Running in Japan

Running is one of the most basic forms of exercise and is one the most used around the world. The question is what differentiates running from Japan and the rest of the world? The answer to that is scenery, road conditions and running culture. First road conditions are absolutely phenomenal, you’ll find less places on earth that is more organized in terms of road rules as the Japanese. Japan also keeps their roads well-maintained which is ideal for running. The air in Japan is also clean which makes running outdoors a treat. Second is scenery, whether you are running in major cities or the countryside there is always a sight to behold.  The countryside of Japan which boasts of beautiful mountains, amazing beaches and lush forests are always a plus when running while cities like Tokyo and Osaka are just a marvel to see. Third is running culture, running or marathon in Japan is all the rage nowadays with events being held all over the country.

image008

Japanese runner

There are even traditions in Japanese culture that are fanatical about running. The Heian monks of Japan are considered “marathon monks” and part of their monastic training is running around the mountain which is approximately 50 kilometres, that is not only longer than a regular 42km marathon but is also done in difficult terrain. Now, imagine doing this a hundred or even a thousand days straight. To add to their strain the monks after a hundred days of running undergo a fast, now that is dedication.

The Heian monks are of course an anomaly to normal Japanese running though they do serve as an inspiration to runners. That being said, the competitive marathon runners in Japan are no joke, they are top notch. The discipline in their training and the seriousness which with they take the sport is the reason why Japanese marathon runners are arguably one of the best in the world. It can be seen that in Japanese culture running is taken seriously but despite that there is still a lot of hobbyist runners out there. Night running in Japan has been recently gaining popularity in Japan. There is even a group called the Midnight Runners Tokyo (MRT), who instead of drinking at night opts for a midnight running session instead. This is one of the new running cultures that is being developed in Japan, and it is one of many. In Japan from the Heian monks, the long distance marathon athletes, the midnight runners and the regular enthusiast it is evident that there is a strong culture of running in Japan. This is just one of the many reasons that any running enthusiast will find a home in Japan.

Image by Japan Running News

Hiking in Japan

Japan, despite being well-known for its traditional and modern structures located in places like Osaka and Tokyo, is also an underrated hiking centre. Japan, being a mountainous country, holds various peaks that are waiting to be conquered by hikers. The beautiful peaks and lush forests of Japan are virtually opposite of what can be seen in their ultra-modern cities. Looking for a nature filled adventure, there are a couple of peaks that comes, recommended below.

The Daisetsuzan National Park located in Hokkaido literally means big snow mountain. So those looking for a climb in freezing cold weather, this is perfect. It is Japan’s largest national park and holds vast areas of wilderness to explore. At the foot of the mountains, there are various onsens where one can stay, which is perfect after a long day of hiking. Exploring the natural wonders of the area by day and relaxing at the onsen by night. This is a lifestyle that anyone who loves nature should experience.

Mt. Fuji the country’s highest peak and also an active volcano should definitely be on the list for enthusiasts. Mt. Fuji does not only boastsa symmetrical cone shape but a great hiking trail. The allure of this mountain is the view of the sacred volcano around Fuji’s five lakes. This is definitely a trip worth making and is great bragging rights for anyone who climbs to the peak.

The Famous Mt. Fuji

Mt. Takao is a perfect hiking trip for beginners due to its relatively easy climb. It is also located near Tokyo, so you can still be near the city while enjoying the wild nature of Japan. This mountain also boasts a lot of Japanese history; this is where the hermits, called yamabushi in Japanese, used to practice their traditional ways. It is also popular for the Tengu sculpture which is a mythical figure in Japan. The mountain during modern times also has local eateries nearby, so there is always a place to stop and relax while having a good meal.

Hiking in Japan is not limited to these mountains but these could be good ways to start exploring the rich history and nature of Japan. It is important to remember that Japan is a lot more than ultra-modern cities and hiking is just one of the ways to enjoy the nature side of Japan. There are always guides available to majority of these mountains, so it is important to hire a local before you begin your journey into the countryside.

