Into the wild
Beyond the futuristic imagery of its cities, a lot of Japan is rural or wilderness, particularly exterior the Kanto and Kansai areas. In the bush you might spot native fauna, reminiscent of Japanese macaques (snow monkeys) within the mountains of Nagano, deer in Hiroshima and Nara, wild boar within the hills of Miyagi, foxes in Yamagata, and serows in Aomori. Your finest wager for seeing ussuri (AKA grizzly) bears is in Hokkaido at Shiretoko nationwide park, a Unesco world heritage web site.
During the summer time, attempt tenting: Kokusetsu Shiretoko Yaeijou is £3pp (no advance reserving for tents), or lease a fundamental cabin (camping-in-japan.com). Bear-spotting boat cruises run from spring to autumn (£37, kamuiwakka.jp), and the world has loads of low cost public sizzling springs (from £3pp). In winter, take a three-day/two-night sightseeing bus tour and drift-ice and white-tailed eagle birdwatching cruise on the Sea of Okhotsk earlier than unwinding in a hot-spring tub on the finish of the day (from £294pp for 2 nights’ hot-springs lodge plus 4 meals, japanican.com). Take the JR Hokkaido practice to Shiretoko-Shari, then a Shari bus to Utoro.
Go by rail
Mount Fuji and considered one of Japan’s distinctive bullet trains. Photograph: Torsakarin/Getty Images
Travelling by practice is a good way to discover, with the shinkansen (bullet practice) protecting all main hubs from Hokkaido to Hiroshima at speeds of as much as 300mph. The latest addition to the community, the Hokkaido Shinkansen, opened in 2016 and goes from Aomori in Honshu to Hakodate in southern Hokkaido, travelling below the Sea of Japan and opening up Hokkaido with its nationwide parks, ski resorts, and countless backcountry.
The Japan Rail Pass is an effective deal, permitting guests limitless travel on the JR system, together with bullet trains (7 days, £199; 14 days, £317; 21 days, £405, jrailpass.com). Passes should be bought exterior Japan, then activated throughout the nation.
You also can take the sluggish scenic route. The Resort Shirakami sightseeing practice travels alongside the Gono Line between Higashi-Noshiro in Akita to Kawabe in Aomori. It goes at an deliberately leisurely tempo, trundling for 5 hours alongside the rocky Sea of Japan shoreline by means of the Shirakami-Sanchi nationwide park, and has shamisen gamers onboard for a style of native tradition (included with the JR Pass or £34, jreast.co.jp).
Cycle up north
Tsuruga Castle surrounded by cherry blossom. Photograph: Alamy
While the 2011 tsunami and earthquake hit Fukushima arduous, vacationers are beginning to return to the area (simply three% of the prefecture is a no-entry zone). There’s 150km of Pacific coast, mountains, castles, sizzling springs and a powerful samurai tradition. A spotlight is the historic metropolis of Aizuwakamatsu and the Aizu area, nice to discover by bike – town has put collectively a helpful set of cycle routes starting from metropolis excursions to climbs within the surrounding mountainous space (aizu-tours.jp/biking).
Visit Tsuruga Castle, the thatched-roof village Ouchijuku, 30km exterior town, and take loads of stops to pattern the native delicacies, like a drink at 150-year-old Suehiro sake brewery or a bowl of Aizu speciality wappa-meshi – foraged mountain greens with seafood – at Takino.
If you have time, head a couple of kilometres east to drift in a canoe on Lake Inawashiro, see the multicoloured swamps of Mt Bandai, and go to the towering white Buddhist deity Aizu Kannon.
Rent a motorbike from considered one of a number of depots round city (from £Four a day, samurai-city.jp/entry). Cycling season is from late spring to autumn; in winter the area is roofed with snow. Stay in a traditional ryokan identified for its kaiseki (connoisseur seasonal) meals, and calm down in a non-public hot-springs tub at Ryokan Tagoto (doubles from £103, tagoto-aizu.com).
Take the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Koriyama, then the Banetsu line and trip west for an hour to Aizu-Wakamatsu station.
