Outdoor activities in Japan

Talk about Japan and we often think of cherry blossoms, holy shrines and Michelin-starred ramen. However, look beyond the cultural landmarks and mouth-watering food stalls, and you’ll find a myriad of adventurous things to do in this bustling country.

From hiking up the nation’s highest mountain Mt. Fuji to sledding down snowy slopes with dogs, here are 8 outdoor activities in Japan for both thrill-seekers and first-timers who’d like something more upbeat than just touring temples.

1. Conquer a 3,776m hike up Mt. Fuji

The truth is, as much as we love to admire mountaintop panoramas of breathtaking landscapes, the hike up steep and slippery slopes can be daunting. But that might change when you’re getting ready to trek the iconic Mt. Fuji in Japan.

outdoor-activities-japanImage credit: @s.mi.ki.12.19

Standing at 3,776m above sea level, Japan’s tallest mountain attracts flocks of visitors who’d like to climb 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, opt for the Yoshida trail that’s known for its beginner-friendly terrain.

outdoor-activities-japanA torii gate at the top of Mt. Fuji.
Image credit: @wonderofjapan

But even then, hiking the entire trail – starting from 5th station –  still takes around 12 hours – 7 hours to go up and roughly 5 hours to descend. So, consider breaking the journey out into 2 days and spending the night in a mountain hut – which you can book and pay for in advance. Then, continue your journey to catch one of the most majestic sunrises when you reach the summit.

Price: Free
Address: Motohakone, Hakone Town, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa Prefecture, 250-0522, Japan

Climb Mt. Fuji.

2. Go dog-sledding down snowy slopes

Recreate a scene in Game of Thrones by jumping on a dog sled and swerving down snowy slopes with an army of canines.

outdoor-activities-japanImage credit: @mushingworks

Unlike skiing and snowboarding, dog-sledding is easier and doesn’t require any skills. All it takes to master your first ride with the pack is a short introductory course on how to work the foot brakes, and you’re good to go. For those who need some more support, opt for a double sled that fits 2 people.

Keep in mind that an average dog sled can travel pretty fast – at up to 32km/h – so you’ll need to grip firmly while standing on the back. Otherwise, use the thick layer of snow as your safety mattress for when you fall.

Price: From ¥9,500 (~S$104)
Address: 6152-1 Fujiwara, Minakami Town, Tone District, Gunma Prefecture, 379-1721, Japan
Telephone: +81 278-75-2222

Experience dog sledding.

3. Flex your driving skills on a racing circuit

Less than 2 hours away from Tokyo by the bullet train Shinkansen, the 7-track Ebisu Circuit serves up some of the best laps in the world. If you have a need for speed or are a fan of Fast and Furious, this is where you should go.

outdoor-activities-japanImage credit: JNTO

The massive circuit is home to special events like Formula Drift Japan, as well as casual drifting courses and lessons designed for people who’d like to have a feel of driving on a racing track. But if you can’t drive, jump in a car with a professional D1 racer who will be showing you around while flexing his driving skills.

Ebisu circuit is open year-round, although it might be a good idea to go in the summer when most tracks are available for public use.

Price: From ¥2,000 (~S$22.41)
Address: 1 Sawamatsukura, Nihonmatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture, 964-0088, Japan
Telephone: +81 243-24-2972

Race around Ebisu Circuit.

4. Tour a volcanic lake on clear bottom kayaks

Onsen baths, fresh seafood and cow’s milk are not the only fascinating things about Hokkaido. There’s also Lake Shikotsu – a picturesque lake located inside Toya National Park – where travellers frequent to explore the stunning turquoise waters via clear bottom kayaks.

outdoor-activities-japanImage credit: Hokkaido Treasure Island Travel

With a clear bottom kayak, you can catch a glimpse of fish without getting your hair wet. Expect to spot unique Japanese lake creatures like kokanee salmon, white-spotted chars and dusky triple tooth gobies right as you paddle along. This 2-hour float will also take you past other scenic sights such as the surrounding remote shores and active volcanoes.

Because of its depth which measures at 360m, the lake stays ice-free year round even in the freezing winter months so you can go kayaking anytime you’re here.

Price: From ¥3,500 (~S$39.22)
Address: Horobinai, Chitose City, Hokkaido Prefecture, 066-0287, Japan
Telephone: +81 123-25-2404

Kayak in Lake Shikotsu.

