Taking a stroll through Sankeien Garden

Spending time in the outdoors does not always mean engaging in sports, whether traditional or modern, nor does it mean that one has to commit to bungee jumping or skydiving, far from it actually. Japan is a nation adept at offering the ideal outdoor settings for all possible tastes. Whether one wishes to get moving to get their blood flowing or simply enjoy a cup of tea in a beautiful garden – everything outdoor is possible in Japan.

For those more inclined to relax and soak in the stunning visuals of Japan’s traditional cultural establishments as well as blooming flora, the Sankei-en Gardens may be the ideal destination. Located in the Naka Ward of Yokohama, the Sankei-en Gardens are traditional Japanese-styled gardens. Generally, Japanese-style gardens are entire landscapes miniaturized in a often highly stylized fashion, often even reaching into levels of abstractness.

The Sankei-en Gardens have much history associated with them. Built and designed by a silk trader known as either Tomitaro Hara or his pseudonym Saneki Hara, the gardens opened in 1906. They suffered substantial amounts of damage from bombings during World War II, but have been restored to their former glory since. Most of the garden’s buildings have some sort of historical significance and were bought by Hara himself. They originated in prefectures and cities across the country, including Tokyo and Kyoto. The garden is home to several structures deemed by the Japanese government as cultural heritage, increasing its attractiveness to foreign visitors by even more.

The garden and its features cover an area of 175,000 square meters (43 acres) and has an impressive amount of variety among its area. Near the entrance is the Kakushokaku, the former residence of Hara’s family. Today the building is used as an event location and can be rented for private parties.

Behind the Kakushokaku is the Outer Garden. This is the part that was initially made available to the public in 1906 when Sankei-en opened for the first time. The Outer Garden is located next to the Main Pond and is home to several of the noteworthy buildings spread out over the entire area. The next point of interest is the Inner Garden, which was opened to the public in 1958 following the garden’s post-war reconstruction. It houses the mansion of the Kii House and is commonly compared to some of the most intricate and historically important and generally lavishly decorated mansions and villas across the country.

 

First image by jtbgmt.com

Second image by Lemuel Montejo on flickr.com

Top Natural Wonders to Visit

Japan has plenty of things to do and see, with a major part of the country’s beautiful attractions located in the great outdoors, making the nation a hub of picturesque sights and views. The fabled Land of the Rising Sun is home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites alone, attracting thousands of foreign tourists each year to explore some of the most serene sights to see in South East Asia. Whether one seeks sights of historical value or mere natural beauty, Japan is capable of accommodating all such needs. There are many wonders to see in Japan, especially natural ones.

The first stop one anyone’s roadmap to visiting Japan’s luscious outdoors should be Mount Fuji. The mountain is Japan’s largest in height, reaching an impressive 3,777 meters above sea level, and is located about 1-2 hours away from Tokyo and can even be seen on the horizon from the nation’s capital on a clear and sunny day. The mountain is a beautiful sight regardless of the season and is one of Japan’s most iconic sights and is definitely ranked amongst the most important places to visit.

Similar to Mount Fuji is Mount Aso. Except that Mount Aso, or Aso-san as often referred to by locals, is an active volcano. It’s not only the largest volcano in Japan, but one of the largest active ones in the world and is in fact emitting fumes from its depths that make it dangerous to visit the volcano every now and then, and is definitely not a wonder one should get too close to if one suffers from breathing or lung problems. Regardless, it is one of the most spectacular sights to see in Japan.

Fumes emitted from the active volcano.

The next sight to see is Matsushima, which unlike Mounts Fuji and Aso is much closer to sea level due to it being a group of 260 small islands covered in pine trees. The view is wonderful at night with the night sky reflected off the water on a clear night. In fact, the view is so scenic that the Matsushima islands are in the “Three Scenic Points,” a collection of the three most beautiful sights to see in Japan as defined by the Japanese scholar Hayashi Gaho. The other sights he named were the sandbar of Amanohashidate in Kyoto and the Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima.

One of the 260 islands.

Those are just some of the top natural wonders to visit in Japan and anyone paying a visit to the nation should explore some others – whether water or land based, Japan has some of the most wondrous sights to see.

First image by 3yen

Second image by 7is7

 

Rafting & Kayaking

Japan has some of the most interestingly diverse selection of nature’s best venues for all sorts of outdoor activities. Whether it’s water, land or air based, Japan is well known for being an aesthetically pleasing country with much to offer in the outdoor department. Mountains for hiking, the ocean for sailing, fields for camping and so on.

Taking a break to enjoy the scenery.

Regardless, if there is one thing the Japanese have an abundance of, it’d be water. This, of course, is not surprising given the country’s status as an island nation, but also gives way for many different kinds of activities for locals and foreigners alike to participate in. One such activity is rafting and kayaking, which takes full advantage of the numerous rivers and streams running through Japan’s numerous prefectures. The beauty of the activity is that it’s very entertaining to do in groups and can cater to all levels of comfort. Whether one seeks thrill and adrenaline or relaxation and picturesque views, kayaking and rafting can provide it all.

A great place to start in, especially for those hesitant around deeper waters or for those with no experience in a boat, are the kayaking tours on the Aokiko Lake. Aokiko Lake is located in Nagano and is one of the purest lakes in Japan. The lake is a fusion of pure spring water emerging from beneath the earth and melted mountain snow produced at the end of the Japanese winter. With the clarity of the water, the mountains in the background and the forest foliage surrounding the lake, one can experience a truly beautiful time in a kayak on the lake. Ideal for those willing to take it a little slower or those wanting to practice some kayaking and rafting techniques before tackling some more challenging rivers.