Image by Wikimedia

Going to the Beach, Japanese Style

A beach trip is something that can be enjoyed by almost anyone, and though Japan is not well known for them, they still boast a lot of beautiful beaches. Going to the beach is something done worldwide but different places have their own beach culture, same holds true for Japan. In Japan they are crazy about beach houses, they have small houses that can be rented so they can enjoy a bite of food and assure the safety of the stuff that they bring. One of their popular beach dishes is yakisoba or basically stir fried noodles. As a cool treat the Japanese love to eat watermelons in the beach, they even have their own game with these watermelons. Suika-wari as it is called in Japan is basically the piñata game but with a refreshing watermelon. Another interesting thing about Japanese beach goers is that they enjoy playing with fireworks in the beach. It must be the allure of seeing all these flashy lights in the dark canopy of night. The effect is beautiful especially without city lights to disrupt the colourful fireworks up in the air. These are just some of the quirks that makes Japanese beach culture different from the rest of the world. We should always remember that Japan is more than just modern and traditional cities but a great destination for nature lovers.

image006

Japanese Beach

Some of Japan’s most popular beaches are places that must be visited by anyone who wants some sun. One should just note that Japan has four seasons and it is important to plan your day on the beach to make sure that weather won’t disrupt the fun. The Shirahama beach in the Izu Peninsula is a beautiful white stretch of beach 800 meters long. Official swimming season though is a bit short which usually ranges from July to August, and with weather permitting it will last till September. The good news is that this beautiful destination is just three hours from Tokyo by train, so travel time isn’t as long as one would expect to get to a great beach. In Okinawa there is the Emerald Beach, just from the name it can be surmised it is a great place to soak in the sun. The Emerald Beach is a great place to start to explore the clear waters of Okinawa, it is arguably one of the best places to swim in Japan.

Image by Japan Experience

Cycling in Japan

Japanese, in general, are very practical people and it can be seen immersed in their culture. A great example is the popularity of Cycling with the Japanese due to its convenience and practicality. If everyone drove cars instead of bikes, it will crowd the streets of the major cities. It is due to this way of thinking that made bikes not only popular with school kids trying to get around but also the working class of the population. It is not even unusual for one to spot even the aged members of the population riding through pedestrian traffic in a mamachari or a “granny bikes”. Japan has also been promoting biking or cycling among the members of the population by use of Japanese Cycling tours. These cycling tours aim to promote popular tourist spots while allowing the cyclist to experience the beauty of the mountainous country simultaneously. It is a romantic way to explore the beautiful country for Japan while enjoying it with your fellow cyclists.

image004

Japanese Lady Cycling

 

Biking through the well paved roads of Japan are amazing but it is important for the cyclist to remember the road rules of Japan to avoid any unwanted trouble. Listed below are some of the basic rules that should be followed while biking in Japan.

1. Cyclists must ride through the left side of the road.

2. Riding dangerously is prohibited and if caught will warrant a fine.

3. Using bikes with broken brakes will also lead to a fine.

4. Basic rules apply to cycling such as passing a red light and biking intoxicated are prohibited.

5. Cycling on sidewalks are not allowed unless indicated by road signs.

6. Bikes ridden at night are required to have a bell or a lamp.

Following these rules will ensure that you will have no problem with the law while riding through the streets of Japan. It is also interesting to know that though not all the rules are strictly enforced by the police, it is still paramount to the safety of the rider to follow them. Cycling in Japan is a lovely way to travel without spending too much for transportation while enjoying the various sceneries whether it is the gorgeous countryside or the impressive high rise buildings of modern Japan. Whether you are visiting Japan or deciding to stay for a while, it is worth your while to rent or buy a bike to fully enjoy the cyclist culture of Japan.

