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 with amazing outdoor activities in Japan.

Nature and the Outdoors in Japan

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 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 vacation.

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 nature.

No matter how you choose to embrace nature in Japan and the magnificent Japanese landscapes, you’re sure to be enthralled. Here are some of our favorite outdoor activities in Japan as well as some of Japan’s top natural wonders.

Mount Fuji

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 travelers 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.

A row of people walking along the top of Mount Fuji

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 in Japan 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-kilometer 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 traveler 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 experienced 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 densely 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 colorful 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, Travel Specialist and Japan expert Stacey Tieger recommends the Nakasendo hiking trail:

“The Nakasendo trail is one of our most remarkable experiences. This 2 or 3-day hike through the Japanese Alps will take you back in time as you stroll the path that feudal lords and merchants would journey through the Kiso Valley from Kyoto to Tokyo. This beautiful trail takes you through rolling countryside and introduces you to amazing post towns like Tsumago and Magome. Staying at local ryokans, you are given a glimpse of true local Japanese hospitality. It is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to experience Japan.”

Cherry Blossoms

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 color 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 Japan's nature to witness it. 

Kumano Kodo

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 while enjoying Japan's nature. 

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.

  • Kumano Shrine set against a waterfall backdrop
  • Blooming cherry blossom branches around a row of lanterns
  • Snow monkeys resting on a rock while bathing in the hot springs

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 personalized to you and your travel preferences, so we can always include additional outdoor experiences and activities if you’d like.

Our Japan expert Stacey Tieger recommends a tour of Kamikochi in particular:

“Kamikochi is considered a hidden gem of the Northern Japan Alps. Its natural beauty and keen position, between Matsumoto and Takayama, make this a wonderful addition to a more in-depth visit to Japan. Here you can experience the Chubu Sangaku National Park, hike its many trails, ride up the Shinhotaka Ropeway and experience the more rustic side of Japan.”

For more information on our Japan vacations, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a friendly travel expert or one of our experts below.

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Hoshinoya Fuji

Hoshinoya Fuji

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.

Off the beaten track Adventure Eco/ethical tourism
Jinpyokaku Honten

Jinpyokaku Honten

Yudanaka, 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.

Adventure Couples Culture
Nakasendo Walking Trail

Nakasendo Walking Trail

Tsumago, Japan

Step back in time as you make your way along the Nakasendo Way, a network of ancient highways used by people traveling from Kyoto to Tokyo. Along the four day walk you will trek along village paths and forested trails getting a unique taste of Japan.

Adventure Couples Culture Wildlife
The Sekitei

The Sekitei

Miyajimaguchi, Japan

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.

Culture Spa & health
Wanosato Takayama

Wanosato Takayama

Takayama, Japan

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.

Culture Couples
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