A Nature and Outdoor Lover’s Guide to Japan
With its bubbling hot springs, towering volcanoes and snow-capped mountains, Japan's varied landscapes and nature spots make the perfect setting for an adventure in the great outdoors.
When we think of Japan, more often than not, images of its buzzing metropolises spring to mind, yet look beyond the cityscape of Tokyo and a world of rolling rice fields, remote islands and verdant valleys await.
Best nature spots in Japan
Japan is a country full to the brim with breathtaking natural wonders, so if you’re enchanted by the great outdoors and the magic of nature, it’s the perfect place for an adventurous holiday.
Step back in time with a walk along the ancient Nakasendo Trail, soak in a natural onsen, or summit Mount Fuji for the ultimate way to experience the best of Japan’s natural world.
No matter how you choose to embrace nature in Japan, you’re sure to be enthralled. Here are some of our favourite outdoor activities in Japan as well as some of Japan’s top natural wonders.
Located on the island of Honshu, Mount Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan, standing at a whopping 3,776m tall. In fact, it’s also the second-highest volcano located on any island in Asia - and during the summer, can even be seen from the International Space Station.
One of the best views of Mount Fuji can be taken in from Shin-Fuji station as it sits majestically along the horizon, or, if you prefer to get in amongst the action, head to the Fuji Five Lake region at the northern foot of the mountain. The views from there, framed by the lake, are spectacular - no matter the season.
You can also head to Hakone - a nearby hot spring resort town - and make the most of the mountain setting.
Feeling more adventurous? Thousands of travellers and locals alike climb the mountain every year, though if you’re looking for something less challenging, there are plenty of other slightly less-daunting peaks nearby.
Snow Monkeys in Japan
Japanese macaques, also known as snow monkeys, are undoubtedly one of the highlights of a visit to Japan.
Snow monkeys are typically found on three of Japan’s main islands - Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu, with the Jigokudani monkey park in the prefecture of Nagano, Honshu, serving as one of the main habitats of the furry creatures. Here, the monkeys can roam free, offering visitors a unique chance to get up close and personal with them and watch as they eat, sleep, play, groom, and generally interact with each other.
During the cold winter months, you can even witness Snow monkeys bathing in the park’s natural hot springs as they attempt to keep themselves warm - an endearing sight to behold.
If you fancy a wander while you’re there, there’s a short two-kilometre nature trail that runs through the forest taking you to the Kanbayashi onsen, with plenty of info on all things snow monkey to take in along the way.
Hiking in Japan
If you’re the kind of traveller that loves nothing more than a good long walk and the great outdoors, you’ll love the experience of hiking in Japan.
You’ll find that mountains are all within reach of Japan’s major cities, and with the country having excellent infrastructure for transport, you’re never far away from your next hike.
Whatever level of hike you’re looking for, you’ll find a variety of routes to explore, from challenging climbs for keen hikers to flat routes easy enough for ambling. Furthermore, everywhere you look, the scenery in Japan is simply stunning, so you’re bound to be afforded magnificent views - from mountains and rivers to steaming geysers and onsens, glistening lakes and dense, wooded forests.
And no matter what time of year you choose to visit Japan, the seasons manage to make the hiking scenery unique and spectacular each and every time, from the blossoming flowers of spring, to the colourful leaves of the autumn.
If you’re looking for inspiration, some of Japan’s most famous hikes include:
- Mount Fuji
- Kumano Kodo (more info below)
- The Shikoku Pilgrimage trail
- Central Honshu’s Japanese Alps
- Kamikochi Valley
- Hoikkaido's Daisetsuzan National Park
- Mount Takao
Meanwhile, Senior Travel Consultant and Japan expert Rikki Poynton recommends the Nakasendo hiking trail:
“A real standout experience for me is the Nakasendo Walking Trail. It’s a 3-day/2-night hike through the Kiso Valley in the Japanese Alps which gets you completely off the beaten track through some beautiful countryside and small villages. It involves staying in some pretty basic ryokans, but it’s the best way to see Japan in all its beauty!”
There’s no doubt about it, cherry blossom season is one of nature’s wonders that Japan is best known for.
Every springtime, its famous cherry trees burst into colour and bloom with petals (known as sakura). A cacophony of pastel pink, magenta, rose and reds; it's a spectacle that makes for a truly beautiful sight to behold.
