The beautiful country of Japan is the ideal place for those who love outdoor activities. From parks and forests, to mountains and beaches, Japan has it all.
Let’s go outside! There’s nothing like getting active in the great outdoors during the summer and autumn months (as well as winter and spring for that matter!). The beautiful country of Japan is a wonderland for outdoors enthusiasts with almost every kind of activity possible thanks to the diversity of Japan’s islands, from tropical sunshine in Okinawa in the south to the snowy mountains of Hokkaido in the north. If you’re visiting Japan during the warmer summer months then there’s no better time to enjoy your favourite outdoor activity against the backdrop of the stunning Japanese countryside. Read on for our top ten recommendations for outdoor activities in Japan as well as advice on how to get from A to B with the Japan Rail Pass. Ready to explore the great outdoors? Let’s go!
Top 10 Outdoors Activities in Japan
1. Visit Japan’s Parks
From green spaces in the heart of Japan’s biggest cities like the famous Yoyogi Park in Tokyo (perfect for picnics), to the country’s 34 national parks, and remote, off-the-beaten-track adventures in dense forests and woodlands, Japan’s unique and unforgettable landscape is perfect for outdoor adventures. Japan’s cities contain a surprisingly large number of parks and green spaces. In Tokyo, you have several major parks. Yoyogi Park is Tokyo’s fourth biggest park and is located next to Meiji Shrine. Together, the two combine to form the city’s largest public green space. Meiji Shrine is arguably Tokyo’s best known shrine and is definitely worth visiting. Built in 1920 and surrounded by 100,000 trees that form a vast forest in the centre of the city, the Shinto shrine celebrates the life of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Yoyogi Park itself is divided into two main areas, separated by a long tree-lined pedestrian road called Zelkova Avenue. One side is the forest park, with open fields that are perfect for picnics, barbecues, outdoor activities such as jogging, cycling, skating, and of course, relaxing too, and the other part has an outdoor stage, stadium, and other facilities that make it ideal for events. The latter is known as Yoyogi Event Plaza. Yoyogi is well known for staging events and festivals almost every other weekend, which makes it one of Tokyo’s liveliest city parks. Read our Guide to Yoyogi Park for more. Ueno Park in Tokyo is also well worth a visit and is very popular during hanami aka cherry blossom season each spring. Ueno Park can be found right outside Ueno station. Within the park grounds there are many interesting museums, traditional temple buildings, in addition to Ueno Zoo. Japan’s other major cities including Osaka and Kyoto are also known for their beautiful city parks so you’ll be spoilt for choice. Alongside these parks, Japan’s rugged and diverse landscape is home to 34 National Parks - dream destinations for outdoor enthusiasts - and wild, off-the-beaten track locations such as the epic Kurobe Gorge in the northern Japanese Alps or Yakushima and Shiratani Unsuikyo ravine - the real-life inspiration for the magical fairy-tale forests of Studio Ghibli’s animated masterpiece ‘Princess Mononoke’. Keep reading as we’ll have more on forests further below.
2. Hiking and Climbing
Climbing and hiking are hugely popular pursuits in mountainous Japan. Mt. Fuji, of course, is world-famous and an absolutely unmissable sight whether you plan to climb it or just admire it from your train carriage, but Japan has many other mountains and hills too, which makes it such a great destination for climbing and hiking adventures. If you’re an avid hiker, then you’ll love the rugged landscape of Japan. One of Japan’s most iconic landmarks at 3,776 metres tall, Mt. Fuji is not for the faint-hearted, but if you’re feeling bold, it can be climbed between July and September. Our guide to Climbing and Hiking Mt. Fuji has more information. In Japan, one of the great things is that you don’t necessarily have to be in the middle of nowhere to find excellent hiking trails. Even with a day trip from major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, you can enjoy some terrific hikes and take a break from the urban jungles. Find out more in our Beginners Guide to Hiking in Japan.
