Kasai Rinkai Koen Driving Range

Western sports are, for some reason, Japan’s favorites. It surprises many that visit the country when they find out that of all the sports, Baseball is the single most popular across the nation, with the international sport of Soccer (football) being a close second. What surprises visitors even more than that is that Golf is among the top 3, if one ignores the traditional sport of Sumo wrestling. With the rise in popularity, Golf is more accessible than ever in Japan – as evidenced by the over 2000 courses one can play on across the nation. Of course, every hobby golfer knows that Golf is a very time-consuming sport and not many can afford to hone their skills by going out for a 6 hour round on the regular – thus, the importance, and availability, of driving ranges has become all the more prevalent.

There are many driving ranges in Japan, and close to 100 alone in the Tokyo area, meaning that there is a high chance of one simply discovering one by just getting lost in the city. One of the problems with this is that while there are many driving ranges in Tokyo and its are, due to space constraints, they often are limited in length, with most maxing out at 100 yards – which while great for practicing one’s swing and technique, is not ideal for seeing the results of a good hit and limiting players to practising irons and clubs meant for lower ranges.

One good place to head to in Tokyo for getting some decent practise in is the Kasai Rinkai Koen Driving Range. This one is rather large, especially in comparison to some other ones – there are 300 booths available, spread out over 3 floors, making it one of the most impressive sights for an inexperienced golfer to see. The range is only 30 minutes of out Tokyo’s inner city and spans a whooping 250 yards – shooting any farther than that and you’re likely creeping into the lower levels of handicap in the sport of golf. This particular driving range is generally rather busy and packed with golfers around the clock, even around 10pm one can find it a struggle to find a free booth. One impressive feature here is that the range is almost completely automated – there aren’t even any clunky trucks driving around the range to pick up balls, as the range is constructed in a clever way that balls will roll into feeding system which will bring them back straight to the booths.

First image by dylangoestokyo.com

Second image by shibuya246 on flickr.com

Gotemba Golf Club

When staying in Tokyo, a golfer might be frustrated by the lack of nearby high quality golf courses. Sure, there are plenty that one can get to – after all, the popularity of golf has skyrocketed over the past few years, making it one of the most popular sports played in the nation. Many new golf courses have opened, the ballpark figure being around 2,600 courses in Japan alone – so, yes, when staying in Tokyo, there should be some nearby. There are, however they unfortunately suffer from a lack of space, making them feel almost claustrophobic in comparison to those located in the countryside with much more space to work with. There are two good courses near Tokyo though – the Gotemba Golf Club and the Aqualine Golf Club, both similar in terms of price and quality and both plenty big to make you feel you’re not hitting the green in your neighbors backyard.

The Gotemba Golf Club is fairly standard in what one may expect from an average, well-maintained golf course in a western country. It’s a par 72 course and its 18 holes measure a total distance of 5,800 meters (6,350 yards), a respectable distance. Not overly long by any means, but quite a bit longer than what one might find at a course closer to Tokyo’s inner city. The course has its own tricky little nuances, as the windy disposition of its location coupled with its creative layout force players to think outside the box. There are a bunch of restaurants, as well as a fully functioning hotel, ready to be explored by those wishing to remain in the area for a while – and for those fond of alcoholic beverages, the Golf Club boasts its own brewery to be one of excellence. For those visually inclined, there are also magnificent views to see of the famous Mount Fuji and the Pacific Ocean. The Gotemba resort area is one of the best in Japan and is luckily only a short bike or golf-cart ride away for those wishing to experience some amusement outside of hitting the front and back nine all day long.

Luckily, playing at the Gotemba Golf Club does not break one’s bank too badly. On weekdays, the standard tee-fare is 9,800 yen, which translates to 90 US dollars, while the club charges 16,900 yen on the weekends, which will set you back about 160 dollars in US currency.

First image by fuji-fun.com

Second image by golfworldmap.com

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

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.

First image by suitqaisdiaries.com

Second image by ryzhaya-tapka.livejournal.com

Diving in Izu

Any outdoor enthusiast would find themselves hard pressed to visit the Land of the Rising Sun and find themselves unable to engage in whatever outdoor activity they might have a fancy for. With the nation’s impressively diverse types of the great outdoors, Japan is a practical heaven when it comes to doing things outside.

Given that Japan is an island nation, one would find it obvious that water-based activities are a definite kind of thing to do when in Japan. Japan is home to many different types of diving spots and offers some great opportunities for both beginner and experienced divers. Those with a SCUBA diving license will find themselves well-accommodated by the Japanese waters and its colorful local wildlife.

When visiting the capital, Tokyo and its prefecture, one mustn’t travel all that far to find some great diving opportunities. The Izu Peninsula is located conveniently for those staying in Tokyo and has some great spots to dive in to boast about. The peninsula is located in the Shizuoka prefecture, only roughly 100 kilometers from the country’s capital, virtually just a bullet-train ride away. Despite the area’s tendency to become crowded during public and school holidays, not surprising given its location, there is much to see and explore, so much in fact that one is unlikely to find themselves in the same spots twice.

