Fun in the Bandai-Asahi Highlands

There are parks for all moods spread throughout Japan, as the Japanese have culturally maintained a close relationship with nature over the centuries. Some parks are ideal for relaxing to the sound of flowing water and chirping birds, some are ideal for long walks through displays of nature while some are great to get physically active in.

The Bandai-Asahi National Park fits into the lattermost category – it’s definitely more of a park where fun and physical activity are at the forefront of activities. There are many things to do at the park – including, but not limited to, skiing in the winter months, camping and fishing during the summer and playing water sports all year around. The park is fairly easily accessible by bullet train, Shinkansen, from Tokyo. There’s a need to change trains a few times and travel time can take up to 2.5 hours, but the sights to see and things to do in the park make the trip worth it.

There are some geographical landmarks that make the park district from others. Over 100 years ago in 1888, the volcano known as Mt. Bandai-san erupted, spewing forth large amounts of lava. The lava flowed into the Nagase River and led to the creation of several lakes, rivers and other district landscape markings that make the Bandai-Asahi National Park truly unique.

The highlands area wherein the park is located is riddled with small to medium sized ponds and lakes. As with many things Japanese, a group of ponds referred to as the Goshiki-numa, the five-colored ponds, are often considered as the most interesting and fascinating ones. Their formation is unique to the park and their coloring is attributed to volcanic substances dissolving in the water of the ponds over time, making for a truly spectacular sight. The light reflected in the water’s surface changes over time as the angle of the sun changes, allowing it to range from green hues across the color spectrum to light shades of blue and purple. A viewing area for the lakes has been constructed to allow visitors to take in the magnificent sight safely, and is large enough to easily spend an hour on walking about.

Summer and fall are the two definite seasons to visit Bandai-Asahi National Park. Nature will be in full bloom and the greatest amount of wildlife, especially native birds, can be seen during these times of year. Those who wish to experience the Japanese form of snowshoeing should pay a visit in the winter months and enjoy the thick layers of snow covering the Japanese Alps.

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Exploring Kyoto on a Bike

Kyoto is one of the most interesting places to visit in Japan – no wonder given that it had been the capital of Land of the Rising Sun for well over 1000 years and still remains one of the most important to this very day.

There are many things to see and explore in Kyoto, and also many different ways to go about doing so. The city and prefecture offers much of the outdoor variety to its visitors, from the lively night market to the impressive Imperial Palace and scattered temples across the city and countryside.

One of the most dynamic ways of exploring Kyoto’s wonders is to rent and ride a bicycle. This is especially appealing to those wishing to save on transportation cost, which might be especially useful for backpackers on a budget who don’t want to compromise their experience of Japan due to the lack of transportation means. It’s also ideal for those with a liking for the outdoors and can be more convenient than renting a car or using public transportation for almost all year around – and for those who don’t mind the coldest months of the year, even all year around.

Cycling in Kyoto is truly a pleasure. Most of the city is evenly flat and like most other cities in Japan, is home to very well maintained roads and strictly enforced traffic rules and regulations that make the entire affair a lot safer than it might be in other southeast Asian nations. For those not quite as comfortable on a bike as others, or perhaps those riding with children, biking is still an option since it is legal, and commonly accepted, for bikers to ride on the pedestrian sidewalks. It is recommended that one rents a bike with a bell in order to warn those walking of one’s approach, though.

Even as a tourist, it is very easy to come by a renting station for bikes. Some even offer guide maps indicating the best spots to ride a bike to, while others offer guided tours that will take the visitors around the city with a guide providing insight into the local Japanese life in Kyoto and could be seen as a more fun and interactive version of a tourist city-tour bus.

There are specific zones designated for parking one’s bike, especially around the frequently visited tourist hotspots such as temples or other sights. They are generally safe and very much convenient and make exploring Kyoto on a bike a breeze.