3. Swimming and scuba diving
As an island nation, Japan is surrounded by water and is also home to numerous rivers and lakes. This makes it perfect for all kinds of watersports. It’s also home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and best diving locations. Imagine swimming past sunken World War Two wrecks and hammerhead sharks, cuttlefish and coral reefs, before taking a train journey north for an icy dip and a spot of whale watching. All this and more is possible when you take a deep dive into Japan. The country has been described as the best kept secret in diving. An island nation made up of more than 6,000 islands and 21,000 miles of coastline, Japan offers some of the best diving locations in the world. diving enthusiasts. The north is generally cool and temperate whereas the south is subtropical. August to November are the busiest and most popular months due to ideal temperatures for diving, while from October to April, a wetsuit and hood is usually recommended, and finally, if you’re looking to do some whale-spotting while you dive, try November to March when humpbacks usually migrate. For our list of the best diving spots in Japan, check out our guide, Deep Dive Into Japan. Meanwhile, if you’re more into watersports, including kayaking, canoeing, and boating on rivers and lakes, or if you actually just want to relax and soak up the sun on the beach, be sure to read our blog post on Japan’s Best Beaches and Watersports destinations.
Cycling is very popular in Japan and it is a brilliant way to see this amazing country. From huge urban city spaces with pathways, alleys and parks, to rugged mountains, dense forests and beautiful coastal regions, Japan offers some of the best and most spectacular cycle routes in the whole world.
The Shimanami Kaido is widely accepted as one of the world’s greatest cycling routes. A 70 km stretch of expressway which joins the country’s main island of Honshu with the island of Shikoku, the Shimanami Kaido is a breath-taking cycle route, which includes over six bridges across the Seto Inland Sea and six smaller islands. You’ll also enjoy views of Seto Inland Sea National Park and the Tatara Bridge – one of the longest of its kind in the world – as you journey from Hiroshima Prefecture to Ehime Prefecture. You can also do the journey in reverse by traversing the Hiroshima side of the Shimanami Kaido and exploring Fukuyama and Onomichi. The latter is also home to the Onomichi U2 – a dedicated complex for cyclists with a connected hotel. Shimanami Kaido truly is a spectacular and beautiful route and is frequently ranked as one of the best cycle journeys in the world by dedicated followers of the sport. This spectacular route is also hugely practical for cyclists with 14 cycle docking stations to rent or return bikes. It is unique for having dedicated sections for bikes and pedestrians. It’s no wonder Shimanami Kaido is known as a ‘cyclist’s paradise’. To get to Shimanami Kaido from Osaka or Hiroshima, take the Sanyo Shinkansen to Fukuyama station. Once there, transfer to a JR train bound for Onomichi.
Another great route that can be done with the JR Pass is the Tour De Noto, which is Kanazawa City to Toyama Bay. This epic cycle route will take you around one of Japan’s biggest peninsulas, the Noto Hanto. Recommended for seriously fit and hardcore cyclists, this 249-mile route begins in Kanazawa City and finishes in Toyama Bay and is epic in every sense of the word with stunning seascapes and challenging terrain. If you happen to attempt this route in September, you may find yourself joined by thousands of other cyclists in the annual Tour De Noto festival. Kanazawa is easy to reach with the JRailPass. Simply take the bullet train from Tokyo on the JR Hokuriku Shinkansen line. For more advice and recommendations for cycling in Japan read our blog post, I Want To Ride My Bicycle! Japan’s Best Cycle Routes.
5. Walk Historic Trails
Japan has many famous and historic walking trails across its beautiful landscape. There are few more historic than the Nakasendo. This Edo-period walking trail connects modern day Tokyo (formerly known as Edo) with Kyoto and includes a wealth of stunning scenery along the way. Nakasendo means ‘Central Mountain Route’ and refers to one of the five routes of the Edo period (1600-1868). It is more than 330 miles long and was one of two trails running from Edo (modern day Tokyo) through the Honshu mountain range and Japanese Alps to Kyoto.
These feudal highways were used by the Shogun as a communications network to help rule the country. Today, this historic trail is made up of contemporary roads and footpaths, but several sections of the original route remain and have been officially named a National Historic Site of Japan. Using your JRailPass, you can travel from Kyoto to the historic section of the Nakasendo Trail in the Kiso Valley. Simply take the Hikari or Kodama shinkansen from Kyoto to Nagoya and then transfer to a Shinano Express to Nakatsugawa. You can then take a short bus journey to Magome and the start of your walking trail. Another historic walking trail to consider is the Futabanosato, a 10 km long hiking path following 16 different historical sites in Hiroshima. The trail stops at a variety of sights, temples and shrines, each with their own story to tell, and will take the visitor on a route that shows the unexplored side of Hiroshima. Finally, for a combination of historic walking trail and atmospheric zen hiking, why not consider a walk up into the northern mountains of Kyoto and the rural towns of Kurama and Kibune?