5. Fly over 50m-tall sand dunes on a paraglider

Get ready to ascend into the sky and paraglide past windswept Tottori Sand Dunes – Japan’s best-kept secret – that look like they’re straight out of the Sahara Desert. As intimidating as this activity might seem, it’s actually suitable for everyone, including beginners and even children. 

outdoor-activities-JapanImage credit: San’in Tourism Organisation

First-time paragliders are encouraged to opt for a tandem flight where you’re accompanied by an instructor. Although you’ll have to trek 50m up the dunes before flying down, rest assured your instructor will do the heavy lifting and carry your equipment. If you’re flying solo, join a paragliding crash course onsite to learn basic safety before taking off.

Besides paragliding, other activities at Tottori Desert to put on your bucket list include sandboarding and camel riding

Price: From ¥8,000 (~S$89.62)
Address: 2164-661 Yuyama, Fukube Town, Tottori City, Tottori Prefecture, 689-0105, Japan
Telephone: +81 857-22-0581

Paraglide in Tottori Desert.

6. Explore an underwater cave & coral reefs

Snorkelling is all fun and games until you try scuba diving – where you can be fully submerged in the water and be surrounded by sea creatures –  then it’s a whole different ball game. And that’s exactly what you can do at Okinawa’s Blue Cave.

scuba-divingImage credit: @activityjapan

At this famous diving spot, sunlight hits the sandy seafloor, resulting in a reflective blue hue in the water that’s both magical and mysterious. Once you reach the bottom of the ocean, you can relish vibrant corals and rare fishes like blotchy soldierfish, schools of sweeper and longfin batfish. 

Operated by Sealovers, these 2.5-hour scuba diving tours are beginner-friendly. Plus, you won’t have to worry about sorting out your own tank, mask and flippers 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
Telephone: +81 98-965-7535

Scuba dive at Okinawa’s Blue Cave.

7. Hunt for “snow monsters” up in the mountains

There’s no doubt that Japan’s rife with impressive ski slopes and 5-star mountain accommodations. But if you find yourself in Mount Zao for a ski season, check yourself into Lodge Scole – a family-run cosy lodge.

lodge-scoleImage credit: @lodgescole1

Situated near some of Zao Onsen’s most popular slopes, Lodge Scole is bustling with skiers, snowboarders and curious souls who’d like to go after the iconic snow monsters up in the mountain. Cameras at the ready because these creatures – which are just tall alpine trees draped in layers of snow – are a sight to see.

snow-monstersWatch out for the snow monsters.
Image credit: @jason.peppard

After a day spent rocketing down the slopes, consider joining a kokeshi doll crafting workshop, catching a live performance over dinner and sinking your teeth into the signature homemade cheesecake.

Price: From ¥4,000 (~S$44.04)
Address: 746 Zao Onsen, Yamagata City, Yamagata Prefecture, 990-2301, Japan
Telephone: +81 23-694-9320

Spend a night at Lodge Scole.

8. Embark on a 70km cycle around Japan’s most scenic route

So you’ve tackled the tallest mountain in Japan, gone diving in the deep ocean and now want to explore the rest of the country on wheels, but you don’t know where to start. If that’s the case, it’s time to rent a bike and hit the country’s most scenic cycling trail, Shimanami Kaido.

cycling-japanImage credit: @activityjapan

Spanning around 70km, this beloved bicycle path passes a National Park, 6 islands, several orange orchards, various traditional Japanese inns and wraps around the coast of the Seto Inland Sea. The entire trail is mostly flat and easy to navigate so people who aren’t fitspos can still pedal away.

For a relaxing experience that doesn’t leave you gasping for air, consider spreading the trip over 2 days. There’s a handful of classic ryokan inns along the way, as well as beaches and local food joints for you to rest and refuel.

Price: Free

Tour Shimanami Kaido on bikes.

Adventurous things to do in Japan

Although Japan’s cherry blossoms, cuisine and temples are spectacular, they’re not the only reason why you should plan a visit. There’s also a slew of heart-thumping outdoor activities in Japan for those who seek an action-packed holiday.

From trekking up the symbol of Japan to cycling through the most breathtaking trail, you’ll be able to choose your own adventure and even burn a few calories from all the donburi you’ve been consuming. And the best part is, most activities are available year-round, so you can hit them up whenever you’re in town. Just make sure to check their opening hours before you go.

Japan is surely famous among travellers for its quiet shrines, neon-lit food joints and steamy onsens – all that screams a relaxing vacation. But somewhere in the middle, you’ll find adventurous outdoor activities in Japan – in case you want to switch things up.

P.S. To get you fully prepped for your upcoming holiday in Japan, check out JAPAN by Japan for more things to do.

Find more outdoor activities in Japan

This post was brought to you by Japan National Tourism Organization.
Cover image adapted from @wonderofjapan, @activityjapan, @mushingworks.


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