Mount Fuji and different mountains
Traditionally Japanese hikers climb Fuji by evening to observe dawn from the summit. Photograph: Yuriz/Getty Images
Snow-capped Mount Fuji isn’t solely a logo of Japan however an object of veneration. The Fuji-ko sect of Shinto is devoted to Fuji worship and has shrines established on the base of the mountain. Public climbing season runs from July to early September, and the paths are crowded with hikers desperate to see the solar rise on the well-known peak. Most hikers begin from the fifth station, midway up the mountain. With 4 trails, routes range, however all contain taking a practice to the closest station after which a bus to the place to begin. The official web site has all the data it is advisable plan an ascent (fujisan-climb.jp).
Fuji, nevertheless, isn’t Japan’s solely mountain: 70% of the land is mountainous, with many peaks really dormant or energetic volcanoes, due to Japan’s place atop 4 tectonic plates. All the volcanic exercise means there are quite a few sizzling springs to calm down in after a day’s mountaineering.
Kanto Adventures leads common outings, typically combining mountaineering with sizzling springs. A pattern journey summits Tsurugi-dake and Tateyama in three days and contains transfers from Tokyo, 4 meals, tenting gear and costs, and guiding for £236, whereas one other takes two days to sort out Kita-dake and Aino-dake, the second and fourth highest peaks in Japan, and contains transport, tenting charges and meals, ending with sizzling springs for £151. They additionally provide Fuji snow-climbing, cross-country snowboarding and rock-climbing.
Skiing by means of powder at Rusutsu. Photograph: Alamy
Mountainous Japan is a dream for powder hounds, with the Northern Alps (web site of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano) and barely extra distant Hokkaido the best-known areas. Both get a heavy dusting of snow, and the season runs from late December to early March. Many of the most effective resorts within the Northern Alps are a simple two to 3 hour bullet-train trip from Tokyo, making it handy to move out for a weekend, whereas in Hokkaido most resorts are inside a few hours of Sapporo.
Rusutsu, about 90 minutes from Sapporo’s New Chitose airport, received the World Ski Awards’ finest resort in 2017. While it’s not as bustling as neighbouring Niseko, Rusutsu’s extra laid-back vibe means fewer traces, much less crowded slopes and extra recent powder. The common annual snowfall is over 14 metres, there are 18 lifts, 37 runs and a great mixture of newbie, intermediate and superior programs, plus off-piste snowboarding is allowed. Explore secret runs or take a lesson with The Powder Guides (six-hour information, £203). Avoid costly resort resorts and keep at a pension like Lilla Huset (twin room from £118). Affordable choices e book out rapidly in the course of the ski season.
People clad as samurai warriors for the Shingen-ko (Lord Shingen) pageant in Kofu. Photograph: Alamy
In what is usually seen as a staid nation, sampling the road meals, listening to music and becoming a member of within the revelry of a pageant, or matsuri, is a good way to expertise a livelier facet of Japan. In early February, head to Sapporo for the snow pageant, the place downtown is reworked right into a winter dreamworld with huge snow sculptures lining the park blocks, vacationers sporting ice spikes, and complicated ice sculptures glittering within the solar. Nakamura-ya is a homey ryokan near the motion (doubles from £68). Book early, as resorts and flights refill quick.
From late March to early April, watch as the entire nation comes below the spell of the ephemeral cherry blossom, which flowers for just a few days. In Fukuoka, the Fukuoka Castle Sakura Festival celebrates amongst 1,000 cherry timber with meals cubicles and picnickers below timber in full bloom. Take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to Fukuoka. Also in early April, greater than 1,500 individuals dressed as samurai warriors collect in Kofu, Yamanashi, for an enormous cosplay honouring the area’s samurai historical past. At the Shingen-ko Festival, warriors march by means of the streets to the beat of taiko drums, some on horseback. Take the Chuo Line Limited Express from Tokyo to Kofu (2 hours).
