Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park

Those with a taste for the great outdoors will find themselves fully satisfied in Japan, a nation filled with natural diversity, catering to all tastes and preferences. No matter which part of Japan one might find themselves in, there will always be something to explore outside, whether in the simple form of hiking through the lands or relaxing in a garden.

One of the common characteristics found in Japan’s outdoor sphere is that the nation is quite proud and protective of its natural wonders. Therefore, many of Japan’s regions that are predominantly populated by nature are grouped in the form of National Parks, which in turn are maintained and managed by appointed bodies in the region. This allows local governments to protect the natural environment to the best of its ability, especially in the regions that play home to various forms of wildlife.

The Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park is one of the many parks one can visit in Japan. It is one of the northernmost parks in the country, spanning over the two islands called Rishiri and Rebun. In addition to that, the park includes part of the coastal area between Wakkanai and Horonobe, giving the park and overall diverse terrain. Despite that, the national park only covers about 200 square kilometers (80 square miles).

One of the most distinguishing features of the park is its alpine flora while providing excellent viewpoints to observe the volcanic mountains nearby, as well as the craters and other areas formed by marine-erosion, an interesting natural phenomenon that slowly but surely changes landscapes around the world.

The area of the park is also surrounded by ripe fishing grounds and inside the park itself there are many areas which are richly populated by Kelp, a type of seaweed often used in Japanese kitchen. This makes the area generally popular for fishermen and sea-farmers, however, their use of the area is regulated to keep the ecosystem healthy.

The way to reach the park is normally to use the Wakkanai National Highway, also referred to as the Japan National Route 40. From there one can take a ferry to reach the islands, which are only a short distance away.

An interesting fact is that Rishiri Island was formed by the extinct volcanic peak of the appropriately named Mount Rishiri, which was shaped like a cone. The island is around 180 square kilometers (70 square miles) large and sparsely inhabited.

Images by japan-guide.com

Visit the 33 Kannon Temples

Japan is a land of much natural diversity and a culture that has many aspects revolving around exactly that. An outdoor activity that one cannot simply engage in when in other countries is one that is somewhat culturally ingrained in Japan, given its long standing history with Buddhist religion.

Those so inclined can take upon themselves the challenge of retracing one of the old yet famous routes of pilgrimage, normally undertaken by the devout monks and followers of certain branches of Buddhism. Of course, one doesn’t have to actually be a believer to do so, and the entire experience can be very rewarding as one gets to experience the Land of the Rising Sun from a perspective that many tourists normally don’t get to see. In addition to that come plenty of sights to see, some which aren’t even considered general tourist attractions but can hold beauty in their own ways.

The Chugoku 33 Temple Pilgrimage is one such trip visitors could plan out and undergo. Being one of the more modern routes, the pilgrimage’s conception can be traced back to 1981. While not having a long and historically significant history behind it, this comes with the advantage for visitors that the pilgrimage takes modern circumstances into consideration as they lack the sheer distance one has to cover and mental stress one has to endure.

The theme of the forgiveness, as all 33 temples along this journey dedicate their purpose to the worship of  Kannon, the goddess of mercy according to the relevant beliefs. As the name implies, there are 33 temples along this pilgrimage to visit, scattered over a handful of prefectures. On top of that, there are a few additional stops which are considered special temples and aren’t counted among the regular 33.

The prefectures one gets to traverse through in this pilgrimage are the Okayama, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Shimane and Tottori Prefectures. It is likely that one is to encounter special events being held or festivals being celebrated along the temples of the pilgrimage and all tourists are encouraged to participate. One that stands out is the Spring Kannon Matsuri held at the Ryuzoji temple, which is well known for its fire-walking tradition among others. The festival is held on the second Sunday of every February, so visitors planning to attend should schedule their trip accordingly. Aside from that, it is highly recommended that anyone planning on doing the pilgrimage to do adequate research first on travel routes and safety precautions.

