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Japan is no newcomer when it comes to the Olympics. It participated for the first time in the 1912 Fifth Olympiad, and it hosted the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, and the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano. Not to mention, that it has 439 Summer Olympic and 58 Winter Olympic medals to proudly display on the chest of its athletes.
With many corona virus-related discussions and a postponement of the games to the summer of 2021, the land of the rising sun will once again be the summer host in Tokyo under the torch slogan of “Hope Lights Our Way”, and will inaugurate baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing as its novelty categories, giving a new spin to tradition.
Adventure sports enthusiasts will enjoy either watching from their screen of choice and benefiting from the “near life-size images” supplied by the T-TR1 remote location communication robots or actually attending the Tokyo Olympics that will take place between the 23rd of July and the 8th of August of 2021.
For those lucky to watch the Tokyo Olympics in the flesh, and staying in Japan for a couple of days or a couple of weeks, we have put together our pick of best outdoor adventures near Tokyo, and beyond, in case you wish to get away from the crowds, take a breath from the bots, and breathe in some fresh Japanese air while channeling all of the competitive inspiration from the games into some athletic outdoor practice of your own.
Tokyo is located in the Kantō region in the southeast of the island of Honshu, one of the five main islands of Japan. Honshu is 1,300 km (810 mi) long and 50 to 230 km (31 to 143 mi) wide. It is home to the highest peak in Japan, Mount Fuji, and to Shinano River, the longest river in the country. Furthermore, the Sea of Japan and the Pacific both lap onto Honshu’s shores which are bridged by the Japanese Alps that stretch across the island offering a wide variety of landscapes and terrains for all kinds of adventure sports.
The Kantō region is one of the 5 regions that the island is divided into, and is split into seven prefectures including Tokyo. Although they may be at a relative distance, wilderness areas are easy to reach from the city, due to the great transport system, and are ideal to practice mountaineering, rock climbing, hiking, rafting and more.
Mount Fuji is a national emblem and climbing to the top of Japan’s tallest and most sacred peak IS the gold. Also known as Fuji-san, this beautiful volcano that stands at an altitude of 3,776.24 m. (12,389.2 ft) is one of the country’s three holy mountains, along with Tateyama and Hakusan, and is a UNESCO world heritage site, as well as a top spot in Japan to watch the sunrise. In fact, the Japanese even have a word, “Goraiko”, to describe the awe-inspiring sensation of catching the Fuji sunrise.
Climbing Mount Fuji is usually done in the summer season, although off-season climbs, which are slightly more challenging due to the weather, are also an option. On average, most climbs take 2-days. If you are a less experienced climber, you might want to try a 3-day climb, while if you are an expert, you could do it in one.
There are four routes to the Fuji summit: the Yoshida Trail is the most popular and a favorite for “Goraiko”, Subarishi is a little longer and less crowded, Gotemba is the longest and most remote, and Fujinomya is the shortest. There are ten stations from the base to the summit and you can climb from station 1 at the base to 10 at the top, or from station 5, which you can drive up or take a bus to.
We recommend: 2-day Mount Fuji guided ascent, round trip from Tokyo with Yusuke. Why do we like it? In this program, you will meet the guide in Tokyo and set off to Mount Fuji with him. Before climbing, you also get to stop at the Fuji Shrine to ask for a safe climb, and you can add an optional stop at a Japanese Onsen (hot spring) to recover when you’re done. Furthermore, Yusuke offers this program for the extended Fuji season, from April to October.
Duration: On average, 2-days.
Level: Intermediate, you need a good fitness level to tackle Fuji, but no special technical climbing skills.
Official climbing season: 1 July to 14 September.
How to get to Mount Fuji from Tokyo: Mount Fuji is located around 100 km away from Tokyo, in the Chubu region of Honshu. Options to get there include taking a 2-hour highway bus from Shinjuku, Shibuya or Tokyo to Kawaguchiko Station (the most popular for Fuji climbs), Fuji-Q Highland, Fuji-San Station or Lake Yamanakako. There is also a wide option of train services to the Fuji region with differences in terms of speed, frequency, and cost.
With sport climbing as one of the Tokyo Olympics highlighted newcomers, to make its debut at the Aomi Urban Sports Park, heading out to the Japanese rocks is a must this summer, whether before or after watching the sport climbing events.
One of the best places for rock climbing in Japan is Mount Ogawayama, which lies on the border of Nagano and Yamanashi in the Chubu region. Mount Ogawa, as it is also known, boasts an altitude of 2,418 m (7,933 ft) and has amazing granite slabs, cracks, boulders and both single and multi-pitch routes for all levels.
The best time for rock climbing on Mt. Ogawa is during the late summer, from late July to September. Furthermore, weekends can get crowded, so if you go on a weekday, you will enjoy Ogawa’s nature more fully.
We recommend: Crack climbing and Face climbing on Mount Ogawayama with certified guide Masayuki. Why do we like this program? This two-day program focuses on a different rock climbing technique each day and on using the natural feature of the rock to help you climb. Furthermore, you can decide to join for just 1 or both of the days.