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Mountain Biking in Nagano

It is generally well known that outdoor activities and Japan go together like bread and butter. The Land of the Rising Sun can easily be considered as one of the most versatile nation’s in southeast Asia when it comes to exploring new things and experiencing some of nature’s finest. A popular form of transportation in Japan is the bicycle – it’s cheap, significantly faster than walking, reliable, economically friendly and most of all, healthy.

Of course, there are different types of biking. There’s riding a cycle as a form of commute, and then there’s using the bicycle as form of active sport – in this case, mountain biking to be precise.

With its natural diversity, there are many places in Japan where one can use a mountain bike for the purpose it had been built for – to ride around rough terrain, dodge trees and enjoy a rush of excitement. A good place to start would be Nagano and its surrounding region. Nagano is known for its hilly landscape, including a very active wintersport life in the cold months, making it an ideal area.

As with many other Japanese things, there exists variety and appeal to all levels. Beginners can start with the slow and relaxing rides that feature numerous scenic routes around the mountains’ lakes, rivers and occasional villages. The mountain biking scene is also in a state of growth, especially in the Nagano region, creating an influx of related events and competitions for those experienced enough to compete.

For the tourists, however, there are less extreme options and activities available, especially for those wishing to see more of Japan’s nature and tranquil beauty. The easiest way to explore them is to simply book a tour with an operator, which is ideal for groups and families. Some tours go for only a few hours, some last half or whole days and some even offer multi-day events, all depending on what the visitors wish to see and do in their time there. These tours tend to be very affordable and don’t require much in terms of equipment – all that participants need to bring is a good pair of running shoes and the motivation to ride across rural Japan on the back of a bike. All fitness levels can be accommodated for and the tour guides speak a variety of languages, making mountain biking through Nagano a wonderful experience suited for all ages.

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Skiing in Nozawa Onsen

Japan is a fantastic place for any and all snow-related outdoor activities. With its cold winters and subsequent high amount of snowfall in the winter months, the Land of the Rising Sun makes for an ideal wintersport location. There are plenty of mountainous areas to ski or snowboard at throughout the country.

One location ideal for partaking in the snowy wonders is Nozawa Onsen, located in the Nagano Prefecture. Anyone staying in Nagano City will be pleased to know that Nozawa Onsen is only about one hour away by car and acts as one of the premier skiing and snowboarding locations of the prefecture.

Nagano overall has much snow to boast about during the cold season, a natural prerequisite for any winter sport. There is a large variety in the terrain that can be explored and is considered unparalleled in the region. What makes Nozawa Onsen another huge attraction for tourists and locals alike is the fact that it’s not only a skiing-centered place with only small towns around it – Nozawa’s skiing slopes are complemented by a great and fully featured town, giving it an edge over many of the more remote areas that are limiting in their non-sport related possibilities.

There is a large variety of ridges and slopes for those visiting for the snow sports. All types of slopes are available, ranging from the easiest of the beginner slopes to the black-rated ones for the most experienced riders. The mountain also features the aptly named Nagasaka Gondola which will quickly take riders back up the slopes after finishing their runs. The amount of lifts available diminishes the feeling of the area being crowded, even during the peak months.

In addition to being a ski and snowboard hotspot, another huge selling point for the area is the abundance of well-known hot springs. The town has many baths which are ideal to soak in after a long day of riding the slopes. Naturally, many restaurants and other establishments have set up shop nearby due to the area’s popularity in the winter season. There are also plenty of things to do after a whole day of skiing, including indoor swimming for children. This establishes a whole European flair for the area and its surroundings, setting it apart from the other places and making it an attraction for the locals especially, who wish to experience a different atmosphere from every-day Japan.

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Skiing in Myoko Suginohara

Japan has the capacity to accommodate almost every outdoor activity imaginable with its highly varied weather across the four seasons. The summers are wonderfully warm and the winters are bitingly cold, therefore it should come as no wonder that everything from riding kayaks on lakes to snowboarding down mountains are popular activities in Japan.