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Second image by japan-guide.com

 

Take the Narrow Road to the Deep North

There’s just something about watching a movie or reading a story featuring a scenic location in all its glory and then one day visiting that location yourself. Surely one has heard of the stories of people traveling all the way to New Zealand in order to stand on the same mountains wherein the filming of the famous Lord of the Rings trilogy occurred.

Given the prolific nature of Japan’s outdoors, many such opportunities to visit places detailed in stories exist. Many local forms of entertainment revolve around specific landmarks and places, whether they may be a temple from a movie or a small town featured in an anime.

One location that would put quite many others to shame is the Narrow Road To The Deep North – which is, of course, not the actual name of any particular place. Instead, Narrow Road To The Deep North is the name of one of the most important and famous pieces of Japanese literature – it is the title of the world’s most famous collection of Haiku poetry, written by none other than Matsuo Basho. The work is a travelogue, detailing his his journey through the rural and remote areas of Japan’s north-western region, Tohoku.

In the stories told, Basho decided to travel to those rural lands of Tohoku, well aware of the dangers he would face there, a land filled with farmers and bandits. It is said that he didn’t even expect to make it home alive and decided to sell his house and prepare a will prior to embarking on his journey. Accompanying him was a fellow poet by the name of Sora, who created a more factual recount of their travels, allowing us today to know which route they took.

Those with a taste for outdoor adventure can, fairly easily nowadays, make their way to the aforementioned part of Japan and see the places which inspired one of the most significant and of most impact works of Japanese art to date. However, there is much preparation to be done in order to tackle this journey and see all of its 43 stages. Regardless, undertaking such an adventure is said to be very rewarding and allows people to see Japan in a light that almost no other visitor is ever treated to. It is also recommended that the journey is done in summer and over a month’s worth of time is invested, as modern transport is sparse in the far north of Japan and weather conditions do play a significant part.

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Second image by platial.typepad.com

Golf At The Phoenix Seagaia Resort

The strong presence of Golf in Japan can be considered somewhat surprising by some. However, with Japan’s tendency to quickly pick up on the western sports, bring it into their own culture and develop it on their own, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise, especially given the feeling of exclusivity associated with golf, as well as its integration into much of western corporate culture.

Japan has since developed a strong golfing culture, with hundreds of courses located across the nation. One of the most exclusive places to go for a round or two of golf is the Phoenix Seagaia Resort. Located on the Hitotsuba Pacific Coast, the golf courses at the Phoenix Seagaia Resort are considered some of the most prolific as well as exclusive throughout the entire Japanese golf industry.

The resort’s own golf course features a whooping 45 holes for an unadulterated experience of Japan’s finest golf. The 45 holes are spread out over two separate courses, 18 of which can be played at the so-called Tom Watson course, while the remaining 27 can be tackled at the Phoenix Country Club.

On that note, the Phoenix Country Club can be further broken down into a wider variety of courses to customize one’s experience while there. Its 27 holes are split into three individual nine-hole courses which can be played in a variety of combinations. Those are the Sumiyoshi Course, the Nichinan Course and the Takachiho Course. The Phoenix Country Club is also often home to tournaments, one of which is the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament. One of the iconic features of the Club is the last hole of the Sumiyoshi course, which has already given birth to some very intense moments during said tournament.

The Nichinan’s nine holes are known for requiring a mastery over mid-range shots as inaccuracy is easily punished by the course’s layout, and is thus one of the most technical courses in the area.

The Tom Watson Course is generally the most scenic and perhaps more appropriate for those wishing to pace themselves through a more varied range of difficulty and scenery. Some holes here are wide and flat, allowing a larger margin for error, while some fairways tend to be very narrow and steep, forcing the player to bring his A-game.

Following an intense round of golf, players can head to the resort to unwind and enjoy some of the finest local cuisine over a drink overlooking the beach front.

