With a unique culture that fuses the traditional and the modern, Japan lures nearly 30 million international tourists a year. Drawn by the gleaming city lights and historic monuments, most visitors never discover the wildlife wonders hidden far from the overcrowded streets of Tokyo.
Spread across more than six thousand volcanic islands, Japan is an increasingly popular destination for outdoor adventure – and for more than one reason.
The Wild North Skiing
Hokkaido is the northernmost of Japan’s four main islands and home to Niseko, often regarded as the powder capital of the world. With over 780 inches of snowfall annually, it never seems to stop snowing, and the quality matches the quantity. The cold air blowing in from Siberia and extremely low humidity result in the lightest, fluffiest powder known to humankind.
Comprising of four interconnected skiing areas, Niseko is only one among many excellent ski resorts in Hokkaido. And beyond the chairlifts and perfectly groomed snow, the island offers plenty of opportunities for backcountry skiing, snowshoeing and even dog sledding.
The Japanese Alps
Stretching 200km (120 miles) in length, the Japanese Alps form some of the country’s most dramatic landscapes. The northern part of the range boasts a network of well-maintained trails and remote mountain lodges allowing hikers to enchain the highest peaks in exhilarating, multi-day adventures.
The Kamikochi-Yari-Hotaka Circuit is the crown jewel for advanced hikers and can be tackled from mid-July to mid-October, when the rugged ridges are free of snow. Other, less technical routes (for example, in the valleys of Kamikochi and Hakuba) can be enjoyed year-round and even in the depths of winter.
Tropical South Adventure
Located halfway between Japan and Taiwan, Okinawa consists of a few dozen small islands with a mild, subtropical climate. The craggy coastline is a dream destination for sea kayaking, snorkelling and scuba diving. From July to September, the typhoon season offers decent swell for opportunistic surfers.
Beyond water sports, Okinawa is the place to be for all tourists tired with the hustle and bustle of mainland cities. Here you can experience the perfect beach holiday dozing on the white sand and sipping a cocktail. Be sure to put Kabira Bay on your itinerary – it is said to be one of the world’s most beautiful beaches.
Open Air Bath Soaking
To find a little bit of peace and soak muscles sore from hiking or skiing, you don’t have to travel all the way south. Onsen, or hot springs, can be found across the country and their allure is at its strongest in winter. Just imagine descending from cold, snow-covered mountain peaks to find yourself in a naturally steaming outdoor pool, nestled in a wintery landscape.
The tradition of enjoying onsen is one of the hallmarks of Japanese culture and a unique way to unwind after a strenuous day in the mountains. Among the best onsen in the country are Noboribetsu and Kumo no Ue Onsen (both in Hokkaido) and Kinosaki in Kansai.