Spanning from tropical south to the arctic north, Japan has an incredible variety of nature and national parks: snowy panoramas, mountain vistas, tropical lagoons, dramatic coastlines, primeval forests and even sand dunes and active volcanoes. Some of the most impressive are the giant whirlpools in Naruto straits or the world heritage island of Yakushima with its cryptomeria forests. Most famous are the Sakura Cherry blossoms, and of course Mt. Fuji, which takes about eight hours to climb.
There is a huge variety of ways to get in touch with nature in Japan. Forest walking, hiking and trekking are popular: either through pristine natural parks or between temples. In Shikoku there are 88 temples forming a loop around the island
and the Kumano Kodo is a way to combine nature and history. Yakushima has a surrealistic landscape of verdant forest that inspired a famous anime film called Princess Mononoke. Hiking through this or up volcanic black earth in Mount Rishiri in Hokkaido to see a steaming volcano crater is an experience one can simply walk into! Cycling is also becoming popular: the Shimanami cycling route is a 70km route that crosses a bridge between the islands of Honshu and Shikoku. White-knuckle
rafting can also be done in the summer months as snow melts and creates fastflowing rivers in Furano, Hokkaido, and in Tokushima.
Japan’s local specialties and food varies by local landscapes, weather and ingredients, which makes for interesting experiences. In the north, for example, rice isn’t grown as much as wheat, so learning how to make soba and udon (varieties of noodles) from the locals or joining a Wanko-soba contest (how many bowls can you eat?) is an experience. In Okayama the Aizo-me indigo blue dye lasts longer than the clothes they colour and in Okinawa there is a kind of doll called Shisa. If you’re in Morioka, there’s a beautiful kind of black ironware called Nambu that’s made from local materials.