Outdoor activities in Japan
When we talk about Japan, we often think of cherry blossoms, sacred shrines and Michelin-starred ramen. However, look beyond the cultural landmarks and mouth-watering food stalls, and you’ll find myriad adventurous things to do in this bustling country.
From hiking the country’s tallest mountain, Mount Fuji, to sledding down the snowy slopes with dogs, here’s 8 outdoor activities in Japan for thrill seekers and beginners who would like something more upbeat than just visiting temples.
1. Conquer a 3,776m hike on Mount Fuji
The truth is, while we love taking in mountaintop vistas of jaw-dropping scenery, hiking up steep, slippery slopes can be daunting. But that might change when you prepare to hike the iconic Mount Fuji in Japan.
Image credit: @s.mi.ki.12.19
At 3,776m, Japan’s tallest mountain attracts crowds of visitors eager to scale one of the world’s most famous peaks. There are four different paths you can take to reach the top. However, if you’re a hiking noob, go for the Yoshida Trail, which is known for its beginner-friendly terrain.
A torii gate at the top of Mount Fuji.
Image credit: @wonderofjapan
But even then, hiking the entire trail – from the 5th station – still takes about 12 hours – 7 hours up and about 5 hours down. So consider splitting the trip into 2 days and spending the night in a Mountain Lodge – which you can reserve and pay in advance. Then continue your journey to catch one of the most majestic sunrises when you reach the top.
Address: Motohakone, Hakone City, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa Prefecture, 250-0522, Japan
2. Go dog sledding on the snowy slopes
Recreate a scene in Game of Thrones by jumping on a dog sled and hurtle down the snowy slopes with an army of canines.
Image credit: @mushingworks
Unlike skiing and snowboarding, dog sledding is easier and requires no skill. All it takes to master your first ride with the pack is a short introductory lesson in how to work the foot brakes, and you’re good to go. For those who need more support, opt for a double sled that can accommodate 2 people.
Keep in mind that an average dog sled can move quite quickly – up to 32 km/h – so you’ll need to hold on tight while standing on your back. Otherwise, use the thick layer of snow as a safety mattress in the event of a fall.
Price: From ¥9,500 (~S$104)
Address: 6152-1 Fujiwara, Minakami Town, Tone District, Gunma Prefecture, 379-1721, Japan
Phone: +81 278-75-2222
3. Improve your driving skills on a racing circuit
Less than 2 hours from Tokyo by bullet train shinkansen, the 7 tracks Ebisu Circuit serves some of the best laps in the world. If you need speed or are a Fast and Furious fan, this is the place to go.
Image credit: JNTO
The huge circuit hosts special events like Formula Drift Japan, as well as laid-back drifting courses and lessons designed for people who want to feel like they’re driving on a race track. But if you don’t know how to drive, hop in a car with a professional D1 racer who will show you around while developing his driving skills.
Ebisu Circuit is open year-round, but it might be a good idea to go in the summer when most of the tracks are open to the public.
Price: From ¥2,000 (~S$22.41)
Address: 1 Sawamatsukura, Nihonmatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture, 964-0088, Japan
Phone: +81 243-24-2972
4. Visit a volcanic lake on clear-bottom kayaks
Onsen baths, fresh seafood and cow’s milk are not the only fascinating things about Hokkaido. There is also Lake Shikotsu – a scenic lake located inside Toya National Park – where travelers frequent to explore the beautiful turquoise waters via clear bottom kayaks.
Image credit: Hokkaido Treasure Island Trip
With a glass bottom kayak, you can spot fish without getting your hair wet. Expect to spot unique Japanese lake creatures like kokanee salmon, white-spotted char, and dusky three-toothed gobies as you paddle. This 2-hour float will also take you past other sights such as the surrounding remote shores and active volcanoes.
Due to its depth which measures at 360m, the lake remains ice free all year round, even during the freezing winter months, so you can kayak anytime.
Price: From ¥3,500 (~S$39.22)
Address: Horobinai, Chitose City, Hokkaido Prefecture, 066-0287, Japan
Phone: +81 123-25-2404
5. Fly over 50m high sand dunes on a paraglider
Prepare to soar into the sky and experience windswept paragliding Tottori Sand Dunes – Japan’s best-kept secret – that seem straight out of the Sahara Desert. As daunting as this activity may seem, it is actually suitable for everyone, including beginners and even children.