Duration: Mount Ogawa rock climbing trips are usually 1-day long, although you can also plan for longer adventures and stay in Nagano or at the Ogawa Mawarime Daira campsite.
Level: There are climbing options for all levels.
Meeting point: JR Kobuchizawa Station which is a 2 and 1/2 hour drive, 3 and 1/2 hour bus ride or a 2-hour train ride away from Tokyo.
How to get to Mount Ogawa from Tokyo: Mount Ogawa is located in the Nagano prefecture, in the Chūbu region (not to be confused with Ogawa station in Tokyo). The easiest way to get to Mount Ogawa is by taking the Shinkansen Kagayaki train to Nagano, which takes around 1 hour and 1/2, and then from there, take a short taxi ride or make local transport arrangements to the actual mountain. You can also enjoy a 3 and 1/2 hour drive, or a longer 5 to 6-hour bus ride to arrive at Mount Ogawa from Tokyo.
Minakami is a hot spring mountain town in the Gunma prefecture of the Kantō region. Much of Minakami is located in the Jōshin’etsu-kōgen National Park and it is traversed by the Tone River, which is a popular place for rafting and kayaking adventures.
The Tone River is one of the “Three Greatest Rivers of Japan”, which is why we decided that rafting down this stunning body of water should take the bronze on our list. The 322 kilometers (200 mi) river has its source near Minakami and its mouth in the Pacific. During the snowmelt season, between May and June, the river swells in the Minakami region and grade 4 rapids stretch for 12 kilometers (7.5 mi). Then, in the later summer months, they calm back down to a grade 2 pace, ideal for beginners.
We recommend: Beginner pack rafting or advanced pack rafting on the Tone River with JMGA mountain guide Hiroko. Why do we like this program? Hiroko always gets good reviews from Explore-Share clients and her programs will also give you the chance to explore a bit of Minakami and enjoy the hot springs in the region once the proper rafting is done.
Duration: 1 day.
Level: The Tone River in Minakami has rapids for all levels and you can find both beginner and advanced pack rafting programs.
How to get to Minakami from Tokyo: Minakami is located in the Gunma prefecture of the Kantō region and takes between 2 and 3 hours to get to from Tokyo. If you take the Shinkansen, you will need to go first to Takasaki and then from there to Minakami.
The Suzuka Mountains are located in the Mie Prefecture in the Kansai region and are home to the Suzuka Quasi-National Park and to the Yunoyama Onsen. The range boasts limestone formations in the north and granite in the south and receives abundant rainfall, which makes it ideal for canyoning, or as the Japanese call it, “sawanobori”. Furthermore, the range is covered in deep green forests that provide welcome shade in summer and are also the breeding and hunting grounds of stunning wildlife including deer, monkeys, bears, birds, small mammals and a native mountain goat known as kamoshika. You might just catch sight of some of them as you traverse upstream in search of an emerald green pool to jump into!
We recommend: 1/2 Day Sawanobori Adventure in the Suzuka Mountains guided by JMGA mountain guide Naoki. Why do we like this program? This short and fun adventure will give you an exciting taste of the Japanese waterfalls and pristine nature away from the crowds in an unexpected location.
Duration: Most canyoning programs are short half-day or 1-day adventures.
Level: All levels, although participants should be at least 15 and if they are minors, accompanied by an adult. Additionally, participants with physical conditions should check with the guide before joining.
Meeting point: Misato Station (Sangi Railway) in the Mie prefecture and you can get there by taking the Shinkansen to Nagoya Station (Kintetsu Nagoya Station) and transferring to the Kintetsu Line. From there, transfer at Kintetsu Tomita Station to Sangi Railway.
How to get to the Suzuka Mountains from Tokyo: The Suzuka Mountains are located in the Mie Prefecture in the Kansai region, located to the southeast of Honshu. To get there, you need to take the Shinkansen to Nagoya, and from there, transfer to the Kintetsu Line. From there, transfer at Kintetsu Tomita Station to Sangi Railway. In total, it should take around 3 hours, while driving there takes around 4 hours.
Rice fields and wasabi farms, sake breweries and silkworms, as well as art galleries, temples, and onsen come together in Azumino in the Nagano Prefecture, located in the Chūbu region of the Honshu island. This beautiful location on the northwest of the Matsumoto Basin is flanked by mountains to the east and west, and pierced by freshwater rivers and streams clean enough to drink from. The Asumino National Park at the foot of the famous Mount Jōnen, the renowned Daio Wasabi Farm and Hotaka Shrine are some of the most popular attractions in the region.
Cycling in Azumino is a great way to access many of the awe-inspiring landmarks in the area and to enjoy the fresh summer air while contemplating the landscapes. It is a popular outdoor adventure in the region that is open to everyone and will give you a taste of the sweetest Japan.
We recommend: Azumino Matsukawa half-day cycling tour led by NPOMG hiking guide Yasuyuki. Why do we like this program? Not only will you get to explore rice fields and the Azumino basin, but you will also spend some time learning to cook Japanese rice balls, and then eating them, of course, at the end of your trip.