The Gion Matsuri takes place all through July in Kyoto, with main road festivals previous two parades on July 17 and 24. Festival-goers stroll the streets in kimonos, consuming road meals and shopping for good luck charms, whereas the parades function monumental, intricate, glowing transportable shrines. Take the Tokaido Shinkansen to Kyoto.
In mid-August, be a part of the large dance occasion that’s the Awa-odori in Tokushima, Shikoku. Colourfully clad troupes twirl by means of the city in happi coats and straw hats, chanting to the beat of taiko drums and shamisen. Get there on the Awa Express Bus from Kobe (£24 single) or a flight from Tokyo.
Old-school Japanese lodgings
A conventional ryokan lodge room. Photograph: Oleksiy Maksymenko/Getty Images
The current crackdown in Japan on home-sharing companies reminiscent of Airbnb has led many travellers to return to conventional resorts and inns. However, out-of-the-box lodging in Japan has existed far longer than any web app. One of the most effective methods to get deep into Japan is to do a farm stick with a household in a rural space. You’ll sleep on futon laid out on tatami flooring, study conventional agricultural strategies, soak up bucolic surroundings and prepare dinner meals with components you helped harvest your self. Stays embrace biking and horse driving at a sheep farm in Hokkaido, mountaineering and fishing in Nagano, or harvesting and pickling natural greens in Shikoku (from £27pp, authentic-visit.jp/farmstay).
Historically, pilgrims travelled to go to temples and shrines, and people temples would provide lodging. This apply, known as shukubo, nonetheless exists at this time. Quarters are sometimes spartan and embrace the chance to take part in zazen meditation early within the morning; at Komadori Sanso, it’s doable to do waterfall meditation. Many additionally provide shojin ryori – Buddhist ascetic meals (from £27pp, templelodging.com). Always embrace an evening or two in a ryokan– a conventional Japanese inn, normally with onsen (hot-spring baths, typically sex-segregated and brought bare). Futons are laid out by workers when you’re at dinner or bathing (ryokan.or.jp).
Under the ocean
On this island nation, water sports activities are a favorite pastime, with dive spots everywhere in the archipelago. Okinawa is undoubtedly probably the most well-known place to dive and snorkel, and with its heat temperatures (the islands are nearer Taiwan than most of Japan), it’s doable to don flippers and rise up shut with sealife yr spherical.
Miyako Island, 300km south-west of Okinawa Island, is thought for its white-sand seashores. Yoshino is an effective selection for beach-entry snorkelling, and Yabiji, off the northern coast of Miyako, consists of greater than 100 coral reefs and is a favorite spot for snorkelling and recognizing sea turtles (dormitory beds at Hostel Gecca from £19, hostelgecca.com). There are day by day flights from Tokyo and Naha.
Or head out to Ishigaki Island. Kabira Bay is a dependable level for recognizing manta rays, and dive store Umicoza can equipment you out with scuba or snorkel gear. The English-speaking workers provide guided dives – don’t overlook reef-friendly sunblock to guard your self and the coral. Family-owned Minshuku Irayoi is steps from the seaside (doubles from £48, irayoi.major.jp). Daily flights from Tokyo and Naha.
The floating world
Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkin sculpture on pier, Seto Inland Sea. Photograph: Alamy
The area of Setouchi is made up of the Seto Inland Sea and its coastal areas on Japan’s major islands of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. It spans seven prefectures and contains hundreds of small islands that dot the ocean. It’s additionally a significant artwork vacation spot.
The Setouchi Art Triennale takes place in 2019 over 12 islands and two port cities – and throughout three seasons: in spring from 26 April-26 May; in summer time from 19 July-25 August; and in autumn from 28 Sept-Four Nov. It options greater than 100 installations and interactive artwork experiences. Pieces could also be exhibited within the open air, like Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkin sculptures; in museums and buildings reminiscent of these designed by architect Tadao Ando; or in reimagined areas, such because the arthouse undertaking during which artists like James Turrell rework a home into an exhibition house.