Tourists and locals gather in parks and along the river banks for cherry blossom viewing parties, known as hanami. Incredibly, the cherry blossoms sweep through Japan at different times, too. You’re more likely to see it in the prefectures of Kyoto and Tokyo around March, while in Hokkaido it can often be seen in late April or early May.
Although cherry blossom season is hard to pinpoint (it can happen any time during the spring depending on where you are and usually only lasts for a week or two) it's well worth getting out and about in nature to witness it.
Kumano Kodo is an incredibly special thousand-year-old World Heritage site and pilgrimage trail. Said to be one of the world’s most spiritual roads, it has been trodden by many a pilgrim on journeys of self-discovery and enlightenment over the centuries.
The entire route is made up of seven different trails of varying levels of difficulty, and which you take will depend upon your final destination choice and the length of the hike you want to do. You can do a shorter hike, or pack light and hike over a few days staying at ryokans along the way.
The trail runs through Honshu’s Kii peninsula and mountain region, covering the Wakayama, Nara, Osaka and Mie prefectures, and can be easily reached from Kyoto.
While there, look out for three of its most sacred shrines:
- Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine
- Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine
- Kumano Hongu Taisha Shrine
A visit to these, and the trail itself, is a unique way to experience both Japan’s breathtaking landscapes and nature, as well as its ancient religious traditions.
Enjoy Japan’s natural landscapes
Ready to explore everything this country has to offer? Why not make the most of Japan’s natural wonders with one of our luxury tours?
Our tours, such as Exceptional Japan, take in some of the best nature spots in Japan including those listed above, while also combining five-star food experiences and charming ryokan stays.
What’s more, we make all our tours entirely bespoke to you and your travel preferences, so we can always include additional outdoor experiences and activities if you’d like.
Our Japan expert Rikki Poynton recommends a tour of Kamikochi in particular:
“Kamikochi is another beautiful region in the Japanese Alps which doesn’t involve as much hiking as some of the other areas. You can spend a day or two in the area, again staying in a simple hotel, and simply enjoy the spectacular scenery.”
For more information on our Japan holidays, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a friendly travel consultant or one of our experts below.
Lake Kawaguchi (Mount Fuji), Japan
Perched next to Lake Kawaguchi at the base of Mt Fuji, Hoshinoya Fuji is Japan's most breathtaking 'glamping' experience. This wonderful escape sits deep in a red pine forests and on a clear day the views of Mt Fuji are spectacular.
Nakasendo Walking Trail
Step back in time as you make your way along the Nakasendo Way, a network of ancient highways used by people travelling from Kyoto to Tokyo. Along the four day walk you will trek along village paths and forested trails getting a unique taste of Japan.
Established in 1901, Jinpyokaku is a historic onsen ryokan loved by many writers and artists such as Yasunari Kawabata and Soseki Natsume. With only 6 rooms, this is a quiet and traditional option and a great base from which to explore the mountains.
Nestled into the hillside overlooking the inland sea of Japan and out to Miyajima Island, The Sekitei provides the ultimate Ryokan experience. With just twelve rooms, the attention to detail here is outstanding and the service is second to none.
A beautiful Japanese Ryokan just twenty minutes from historic Takayama, Wanosato is surrounded by forested hills and traditional Japanese villages. Dating back 160 years, with a rare Gasso-zukuri thatched roof, Wanosato is a truly unique place.
Tokyo, Kiso Valley, Kyoto, Miyajimaguchi & Lake Kawaguchi (Mount Fuji)
Japan is most often praised for its incredibly rich culture and history with its natural beauty often being overlooked. This itinerary shows you a different side to Japan, taking in the best of country's most inspiring cities and combining them with the Nakasendo Walking Trail, an ancient postal route through wild forests, and the beautiful...
GBP £9,000 pp
Japan in Spring - Cherry Blossom Season
Tokyo, Kanazawa, Miyajima, Kyoto & Hakone
This beautiful itinerary allows to you experience Japan in its most famed and spectacular season, Sakura, when the beautiful Cherry Blossoms blanket the country. Taking you throughout the island of Honshu, visit Japan in spring to see the beautiful cherry blossom in full bloom. This itinerary takes you to Hakone National Park and Miyajima Island,...
GBP £13,800 pp