Duration: The trip lasts 3 and 1/2 hours.
Level: Everyone is welcome to join.
Meeting point: Shinano-Matsukawa Station.
How to get to Azumino from Tokyo: Take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano and from Nagano to Matsumoto and be there in around 2 and 1/2 hours.
Japan is a top hiking destination and the Japan Alps offer a wide variety of options for those that want to spend a few days immersed in nature, exploring flowery fields, deep green forests, discovering shrines and temples, and relaxing at some of the famous Japanese Onsen.
The Northern Japan Alps known as the Hiba Mountains, boast a wide variety of options. Some of the most important hiking areas in the northern strip of the Japan Alps include the Tateyama region, which surrounds the highest of the Hida Mountains. The Tateyama Alpine Route is one of the most popular in Japan and takes you to the summit of this peak, at an altitude of 3,015 m (9,892 ft). In the Hakuba region, you can join the famous Three peaks of Hakuba trek a.k.a ‘Hakuba-Sanzan’, that takes you to the top of Mt Shirouma, Mt Shakushi, and Mt Hakuba-yari. And the Kamikochi region in the Chūbu-Sangaku National Park is home to the Hotaka Range, among other great trekking locations.
Summer is the perfect season to go trekking in the Japan Alps as the mountains are covered in alpine flowers. The Hiba Mountains are also a top spot for hot springing which is a great way to recover from a long trek. You might even find an Olympic athlete or two, relaxing after all their hard work.
We recommend: 2-day Mount Maehodaka Hike guided by Junichiro. Why do we like this program? This hike involves some rock as well, and exploring one of the lesser crowded and remote peaks that belong to the Hotaka Range which has been dubbed the “Leader of the Northern Alps”. Plus, Junichiro always gets a smile out of those that climb with him, as he has a great sense of humor and great English too.
Duration: 2 days
Level: Beginner/intermediate, no prior technical skills are required but you need to be physically fit.
Meeting point: Kamikochi
How to get to Kamikochi from Tokyo: Take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Shinshimashima and a taxi from there. Or take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano and a bus from there. The total travel time is approximately 4 hours.
If you’re up for exploring a bit more of Japan on your 2020 Olympic travels, then heading to some of the country’s other islands to explore their awe-inspiring natural and cultural wonders is definitely a good idea. Japan has 5 main islands including Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku, and Okinawa and in total 6,852 islands!
Of the Japanese main islands, Hokkaido is the northernmost, and is framed by the Sea of Japan, the Sea of Okhotsk, and the Pacific Ocean. It is a place of unique natural beauty. The amazing colorful blooms and striking Blue Pond of Biei Town, Japan’s largest lavender field, and Daisetsuzan, its largest national park, are all in Hokkaido and make for top options to enjoy the wild outdoors. Rock climbing in Hokkaido is an exciting way to experience both the mainland and coasts of the island, while hiking is a pleasure in this colorful and vibrant island.
While in the Hokkaido region, don’t miss the chance to visit Rishiri Island, which is 20km (12 mi) west from its coast and home to Mount Rishiri, a top spot for mountain climbing and hiking.
We recommend: 4-day hiking tour in Daisetsuzan with Takao. Why do we like this program? Takao is one of our top guides and has a long track record of guiding in Hokkaido, which means he knows the island like the palm of his hand. Going with him on a 4-day adventure in Daisetsuzan will allow you to truly appreciate the beauty of this breathtaking place.
Duration: 4 days
Meeting point: airport or hotel pickup
How to get to Hokkaido from Tokyo: Options to get to Hokkaido include taking a 90-minute flight to Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital; taking the Shinkansen to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto and from there the Hokuto limited express to Sapporo; or taking a ferry from some other Honshu locations to Hokkaido.
Yakushima is one of the Ōsumi Islands located in the East China Sea to the very south of Japan. It is famous for its inspiring cedar forests and for being home to the largest nesting ground for loggerhead sea turtles in the Pacific. Exploring its World Heritage Site forests is a must for nature lovers.
We recommend: Yakusugi-Land and Mt Tachu Hike with Junichi. Why do we like this trip? Junichi has been living in Yakushima for over twenty years and knows the best places to go. On this tour, he takes you to the island’s traditional cedar forests, and also to the lesser-known Mt Tachu away from the crowds. Plus, you can combine this tour with some of his other adventures such as canyoning and kayaking.
Duration: 1 day.
Meeting Point: Hotel pick up.
How to get to Yakushima from Tokyo: Take a 1 and 1/2 hr. flight to Kagoshima first and then approach the island by plane (30 min), high-speed ship (2.30 hrs) or ferry (4 hrs).
Japan is a top location for outdoor adventures, year-round. Don’t miss the chance to enjoy exploring its unique landscapes on your Olympics trip to Tokyo, and discovering both its nature and its culture before or after cheering on your favorite athletes with the enthusiastic crowds.
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