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Exploring Yukushima Island

Japan is a land of much folklore, legend and mystery – after all, there is the saying that every myth holds a grain of truth. In combination with this comes the nation’s abundance of locations that fit such tales and fables perfectly, either through historical events having passed that place, or through a sheer atmospheric vibe.

Yakushima Island is one of the places in the Land of the Rising Sun that could have been taken right out of a fairy tale. It is located just south of Kyushu, Japan’s main island, and is truly a sight to behold and should definitely be on any visitor’s agenda to visit – the island is generally considered as one of the most rewarding sights to experience in all of Japan.

The island is home to the ancient Jomon Sugi tree and is thus designated as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites since the early 90s. In addition to the island’s lustrous forestry, one can partake in some truly scenic hiking spots around the more mountainous areas. Speaking of mountains, Yakushima’s mountain range is also home to the highly prolific yaku-sugi, a special type of tree. The trees have much history associated with them and tower very high into the sky, and are even said to have been a significant inspiration for the famous Japanese animated film, Princess Mononoke.

 

After a busy day of exploring the island and revelling in the atmosphere of the dense forest, visitors can go relax in the nearby sandy beaches or local hot springs, both easily found – not all that surprising given the island’s relatively small size, measuring in at only just under 550 square kilometers. An interesting fact to note is that the island is one of extreme internal contrast. The rocky mountains are the cause of some rather dry weather, whereas the innermost parts of the island is considered one of the wettest places throughout all of Japan, hence it is recommended for anyone visiting to pack appropriately. The mountains are often covered in snow during the winter months, while the other side of the island, the coast, will be pleasantly warm. Contrasting, indeed.

Given the island’s small size, it should also be noted that there is little public transport and getting lost could be disastrous as finding civilization could prove to be a challenge. Hiking is only recommended in a sizable group or with a guide, while equipped with appropriate gear and an updated map.

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Second image by japan-guide.com

Kogen Onsen

Should one find oneself on the island of Hokkaido, which is the largest island north of Japan’s main island Kyushu, one should definitely pay a visit to the aptly named Daisetsuzan National Park – the ‘big snow mountain.’ While being the largest national park in Japan, it offers a variety of outdoor activities to enjoy and sights to explore.

One of the best ways to experience one part of the 2,300 square meter large park is to seek the Kogen Onsen, one of the hot spring resorts of the area. The Kogen Onsen is located at a high altitude, a novelty when one is used to the onsen located closer to the sea level. The air is fresher and the wind is colder, providing a crisp contrast to the pleasure of relaxing in a resort area powered by a hot spring. Located well over 1 kilometer above the sea level, visitors are also treated to a prime seat to observe columns of smoke rise from the volcanic parts of the area, a rather impressive sight to see.

Those who wish to do more than to simply lounge and observe, are welcomed to gear up and head out for some climbing. There are some difficult and rewarding belts to try one’s hands on, but it is recommended for tourists to go in the company of a guide as inexperience can lead to fatality.

For the less adventurous, the area around the Kogen Onsen provides some very scenic walking trails and tracks. There are some that lead through areas populated by swamps and its respective wildlife. It is noted that the areas filled with swamps have a decidedly orange and brown tint to them, giving the impression from afar that part of the mountain is on fire in contrast to the snowy white that dominates most of the park. An important aspect to consider is that those particular trails lead through one of the areas which the brown bear is home to, thus giving it a relative measure of danger. However, visitors must attend a lecture at the relevant information center prior to heading out anyway. There have been instances before wherein the trails were closed due to a high number of bears nearby, so it is recommended for visitors to make some back-up plans just in case the trail is closed on that particular day.

There are numerous spas and bathhouses in the town around the Kogen Onsen, all of which gain their hot water from the volcanic hot spring.