6. Forest Bathing and Flower Gazing
The people of Japan are known for their deep and spiritual connection with the forest and natural world as well as their love of flowers. Japan’s cherry blossom season (known as ‘hanami’ or flower gazing’) is arguably the most famous expression of the latter, at least to international visitors, while the nation’s appreciation of trees and forests has contributed to the worldwide craze that is forest bathing i.e. immersing yourself in the beauty and wonder of the forest.
Flower viewing or gazing has become an art form in itself in Japan. The word ‘hanami’ describes flower gazing, and most commonly refers to Japan’s world-famous cherry blossom season, which takes place every spring and attracts millions of visitors to the country each year. Cherry blossom, or Sakura to give the flower its true Japanese name, has become synonymous with hanami, although the practice originally started with plum blossom before their popularity was overtaken by their pink petalled cousins. You can read more about both in our guides to the Cherry Blossom Season and Visiting Japan to see the Plum Blossom. However, there is more to flower viewing in Japan than just the cherry blossom. From pink moss to wisteria, roses to hydrangea, sunflowers to lavender, Japan is famous for its beautiful flowers, and they occupy an important part in Japanese culture. Flower viewing is a major activity, and it’s about much more than just serenely gazing at pretty petals. In Japan, flowers go hand in hand with spending time with family and friends outdoors; flowers mean festivals, food, and music, and joyous celebrating the natural world.
Forest bathing, or ‘shinrin-yoku’, is actually about basking in the wonder, natural beauty, and majesty of forests. You do this by simply visiting, experiencing, and appreciating them, which is an incredibly easy way to detox the mind, body and spirit. Japan is blessed with plentiful forests across the country, so you’ll be spoilt for choice. One of our recommendations would be Arashiyama Bamboo Forest in north-western Kyoto near the base of the ‘storm mountains’. This spectacular bamboo grove is a wonder to behold and one of the most famous and beautiful forests in Japan. You can read a detailed guide to this forest and how to get there using your Japan Rail Pass in our guide Arashiyama Bamboo Forest: The Jewel of The Storm Mountains. Other recommended forests include… However, with more than 60% of Japan being covered with forests, you’ll have lots of others to choose from, including many within the country’s incredible National Parks. These are a great place to indulge in a forest bathing detox.
7. Animal encounters
Are you ready to take a walk on the wild side? Japan’s beautiful and diverse landscape – ranging from mountains, forests and wetlands, to beaches, subtropics and underwater worlds – feature some of the most spectacular and unique wildlife anywhere in the world. From snow monkeys to tanuki, giant salamanders to spider crabs, and humpback whales to hammerhead sharks, a wildlife tour of Japan is guaranteed to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The country boasts around 90,000 animal species, including more than 150 mammals and 600 birds, as well as a number of endangered species, and several endemic species you will only find in Japan. These include the Japanese macaque (or snow monkey as it is most commonly known), serow, giant flying squirrel, dwarf flying squirrel, weasel, red-backed vole, Amani rabbit and Okinawa Spiny Rat. The aforementioned snow monkey might be one of Japan’s most famous animals and has become a major tourist attraction over the years. Jigokudani Monkey Park is one of the best places to see this beautiful animal. Known as the ‘Paradise of the Monkeys’, the world-famous Jigokudani Monkey Park is located in the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park in Yamanouchi, northern Nagano. It is a large park that is best known for its open-air hot spring bath, which was built for the snow monkeys to bathe in. Each year, millions of people travel to Japan just to see this incredible sight. It’s also easy to reach Jigokudani using your JRpass. If you’re travelling from Tokyo, take the Hokuriku Shinkansen bound for Kanazawa. From Kyoto, take a Hikari train on the JR Tokaido Shinkansen from Kyoto station to Nagoya then switch to the JR Shinano express to Nagano. Once at Nagano, from whichever direction you’ve travelled, you’ll need to take a shuttle bus to the monkey park.