Some locals enjoying the lake.

Another place of note is the Tone River, located in the Gunma Prefecture. The river is the largest one running through Japan. It also has a 12 kilometer long stretch used for kayaking and rafting. During summer, the part is rated a 2 on the International Scale of River Difficulty during the summer months, making it a nice and easy rise for beginner and intermediate riders. In the spring months, following the melting of ice and snow, the river is flooded to a 4 on the scale, providing a worthy challenge for intermediate and expert rafters and kayakers, making it ideal for testing one’s progress over time on the water.

First image by gajinfarmer on WordPress

Second image by evergreen-hakuba

Climbing Mt. Fuji

One of the ultimate goals of a traveler in Japan is to climb the country’s most popular and revered mountain, Mt. Fuji. With its beautifully symmetrical cone, Mt. Fuji has been a Japanese icon for many years. It is located on Honshu Island, and is the highest mountain in Japan at 3,776.24 meters or 12,389 ft. It lies about 100 kilometers south-west of Tokyo, and can be seen from there on a clear day.

The beautiful Mt. Fuji is Japan’s most famous icon and has become a goal for many people to climb.

 

Climbing the mountain is limited to July through August. Despite its steep slopes, Mt. Fuji can be climbed up quite easily even by beginners. Signboards and mountain huts provide direction and places to rest. But it is necessary to try to become acquainted with the features of Mt. Fuji well in advance, and make thorough plans before climbing up the mountain. One must take note that even in the summer, the temperature is at least 20 degrees colder than ground level and the air is thin. In the afternoon, the weather becomes quite unstable with quite a high possibility of thunder.

Mt. Fuji 5th Station and Toyokan Mountain hut.

Climbers can drive up to the 5th Lake Kawaguchi–Yoshida-guchi course is the most popular course and takes about 6 hours to reach the summit from the 5th mountain huts along the way. You depart from the 5th become rocky slopes. Mountain huts are found at the Seventh Station and Eighth Station (2,700 m to 3,000 m). After passing the torii gate at the 9th station, which has an altitude of 1,400 to 2,400 meters. The Station. This course is recommended for beginners because there are many Station and climb gentle slopes which later Station the climb will be basically up bare rocks. Going up further, you will be welcomed by a white torii gate, and after climbing up more stairs, you will find yourself at the summit. The Kuzushi-jinja Shrine is found at the top where one can have a stamp impressed as a token of having reached the summit. There will also be mountain huts or rest areas at the mountain top and a place where one can mail postcards. The descent will be through a different route and would normally take 3 hours and 15 minutes. The mountain huts are well equipped with supplies but in case of an emergency, it is necessary that you bring a supply of water, light snacks and a change of clothes. It is also advised to put on trekking shoes and a hat to prevent sunburn. A walking stick or a trekking pole would also prove useful. There is cellular signal in the mountain so communication is not cut off during the climb.

 

Photos taken from  Steve Tilford and Tokyo Travel Pal

Health Benefits of the Japanese Hot Tub

Soaking in a hot tub can be a good way to describe Japanese relaxation. This could be because this is often experienced as a finale to a many activities. Hot tubs are seen in ski resorts, golf courses, spas, sport clubs and even private homes. There is much more to this than getting oneself cleaned. It is apparently, the ultimate relaxation package in one small space.

Japanese hot tubs are relatively small deep soaking tubs with still hot water. The still water differentiates the hot tub from the western bathtubs. Soaking in still hot water or the Onsen bath began as a ritualistic activity in some cultures like the Greeks, Romans and the Japanese. Many believed that this quiet activity cleanses more than body grime. Soaking in the hot tub was considered an act of comforting the body and nourishing the soul.

Soaking in an onsen bath after skiing is a good way to relax after a strenuous activity

Hydrotherapy is one method of promoting relaxation for the body and mind. The calming effect of water on the body has never been truly explained but always experienced.

Different water temperatures can produce various healing effects on affected portions of our body. Hot tubs are used with the understanding that the body absorbs and retains heat. This promotes relaxation to tense muscles and stiff joints. Slowly, the heat absorbed becomes a healing tool by the body to mend sore parts. Circulation is increased when heat is applied so hot soaks increase blood flow to the extremities. Heart rate is also increased with heat that’s why it is imperative for one to check with his doctor if heat therapy is good for him. Stiff joints like those suffered by people with arthritis are greatly relaxed by soaking. The buoyancy of water makes movement much easier and the relaxed muscles around the joints make movement less painful. It is surprising how quickly relief can be obtained from a hot soak

 

Kowakien Yunessun, a hot springs spa resort and water amusement park in Hakone

Aside from beneficial effects on the human body, soaking in a Japanese hot tub also promotes relaxation of the mind. The mere process of getting into a hot tub (very slowly getting in) initiates a more gentle, slow acclimatization to the environment. This allows you to breathe deeply, slowly, and in the process, clear your mind of all the worries of the day.

Aromatherapy can be used simultaneously with the hot soak. It has been found that this form of holistic medicine stimulates the bather’s physiological, emotional and psychological capacities. The oil vapors used stimulate a body’s nervous, endocrine and immune systems, giving the body a chance to heal itself.

Photos from Daily Mail and John Lander

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.

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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

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.

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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