Image by 3 BP

Minakami, Outdoor Sports Paradise

If you’re planning to visit Japan soon and you’re looking for a more exciting and thrilling adventure than a city tour, Minakami is the place to go for you. Minakami is a resort town in the mountainous region of Japan which is relatively near Tokyo. This is considered an outdoor paradise because majority of the popular Japanese outdoor activities can be done within this area. Going to Minakami any time of the year is worth it since they offer exciting outdoor activities in any weather. At the beginning of the April, after the snow melts, it is an ideal time to try any of the water sports in the area. The town offers whitewater rafting, canyoning and kayaking to name a few water sports. Whitewater rafting is not for the faint hearted, it involves manoeuvring through the river under rough water conditions. This activity may seem extremely difficult but there are beginner courses available with English speaking instructors. Canyoning on the other hand is fusion of swimming and hiking, it involves traversing down the river with only your body. This is one of Minakami’s most popular summer attractions. Kayaking is ofcourse available for those who prefer a more laid back boat ride along the river.

image009

Hot Spring in Minakami

During summer water sports aren’t the only thrills available, Minakami also offers bungee jumping. Near the town center at Suwakyo Bridge, a 42 meter fall is available for all adrenaline junkies out there. Hiking is also one of the main outdoor activities which involves a breath taking trail through Mount Tanigawa. The mountain is a clean green during spring while in autumn it showcases a myriad of colors ranging from red, orange and yellow. Mountain biking is also popular as there a couple of good trails available for the cycling enthusiasts. Come winter time there are snowboarding and skiing resorts available for those who wish to try the white powdery snow of Japan. Minakami is clearly a centre for all outdoor activities year round and it pays to be within the area. It is just important to note which activities are available since they differ year round depending on the season. If you though that Minakami couldn’t get any better for an outdoor enthusiast then you might have not known that this town is also known for one of the Japanese favourite activities. Soaking in the hot springs of Minakami is a popular attraction within the region, it is one of top four hot springs available in the Gunma region of Japan.

Image by Japan Guide

 

Scuba Diving in Japan

Japan is an archipelago, it is basically a collection of islands surrounded by the sea. It is no wonder then why Japan has plenty of Scuba diving spots located all over the country. Japan isn’t as popular as other countries as a diving spot but the diving locations in the country can rival some of the best in the world. The most famous diving spots in Japan are located at the very southern area of Japan at an area called Okinawa. This island boasts of clear waters and a refreshing atmosphere. The coral colonies located nearby are one of the biggest in the world and contains a variety of marine life that is sure to leave you breathless.

iimage 008

Amazing Marine Life

Japan has diving spots that rival the Great Barrier Reef such as the Yonaguni island and the underwater lost city Iseki. These are some of the most interesting dive spots today. It is not as famous as other dive spots but is guaranteed to give any diving enthusiast goose bumps. The lost city has giant corridors which is said to be even older than the Egyptian pyramids. It is arguably one of the best diving spots in the world. The diving spots in Japan also feature majestic marine life. Sightings of the elusive Manta are common in Ishigaki. The great Hammerhead shark can be spotted in the Izu Peninsula and Yonaguni Island. In the Kerama islands corals, nudibranch and shrimp are wonderful sights in these area. Nature lovers will love what the country has to offer.

To top it all off, diving in Japan will also bring you closer to the famous Japanese culture. The Japanese are known to be hospitable to tourists and the bath houses located around Japan are amazing. Couple your dive with a relaxing night with the best sushi in the world and you have a winner. Diving in Japan is an experience that is both on and off the shore which will surely leave you wanting more. As a diver just be responsible in checking weather forecasts as tropical storms are constant in Japan, also take note of the weather seasons in Japan as they can affect diving conditions. If good weather is assured, diving in the land of rising sun will surely leave a memorable experience. Lastly, don’t forget your underwater cameras, leaving them tends to be a source of regret. Trust me when I say that you will want this trip to have photo documentation.