8. Snow Sports
Outdoor activities aren’t always about the summer sun. Japan is just as famous for its snowsports and winter resorts. For those in the know, Japan has long had a stellar reputation as a ski destination. But why exactly is that the case? Well, it starts with the fact that Japan can receive as much as 15 metres (600 inches) of snowfall during winter. The snow that falls on Japan, caused by wind off Siberia crossing the Sea of Japan, is super light and leads to excellent skiing conditions. With regular snowfall that’s both deep and fine as powder, you’re in for a good time when you hit the slopes. The other great thing about travelling to Japan to ski is the length of the Japanese ski season. Stretching from December right through to early May, that’s a long window for you to plan your snow trip. For the best time to ski in Japan you want to come in January or the beginning of February for perfect conditions. That said, spring skiing in Japan is still very good quality and better suited to those who want to spend time sightseeing in Japan as well. For a good general introduction to this topic read our Beginners Guide to Skiing and Snowboarding in Japan. Amazingly, Japan has around 500 to 600 ski resorts across the country. One of the best is Hakuba Valley. Located in the northern Japanese Alps, Hakuba Valley is used to describe a group of towns - Omachi, Hakuba, and Otari - at the base of the mountains. It is also not just one ski resort, but several - 10 to be exact - with more than 200 slopes. The largest resort is known as Happo-One and boasts a mountain beach with saunas and hot tubs as well as amazing ski slopes spread over 220 hectares. But there are many more to choose from, including Hakuba 47 and Hakuba Goryu, which are linked, Tsugaike Kogen, Iwatake, Yanaba, Cortina, Norikura, and Sun Alpina. It’s said that Tsugaike Kogen is the best slope for beginners and intermediates, while Iwatake is also good for families. Happo-One and Cortina are the more advanced and challenging runs. However, with 10 ski resorts there really is something for everyone and every ability level. Read our guide to Hakuba Valley for everything you need to know.
9. Street food
Japan’s culinary excellence is world famous and its street food at stalls and festivals (as well as its outdoor food markets) is a dream come true for foodies. What can be more relaxing than sampling different regional specialities with family and friends in one of Japan’s beautiful parks with a glass of Japanese beer in hand? Depending on who you ask, street food doesn’t exist in Japan – at least, not in the same way that people think about street food. Japan definitely has street food, but there is simply a different culture (and a different history) surrounding it. For instance, street food is less associated with nightlife in Japan and is more closely linked to festivals (matsuri) and events. Street food vendors are known as Yatai in Japan and while they can be seen in abundance at festivals, they are a less common everyday sight in streets or alleyways. There are some exceptions however such as the Nakasu district of Fukuoka and other areas known for all-year-round street food. Popular street food dishes in Japan include Okonomiyaki, Yakitori, Yaki Imo, Imagawayaki, Tomorokoshi, Takoyaki, Yakosoba, and many more. For an in-depth introduction to this topic read our guide, Japanese Street Food Explained.
10. Traditional Festivals & Fireworks
There are an estimated 300,000 matsuri, or festivals, across Japan each year, with almost every shrine, town and village having its own festival. The focal-point of these can vary, from honouring a shrine’s kami (a Shinto deity), to remembering an important historical event, or celebrating a particular season such as summer. Traditional matsuri feature processions and decorated floats known as dashi, yatai, danjiri, and other regional variations. Kami are sometimes carried from their shrines in mikoshi (essentially a portable shrine carried by the procession), and processions are often accompanied by drum and flute music. However, each matsuri is also slightly different, with its own unique personality and characteristics. While some are serene and peaceful, others are colourful, loud and energetic, and feature dancing and singing. Traditional matsuri are a great way to experience the history and culture of Japan and almost all of them take place outdoors. Look out for parades, floats, decorations, dancing, food, games, fireworks, and more! Our guide to the Top 12 Festivals in Japan is a great starting point. In Japan, fireworks are very popular, particularly during months with good weather, so you’ll find a number of spectacular fireworks festivals to enjoy outdoors. Read our guide to Hanabi: Japanese Fireworks for more.
As you can see from our list above, there’s no shortage of fun activities to do outside in Japan. Here are a couple of bonus recommendations, including a couple of extra outdoor activities that almost made the list, and some things to consider:
- Japan loves sports and there are many amazing sports you can enjoy outdoors in Japan while you’re visiting the country, from F1 racing to Japanese Baseball. We’ve written blog posts about both for all the sports lovers out there.
- Naturally, if you’re planning to spend your holiday out and about, you’re going to want to stay online for all the important reasons - directions, language tips, the nearest restaurant, and of course, posting photos of your adventures online to your family and friends. Our PocketWifi devices offer unlimited internet access and date for up to five devices - perfect for anyone exploring the great outdoors.
- If you’re a lover of outdoor adventures, you’re going to want to research and plan your trip to Japan based on the best possible weather so be sure to read our guide to Japan’s Weather and Seasons: When Is The Best Time To Go? for much more.
- Finally, outdoor activities are all well and good, but what about when it rains? Read our guide to Japan’s Rainy Season for a list of ideas for what to do when the weather turns bad.