First image by go-nagano.net

Second image by tokyosnowclub.com

Golfing in Okinawa

When one would hear the name “Japan,” one would generally not associate the country with the sport of golf. There are many things Japan is well-known, even famous for, across the globe, but the sport of golf is not really one of them. Despite that, Japan has a thriving Golf industry and is home to quite a few prolific international tournaments. There are quite a few places in Japan that are ideal for golfing, however.

Despite the nature of the sport being somewhat exclusive, many courses exist that cater to all different kinds of preference when it comes to the sport. Some golfers might seek the most challenging courses, while others prefer the feeling of being part of the elite, playing at the most prestigious and luxurious country clubs the nation has to offer.

One location that sets itself apart from many other of the other golfing hotspots in the Land of the Rising Sun is Okinawa. Despite being the home of courses used in championships and international tournaments, Okinawa is a favored destination of many golfers who seek a more relaxed attitude towards the whole thing, with less emphasis on rules and formality. The mild climate of the area combined with some of the delicious local cuisine make the destination rather attractive for the Japanese workers used to constantly seeing nothing but their busy cities and concrete steel buildings.

Generally, Okinawa courses are lush with nature, a harmonious blend of sand bunkers, water traps to play across and a variety of greenery to keep the outdoor lover’s eyes alit. Some of Okinawa’s courses have a prime view over the East China Sea, which on a clear day sparkles green and blue, especially during sunset. After all, what would be more calming than the breeze of the ocean after a bad tee-off?

A ballpark figure of 6 million visitors is what Okinawa receives annually, according to the Japan national Tourism Organization. Of that, about 5% is foreign – a fact that Okinawa is trying to change, part of which golfing is responsible for. The island has many qualities that make it a prime location for foreign tourism, home to some truly excellent golf courses that can keep par with some of the best Asia has to offer. Aside from that, one of the overall goals of the top courses of the island is to attract more of its Japanese clientèle, as the number of Japan’s golfers that go overseas to other Asian islands for golf is decreasing, allowing places such as Okinawa to grow.

First image by kanucha.jp

Second image by golfworldresorts.com

Daisetsuzan National Park

A commonly seen aspect of Japan’s outdoor environment is that the nation is rather proud and protective of its natural scenery. It is thus not all that surprising that many of Japan’s regions that are predominantly populated by nature are grouped in the form of National Parks, which in turn are maintained and managed by appointed bodies in the region. This allows local governments to protect the natural environment to the best of its ability, especially in the regions that play home to various forms of wildlife.

One of the National Parks that is a frequently recognized name is the Daisetsuzan National Park. Its name quite literally translates into ‘big snow mountain,’ which is rather appropriate given the Park’s nature to be covered in thick layers of snowy goodness. Most of the national park spans the location of the regional mountain range in the center of Hokkaido, the largest island north of Japan’s main island, Kyushu. The mass of mountains located in the center of Hokkaido is a marvelous place of outdoor activity during the right times of year and anyone paying a visit to the island should at least visit them once.

Despite the mountain park’s name, the snow and ice do eventually melt, even if that period isn’t all that long. In the time of thawing, the Daisetsuzan is a great place to hike in, with many unique and challenging trails ready to be explored.

The park also happens to be the largest National Park in all of Japan, covering well over 2000 square kilometers. Aside from the aforementioned mountains, the Daisetsuzan National Park is also home to a large variety of Hokkaido’s different volcanoes, hot springs and even a large patch of forest and wilderness, home and habitat of the local wildlife. Even the occasional lake can be found here, making the entire park akin to a smaller scale representation of all of Japan’s natural sites and sights. Much of the park’s area is almost entirely untouched by humanity and is thus not really a conventional tourist attraction, but not a place to pass up for the true lover of the outdoors.

Visitors tend to generally stay around the hot-spring towns nearby, but it is highly recommended that one finds one’s sense of adventure and at least hikes along some of the famous trails. Given that much of the park is sheer wilderness, it is recommended for visitors to go in groups or in the presence of a guide.

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Second image by ryzhaya-tapka.livejournal.com