Image by Outdoor Japan

Japanese Hot Springs

The Hot Springs of Japan is one thing a tourist or even a local for that matter shouldn’t miss while in the country.  Locally known as “onsen”, the hot springs are all over the country because geographically the country is home to many volcanoes which are responsible for the various hot springs. Traditionally, the hot springs are located outdoors but indoor hot springs are starting to trend in Japan. The various hot springs are ways that help Japanese unwind from a hard day of work or school. Various bath houses boast the health benefits of the water which come from the various natural minerals. These minerals are responsible not only for the supposed health benefits but the various difference in baths, such as the odours and the colors of the bath.

image005

Hot Spring

The hot springs, though, are not for those who are shy with nudity since these are often enjoyed naked. More often than not, baths are separated by gender with the exception of a few remote bath houses. The best hot spring experience includes spending the night at an onsen ryokan or a Japanese inn with a hot spring. This is one of the more popular Japanese vacations and typically, these onsen ryokan serve delicious Japanese food for dinner. So if ever you are looking for a relaxing night, these onsen ryokan is a must to visit in the country.

There is such a wide selection for onsens in Japan but some are more well-known as others. The three most popular are Kusatsu, Gero and Arima Onsen. The Kusatsu onsen is found at the foot of Mt. Kusatsu which is located at the province of Gunma. The Kusatsu hot spring has eighteen public baths wherein the majority of them operate 24 hours a day. The hot springs are said to be great for health which is further augmented by a story wherein a Doctor Balz from Germany made mention of its health benefits. The next on the list is the Gero onsen which is located in Honshu, the town is popular for its various footbaths which can be enjoyed by anyone free of charge. These footbaths can be enjoyed by simply strolling around town and locating one. The main hot springs are famous for its healing properties which is supposedly able to rheumatism and nervous diseases. The last is the Arima onsens located in Kobe is said to be the oldest in Japan. It is famous for its variety of hot springs which includes a soda-pop flavoured hot spring and a salt rich hot spring. Listed are just some of the amazing hot springs Japan has to offer. It is highly recommended that the magical hot springs of Japan must be experienced by anyone especially tourists who have a chance to enjoy a day or night of relaxation.

Image by Hydro Therapy Home Spa

Skiing and Snowboarding in Japan

The winter sports in Japan has recently been gaining popularity in recent times, it has long been underrated as a winter sports destination. The geography of the country is mountainous, so when winter hits, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of skiing and snowboarding destinations available. The snowfall in Japan is heavy and the powder conditions of the snow is usually ideal which makes it such a great spot for Skiing and snowboarding. This can be attributed to the Siberian air mass which is the coldest in the world, because of this Japan has colder temperatures than even European countries.

The Skiing and Snowboarding season of Japan usually starts December and ends around April. It is recommended for enthusiasts to go during January to February since temperature isn’t as cold, not only the temperature but snow conditions are also just right at that time of the year. Skiing is the more popular option among the Japanese these days but snowboarding is catching on, and with a trip to Japanese skiing resort you’ll sure to be able to try both. There are over 500 resorts available in Japan and a lot of them come with a hot spring. Just the thought of skiing or snowboarding during the day while enjoying a hot spring bath after is the greatest allure of these Japanese resorts. Other than enjoying the hot springs after a hard day of skiing, there are plenty of other activities that can be done. One can enjoy the famous ice sculpting activities or the traditional tea ceremonies. If these don’t appeal to your taste then simply a good meal of traditional Japanese food and drinks such as sushi and sake will surely give you an experience you will not forget.

image007

 Skiing and snowboarding first-timers have no problem trying out the sport since rentals are common-place at resorts which makes trying so much easier. There also other rental options such as snow bikes and snow scooters. One also has the option to use the skiing facilities for half-day if schedule or budget does not permit a lengthy stay. Japan is definitely becoming one of the premier winter sports centre in the world, it is a trip that should not be missed. Tokyo, Osaka and Okinawa aren’t the only places that offer a great experience of Japanese culture. Skiing destinations such as Nisesko and Rusutsu are also to be enjoyed in a trip to Japan.

Image by Business Week