the adventure would include a long walk in and out--about a mile each way--and some challenging stair-climbing up a hill to reach them.
This forested walk allows for experiencing Japanese “forest bathing,” which I enjoyed very much, but it is important to allow plenty of time so you can also have enough time at the actual destination--an area with hot springs that the monkeys enjoy jumping in and out of.
The monkeys aren’t afraid of people and put on quite a show. My trip was part of a group activity and we did have several guides along with us, however this is an adventure you could easily do on your own if you have a car.
If you want to do it as a side trip from Tokyo, I recommend signing up for a package tour that includes everything--picking you up and dropping you off at the Bullet Train, a guided tour to the monkey park, and an overnight in an onsen.
— Carole from Travels With Carole
Other Japanese Adventures
There are some adventurous things to do in Japan that don’t fit into a category; outdoor adventures that are so iconically Japanese, they stand alone.
Japan is known for a lot of things to do or places to see, but there is one very unique outdoor experience. Most of us have driven Go-Karts at some point in our life, but there is nowhere else in the world that can offer driving Street Go-Karts through the middle of Tokyo city.
For those big kids at heart, or ones after a little excitement, action, or a lot of fun. Not to mention having the best view in the house for touring the busy capital of Tokyo. The experience was first inspired by the game Mario Bros and therefore offered costumes of the characters. These days, costumes are still an option, but some opt instead for superheroes and other characters.
Start out 20 minutes from the city, drive right beside the local cars, buses and trucks. Once you hit the city, you’re treated like any other driver stopping at the lights, turning, and changing lanes when needed. What makes this experience special is your driving right through Shibuya Crossing. One of the busiest street crossings in the world, accommodating a scramble of 2500 people each time.
To participate in this experience you will need an International Drivers License, purchased in your own country before travel. Apart from that, you just strap yourself in and follow the guides around the busy city streets.
It’s a whole lot of fun and you’ll leave with a big smile.
— Chris at Aquarius Traveller
You would think that soaking in a tub of hot water is not an overly complicated endeavor. Think again. In Japan, enjoying a ryokan onsen, a soak in a hot bath fed by thermal springs in a traditional inn, implies you will have to follow a set of guidelines that have been established for hundreds of years. It’s worth the effort. The experience is truly unique.
Looking for more Japan inspiration?
- Best Books Set in Japan
- Experience a Japanese Ryokan Onsen
- Japanese Adventure: Exploring Epic Outdoor Japan
- Coolest Things in Japan
- Day Hikes Near Kyoto
- Best Castles in the World