Image credit: San’in Tourism Organization
Beginner paragliders are encouraged to opt for a tandem flight accompanied by an instructor. Although you have to walk 50m through the dunes before you take off, rest assured that your instructor will do the heavy lifting and carry your gear. If you’re flying solo, join an intensive paragliding course on site to learn basic safety rules before you take off.
Price: From ¥8,000 (~S$89.62)
Address: 2164-661 Yuyama, Fukube Town, Tottori City, Tottori Prefecture, 689-0105, Japan
Phone: +81 857-22-0581
6. Explore an underwater cave and coral reefs
Snorkeling is fun and games until you try scuba diving – where you can be fully immersed in water and surrounded by sea creatures – then it’s a whole different ball game. . And that’s exactly what you can do at Okinawa’s Blue Grotto.
Image credit: @activityjapan
At this famous dive site, sunlight hits the sandy seabed, giving the water a reflective blue hue that is both magical and mysterious. Once you reach the ocean floor, you can savor vibrant corals and rare fish like spotted soldierfish, schools of sweepers and longfin batfish.
Operated by Sealovers, these 2.5 hour scuba diving tours are suitable for beginners. Plus, you won’t have to worry about sorting out your own tank, mask, and fins because they’ve got you covered.
Price: From ¥7,500 (~S$82.58)
Address: 152-1 Maeganeku, Onna Village, Kunigami District, Okinawa Prefecture, 904-0414, Japan
Phone: +81 98-965-7535
7. Hunt the “snow monsters” in the mountains
There is no doubt that Japan is full of impressive ski slopes and 5-star mountain accommodations. But if you find yourself at Mt Zao for a ski season, do you check Lodge School – a family and comfortable lodge.
Image credit: @lodgescole1
Located near some of Zao Onsen’s most popular slopes, Lodge Scole is teeming with skiers, snowboarders and curious souls who would like to pursue the iconic snow monsters high in the mountain. Cameras at the ready as these creatures – which are nothing but tall alpine trees draped in layers of snow – are a sight to behold.
Watch out for snow monsters.
Image credit: @jason.peppard
After a day of hitting the slopes, consider joining a kokeshi doll-making workshop, watch a live performance over dinner, and bite into homemade cheesecake.
Price: From ¥4,000 (~S$44.04)
Address: 746 Zao Onsen, Yamagata City, Yamagata Prefecture, 990-2301, Japan
Phone: +81 23-694-9320
8. Embark on a 70km cycle around Japan’s most scenic road
So you’ve braved Japan’s tallest mountain, plunged into the depths of the ocean, and now want to explore the rest of the country on wheels, but you don’t know where to start. If so, it’s time to rent a bike and hit some of the country’s most scenic spots. bike path, Shimanami Kaido.
Image credit: @activityjapan
Stretching for about 70 km, this beloved cycle route passes by a national park, 6 islands, several orange orchards, various traditional Japanese inns and winds around the coast of the Seto Inland Sea. The entire trail is mostly flat and easy to navigate, so people who aren’t fitpos can still pedal.
For a relaxing experience that doesn’t leave you breathless, consider splitting the trip over 2 days. There are a handful of classics ryokan hostels along the way, as well as local beaches and restaurants to rest and refuel.
Adventurous things to do in Japan
While Japan’s cherry blossoms, cuisine, and temples are spectacular, they’re not the only reason you should plan a visit. There are also a host of thrilling outdoor activities in Japan for those looking for an action-packed vacation.
From trekking on the symbol of Japan to biking on the most breathtaking trail, you can choose your own adventure and even burn some calories from all the donburi you have consumed. And the best part is that most of the activities are available year-round, so you can do them whenever you’re in town. Just be sure to check their opening hours before you go.
Japan is surely famous among travelers for its tranquil shrines, neon-lit restaurants, and steamy onsens – it all screams a relaxing vacation. But somewhere in the middle you will find adventurous outdoor activities in Japan – in case you want to change things up.
PS To prepare yourself well for your next vacation in Japan, check out JAPAN by Japan for more things to do.