The Activity Travel Guide to Japan

What images come to your mind when you think about Japan? For the uninitiated who have never visited, these images may include a people who are overly formal and polite, cherry blossoms, bonsai, the view of Mount Fuji, and maybe pictures of a Samurai heritage. And though these are all correct, they are only a single facet of a country and people with a rich heritage that goes back thousands of years, a diverse culture, and a lifestyle rich in tradition.

Here we will explore the varied opportunities that await travellers visiting Japan, an accommodation guide, the sites that can be visited, and the experiences that the country offers to visitors.

Accommodation

There are a range of different styles of accommodation visitors can choose between, ranging from western style hotels and guest houses to traditional Japanese style of accommodation.

If you’re adventurous enough, you can try the Japanese capsule hotels and temple lodgings.

  • Ryokan
    This a traditional style inn in which the rooms are decorated Japanese style. The accommodation normally includes breakfast and dinner.

 

  • Minshuku
    These are Japanese style “bed and breakfast” inns traditionally run by a family. The rooms are decorated in the Japanese style, and one or two meals are typically included.

 

Japanese apartments and houses
This is a fairly new style of accommodation offered to foreign tourists. Mainly available in Tokyo and Kyoto, apartments are offered with traditional or modern interior.

For longer term stays, apartments can be rented weekly or monthly. This is the most affordable type of accommodation for tourists.

Transportation

Transportation in Japan is modern and high by western standards. You can travel by

  • Air

There are five main international/domestic airports in Japan: Tokyo International Airport, Osaka International Airport, Kansai International Airport, Narita International Airport, and Chubu International Airport.

There are also a number of smaller domestic terminals in Japan, but generally most flights for travellers will be arriving and departing from one of the five international airports listed above.

For a guide on how to receive discount airfare tickets in Japan, check out this guide here.

  • High speed train

High speed ‘bullet’ trains, also know an Shinkansen trains, are an experience like no other. Reaching speeds of up to 320km/hr, these trains are a great way to travel from one end of the country to another.

Further information can be found here.

  • Train

There are also regular trains that access nearly every town in Japan, and can be a great way to travel from one location to another while still being able to sightsee.

Find information and timetables here.

  • Bus

There are bus services available to travellers and to locals in every city, but there have been reviews from other travellers stating that it is hard for non-Japanese speakers to manage on the bus system. If you are a non-Japanese speaker, ensure that you get help from someone who is bilingual to ensure that you reach the correct destination.

For more information, see this site.

  • Ferry 

As the full territory of Japan consists of several thousand islands, some of which are much larger than others, ferries in Japan are part of an extensive, well-run network.

To find out the rules and regulations of travelling on ferries in Japan, see this guide.

Skiing and snowboarding

Skiing resorts located in the Hokkaido and the surrounding alpine region are known for having the best powder to be found anywhere in the world. The area and the skiing resorts are known for attractive ski runs, and also for their very attractive alpine scenery.

You can download a PDF document which describes the ski areas. It is titled “ Snow’ n’ Ski Japan: Think Powder, think Japan”. Here you can read about 14 different ski resorts, including Alts Bandai, known as a Mecca for snowboarders.

You will also find several world class ski resorts situated in the Nagano and Hokkaido districts where the 1998 Winter Olympics were held. As another example, you can travel by bullet train to Habuka and you can buy an all-inclusive package with hotel accommodation through a travel agent.

The ski season in Japan typically starts in December and runs through until April. Snowboarding has become increasingly popular, and many Japanese ski resorts now provide special facilities such as ‘half pipes’.

A unique feature of many Japanese ski resorts is that they offer hot springs which are highly popular for relaxation and muscle therapy after a day on the slopes. Hot springs may be available indoors or outdoors, and can be gender specific or mixed.

Beaches, snorkelling and diving

The best beaches, with opportunities for snorkeling and scuba diving, are located in Okinawa. There are also underwater ruins in the Ryukyu archipelago where you will find many options for accommodation and sightseeing.

Hiking in Japan

The northern alps are the most popular hiking grounds in Japan. You need to travel to the town of Kamikochi which is the gateway to the area. Here you can arrange short day hiking trips or a week long adventure. You will have views of mountain peaks stretching 3,000 metres high. The tracks are crowded with people during summer weekends but during autumn you will see the stupendous landscape unspoilt by crowds of people.

Viewing cherry blossoms and Mt. Fuji

Starting in late March up until early May, you can watch the Japanese cherry blossoms bloom. Popular destinations for viewing the magnificent flowers are Shinjuku Gyoen or Arashiyama in Kyoto. If you’re visiting Kyoto, it’s recommended that you combine your Arashiyama trip with visits to some of the famous shrines around this city.

For postcard-worthy scenery, you can also combine cherry blossoms with a visit to the eastern side of Lake Kawaguchi, Ubuyagasaki, situated close to Mt Fuji. Here you can enjoy the combination of the famous mountain, the blossoms and the lake. Best of all, when the weather is clear you are able to see the snow-capped mountain mirrored in the lake, a splendid photo opportunity for scenery enthusiasts.

To get to Lake Kawaguchi you can catch a JR Chuo Hansen line from Tokyo station to Otsu Station, which takes slightly more than an hour. From there you catch Fuji Kyoko line to Kawaguchiko Station, and a local “retro bus” from the station to Ubuyagasaki.

As an alternative, you can view cherry blossoms at the world heritage listed Mt. Yoshino. Some 30,000 cherry trees are said to cover the slopes of the mountain.

Venturing to a Japanese hot spring bath

Communal hot spring bathing is a Japanese tradition that dates back 1,300 years. People are uninhibited, and they readily undress and enter the hot spring bath naked in the company of strangers. The original hot spring bath still stands Dogo, Shikoku. Hot spring baths are available in most locations in Japan.

 Visiting Japanese temples and shrines

If you are interested in history, Osaka and Kyoto are the places to visit. Kyoto was Japan’s capital from 794 up to 1868 and is steeped in history. There you can visit the Buddhist temple Kinkakuji, originally a shogun’s residence and an icon of Japan’s imperial past.

Kyoto has no fewer than 17 world heritage sites and some 2,000 temples and shrines scattered around the city. Together with famous gardens, like the minimalist and the mysterious garden at Ryoanji, they add to Kyoto’s attractive heritage.

The city of Osaka also has a rich history. The recommended sites to visit in Osaka include Osaka Castle, the Sumiyoshi-Taisha Shrine and Shi-Tennoji temple, the Namba/Dotonbori/Shinsaibashi shopping districts, and Universal Studios Japan.

References

With so many places to visit and such diverse culture, you may wish to plan your visit with the help of the following brochures and websites.

  • Experience Japan describes attractive destinations, distinct seasons as well as the Japanese culture and cuisine.
  • 63 different travelling guides describe the regions of Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanso, Chubu, Kinki, Chugoku & Shikoku, Kyushu & Okinawa as well as special interests such as museums, skiing in Japan, camping in Japan, ceramic arts & crafts, traditional sports, Japanese gardens, bonsai and horticulture.
  • A language handbook to learn basic expressions.
  • Search Japan Travel  lists no fewer then 3,340 different activities and destinations.
  • Why Not Japan describes organised trips for sporting activities like skiing and snowboarding as well as Japan’s nightlife.
  • Osaka Nightlife is a guide published by Trip Advisor.
  • Japanese Manners and Habits describes bus, train travel, taxi trips, hot springs, Japanese etiquette and shopping manners and more.
  • 7 Habits you learn after living in Japanis an outline of Japanese habits.
  • Top things to do in Tokyo is another publication by Tripadvisor.
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