In addition to the triennale, there are quite a few everlasting museums and installations that may be seen yr spherical. Travel between the islands and ports on the ferry community, then discover on foot, by bicycle or bus (setouchi-artfest.jp). Exploring the islands may take days, so for Naoshima lodging, attempt Wright Style which, because the identify signifies, is impressed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright (twin room from £117, ougiya-naoshima.jp). designart.jp/en).
Blazing a path
The Kumano Kodo path. Photograph: Alamy
With mountains dominating the nation and trails crisscrossing the ranges, Japan is a nation of hikers. Even in Tokyo, you’re by no means removed from a path. Trains to the mountains on the fringe of town are full of weekend walkers sporting sturdy footwear, trekking poles and technical clothes, heading out to Mount Takao or Mount Mitake.
In southern Kansai is the traditional pilgrimage path Kumano Kodo, considered one of solely two within the world named by Unesco as a heritage pilgrimage route (the opposite is Spain’s Camino de Santiago). This 1,000-year-old route winds by means of plunging inexperienced valleys, the mysterious Kii Mountains shrouded in blue mist, and distant villages, connecting historic shrines and temples. In elements, it’s untouched by time, the birdsong and susurrus maybe practically an identical to that heard by pilgrims a millennium in the past.
Research your personal routes, transport and lodging on the tb-kumano.jp web site, or e book a guided or partially guided tour with Kumano Travel, the official tour agent of the Tanabe tourism bureau. The web site helps you to select à la carte choices for lodging, English-speaking guides and baggage transport. A self-guided, three-night/four-day stroll with fundamental lodging and bag transport begins at £219pp; add meals, mid-range lodging and day by day guiding for a complete of round £900pp (kumano-travel.com).
Sandboarding on the dunes in Tottori. Photograph: Gregory Ferguson/Getty Images
Japan lends itself to nice out of doors adventures – like sandboarding down 30-degree slopes on the immense sand dunes in Tottori prefecture on the Sea of Japan (£24 for 2 hours with gear and instruction, torican.jp). Cool down with yoga on the dunes afterward, both by yourself or in a category (£27 for 2 hours, sand-dunes-yoga.com). The Super Hakuto Limited Express goes to Tottori from Osaka. Lake Biwa is Japan’s largest lake, and a ziplining course on the Biwako Valley resort helps you to see it in its absolutely glory. The two-hour course has seven traces that allow you to heat up earlier than flying down the 169-metre finale (£26 for the two-hour course). Take the JR Kosei Line from Kyoto to Shiga Station, then the Biwako Valley bus for 10 minutes.
Japan’s rivers and gorges are a pure playground, too. In Hakuba, Nagano, there are canyoning excursions in summer time with Evergreen Outdoor Center – slide, zipline and swim in a river canyon, then calm down with a picnic lunch earlier than doing it once more (day journey £96). Take the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Nagano, then an Alpico Bus to Hakuba. From April to June, Canyons runs a full-day white-water rafting journey in Minakami, Gunma, on the Tone River. Plunge by means of grade Four rapids with cliffs rising up on both facet, then cease for a catered lunch on the riverbank (rafting, guiding, gear and lunch, £109). Take the Joetsu Shinkansen to Jomokogen Station, then a shuttle bus to Canyons.
Dinner in Akita on a Sake Tours journey
There are greater than a thousand nihonshu (as sake is thought in Japan) breweries everywhere in the nation, and lots of provide manufacturing unit excursions and probabilities to purchase high quality bottles that aren’t for export. Learn concerning the brewing course of from web site choice – water high quality and climate circumstances are key – to rice varieties, processing, and fermentation. And in fact, it’s essential to pattern the completed product. For instance, Matsuoka Brewery in Saitama, simply north of Tokyo, presents free guided excursions and tasting in English (advance reserving is required).
For aficionados (with deep pockets), Sake Tours presents guided five-day excursions to totally different areas. The Akita prefecture tour, for instance, contains visits to 4 breweries not open to the general public, lectures with sake consultants and brewmasters, a non-public folks music concert, cooking classes and lodging (£2,300 for 5 days/5 nights). Other 2019 excursions embrace journeys to Niigata and Kyushu.