The Japanese winter months produce great amounts of snow to make use of an hit the snowy slopes with. There are quite a few destinations in Japan to ski and snowboard at, with generally all of them having slopes suited for the most basic of beginners as well as the more advanced and experienced snow sport enthusiasts.

Nagano is one of the areas that is well-known for its convenient access to the mountains covered in white powder snow waiting to be worn in by the skiing and snowboarding population. There are a few different locations in the Nagano area that are well-suited for those wanting to enjoy the adrenaline of racing down the steep slopes on their choice of board or ski.

Myoko Suginohara is located less than an hour away from Nagano City. It’s a medium sized skiing hill – meaning it won’t be home to the most thrilling or varied courses, but ideal for beginners and families with smaller children. Despite it’s medium size, Myoko Suginohara boasts some of the highest amounts of snowfall and pretty much ideal skiing weather. The snow is soft and generally lacks hard-packed ice beneath its soft layers, attracting even the senior locals to keep skiing like they did during the times of their youth.

While not home to excessive variety like many other skiing resorts, there usually is enough to appease most ski and snowboarders. Some of the runs are long and gentle – perfect for beginners and intermediate riders looking to relax and enjoy the scenery, while others can be deep runs on steep slopes – suited for those wishing to test the extent of their skills. The woods on the mountain are tests of agility and dexterity, while the gondola-type slope is where speed and control become the dominant qualities. There are also plenty of wide area instruction fields where beginners can avail of the services of professional instructors to get down the basics of the snowsports.

The mountain is also equipped with high speed lifts which take the riders to their desired slope within 10 minutes or less from the very bottom of the hill. There are also plenty of restaurants and cafes around the areas to enjoy a warm meal and drink at while taking in the beautiful white scenery of Nagano.

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Relaxing in Yofuin

Anyone who’s watched an anime from Japan is likely to be familiar with some of the cultural customs that are considered ordinary there and unlikely to be found anywhere else. These may include anything from dressing customs to social behavior. However, one such custom that is frequently represented in Japanese culture is the public bath and hot springs.

There is much history behind those, dating back thousands of years into Japanese history and culture and is up to this day still commonly integrated into society across the country. Many areas and places in Japan are well known for their hot springs.

Yufuin is one of the places of which the name is known generally for its hot springs throughout the Land of the Rising Sun. Geographically it is located in the Oita district and its Oita prefecture. The town’s area fell short just under 130 square kilometers (50 square miles) in 2003, with a population of just over 11,000. However in 2005, Yufuin was merged with neighboring towns of the same district to form a city named Yufu. The town is still generally referred to as Yufuin as the decision to merge towns was widely unpopular among the locals.

The town is located in a valley beneath the Mount Yofu, whose base is also the source for its famous hot springs’ heated water. 12 public hot springs can be found there, one of which is quite famous in Japan. The Shitanyu hot spring is regarded as the town’s most attractive location, and is located on the shore of the nearby Lake Kinrinko. The hot water coming from the bottom of the mountain merges with the lake and creates hot stream on cold days, giving the town of Yufuin the moniker of “town of the morning mist.” The water from the 12 hot springs are believed to help the human body recover from illness such as rheumatism – whether or not this claim has any substantial evidence, one thing that cannot be denied is that the hot springs make for an amazing relaxing soak regardless.

Yufuin is a great destination to visit when trying to unwind and experience the beauty of hot springs in Japan. Due to its small size, it lacks the pollution and hecticness of the metropolitan lifestyle and allows for ultimate outdoor relaxation in the hot springs that it is famous for. There are many so-called “ryokan” which could be equated to the western concept of a Bed & Breakfast establishment that make for cheap and readily available accommodation.

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Biking along Shimanami Kaido

Japan is the perfect place for all types of outdoor activities, especially given the nation’s generally mild climate being able to accommodate all types of requirements for enjoying adventures in the great outdoors. There are many things to do, see and experience and all it takes is the curiosity to see something new.

One of the most convenient and cost effective solutions to seeing many sights in a short amount of time is to ride bicycles. Bicycles are very common throughout Japan, regardless of whether one finds him or herself in a rural area or the metropolitan streets. There are hundreds of beautiful locations to explore on a bike in Japan, with the added health and family-fun benefits that potentially come along with riding a bicycle. Bicycles can be rented easily too and aren’t very expensive with prepaid terminals being around aplenty.

A great destination to ride a bike at is the Shimanami Kaido. The Shimanami Kaido is a road connecting the island known as Shikoku to the country’s main and largest island, Honshu. The road isn’t all that long with all its 60 kilometers (32 miles), but presents some beautiful scenery in its own right. What makes the road unique from an other ordinary bridge is the fact that it crosses over six smaller islands in connecting the main island with Shikoku. These small islands are located in what is referred to as the Seto Inland Sea, with the road also being referred to as the Nishiseto Expressway in some cases. Another notable part is that while the Shimanami Kaido is only one of three different ways to access Shikoku from Honshu and vice versa, it can only be traversed on foot or bicycle – and given that 60 kilometers is a distance longer than a marathon, mainly bicycles populate the road.

The six islands along the road are Oshima, Hakatajima, Omishima, Ikuchijima, Innoshima and Mukaishima. There are a several small towns on the way between the two islands and allow those travelling along the Shimanami Kaido to view truly unique scenery as well as take some very memorable pictures to show back home.

Another attraction of the expressway is the Hirayama museum, a gallery dedicated to the work of one of Japan’s most celebrated and renowned artists named Hirayama Ikuo. He had been born on the island of Ikuchijima where the museum is located and his works can be viewed there, attracting many visitors from all over Japan and overseas.

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Exploring Kamikochi

Japan is a hive of freedom when it comes to having choices in exploring the great outdoors. There are places to suit everyone’s needs and tastes and many things to explore for anyone lucky enough to visit the Land of the Rising Sun. There are literally unlimited things to do in the Japanese outdoors, from participating in sports, to simply relaxing underneath the beauty of Japan’s natural wonders.

There is quite possibly no easier way to experience the outdoors in Japan than to simply get outside and walk about. There are many places to explore, from city to rural areas. The country is also home to many mountains and hillsides ideal for hiking and climbing, providing access to some of the most beautiful visuals one could hope to see for themselves in the south-eastern Asian region.

Kamikochi is one of the many places an enthusiastic outdoor explorer should not pass up on visiting. It’s a type of resort area located in the Japanese Alps and is often heralded as one of the most picturesque parts of Japan’s natural scenery.

Due to weather conditions, Kamikochi is only accessible for half the year, normally ranging from mid to late April until the very mid of November, meaning the winter months make the area inaccessible. Basically, Kamikochi is a plateau, measuring in at an impressive length of 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) and a height of 1.5 kilometers (.93 miles) above sea level. It counts as part of the Chubu Sangaku National Park.

The center of Kamikochi holds the Kappa Bridge, from where different hiking trails split off to the surrounding mountains or down the valley below. Most of the trails found in the area don’t require any special equipment or experience to make use of as most of the landscape is flat and even. Some trails are only recommended for experienced hikers, especially since weather conditions might potentially turn dangerous for the less experienced, and it is generally advised to not wander alone in dangers of getting lost.

There is also some wildlife to be seen at Kamikochi, predominantly during the fall, around the middle weeks of October. Monkeys climb around and with some luck some very colorful birds can be spotted in the vicinity, offering great opportunities for pictures to those with cameras.

Kamikochi has been developed with the priority of preserving the state of nature in its vicinity and therefore is only accessible by bus or taxi, with privately owned cars being banned from the area. The surroundings include a handful of restaurants as well as shops.

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