Another advantage for the divers are the nearby 7 islands which also offer their own niches in terms of Scuba diving, and can be reached by public transport. The most popular of the 7 island is East Izu, which sports ideal conditions for diving all year out. For those wishing to combine a diving trip around the Izu Peninsula with something more relaxing, the small town of Atami is just a stone throw away, a town famous for its excellent hot spring resorts.

Those on the lookout for a more diverse dive should head to West Izu, the place wherein the most amount of dive operators conduct their business. This makes the location ideal for beginners, with a few of the beaches being filled by divers. Another interesting fact to consider is that West Izu is home to diving spots protected by a cove, meaning that diving happens all year around, even among a storm.

The south of Izu also offers a variety of diving experiences, with Mikomoto being the most popular destination there. It takes quite a while to reach the ideal locations here, having to spend up to an hour on a boat to get there. These dives are aimed at the advanced divers, those with plenty of experience and the clearance to participate in deep dives of this level.

First image by nevillecoleman.com.au

Second image by Arne Kuilman on flickr.com

Shooting down the Kumagawa Rapids

Kayaking and rafting have been mentioned here before as some great outdoor activities to pursue while looking for a way to spend some time in Japan’s beautiful summer. The locations mentioned in the previous article were Aokiko Lake and the Tone River, both ideal locations capable of catering to suit the needs of the beginners seeing to get started on the water as well as advanced and experienced thrill seekers.

While Japan is riddled with ways to spend time in the great outdoors and enjoy some of the most breathtaking views in all of Asia, there are outdoor activities that allow for some good thrills to be had while doing so.

The Kumagawa River, frequently shortened to Kuma River, is located in the Kumamoto Prefecture, which in turn is part of Kyushu, a part of the far southwestern part of the Japanese islands. The river spans roughly 120 kilometers in length and is overall considered to be one of the three most rapid rivers along side the Mogami River and Fuji River.

This makes the Kumagawa River a well-frequented tourist spot. Aside from that, the river waters the nearby ricefields of the prefecture and flows out into the Yatsushiro sea. Well over 60,000 tourists visit the river yearly. While some may come for the view and surrounding attractions of Kyushu, most that pay a visit to the Kuma River are there in order to ride it – after all, it is one of the three fastest flowing rivers in Japan and is definitely worth telling stories about back home.

Two courses are available at the Kuma River. For those wanting to enjoy a slower and steadier ride, the “clear stream” course is the obvious choice. On the clear stream, the boat will travel around 8 kilometers over the span of 90 minutes and is great for enjoying the local scenery, taking pictures of the river’s fish and adjacent waterfalls, as well as breathing in the clean river air. The “rapid stream” option however, is, as its name implies, quite a bit faster as the boat will traverse 10 kilometers over the same time span. The course is dynamic and fast and really puts the boatman’s skill to maneuver and control the boat in the spotlight.

It is important to note that the Kuma River is only open to riding for 7 months of the year and is generally always in high-demand, making it crucial to reserve seats in advance.

First image by visitkyushu.org

Second image by kumanago.jp

Hakone Open-Air Art Museum

Japan is a country filled to the brim with art. For decades, generations, even centuries, the Japanese have managed to incorporate qualities into their culture that give its history and way of living an oddly persistent aura of elegance. The Land of the Rising Sun is artistically enthusiastic, both in the categories of modern and traditional art. In the traditional aspect, many facets of culture that seem ordinary or standard for the Japanese are perceived to be aesthetically pleasing or outstanding, especially by western cultures.

Many have given their own descriptions of the overall style of Japanese art. Words such as serene, elegant, precise, dynamic and flowing come to mind, especially when looking at Japanese art throughout history. Whether it’s the art of forging a sword, such as the famous Japanese Katana, the ancient part of playing ancient string instruments, creating paper figurines called Origami or even more modern arts such as flower arrangements and cinema, Japan is much accomplished in all major fields of art. Another integral part of Japanese culture is nature and generally the outdoors. The variety Japan has to offer in the outdoor department is as diverse as its contribution to the world’s arts, celebrating diverse seasons and unlimited opportunities to enjoy nature’s gifts.

One place that combines these two naturally connected forces, nature and art, is the Hakone Open Air Art Museum. The term “art museum” is normally associated with exhibition galleries, especially famous ones such as France’s Le Louvre, however, the Hakone Open Air Art Museum takes a different approach to letting visitors experience art.

Located in the town of Hakone in the Ashigarashimo District of the Kanagawa Prefecture, the Open Air Art Museum showcases art in balance with nature, built on spacious and lusciously green grounds surrounded by mountains. It’s a perfect place to unwind and experience two of Japan’s finest qualities at the same time.

 

The gallery opened in 1969 and features over 1000 sculptures, with works by various famous artists in the industry such as Picasso and Henry Moore. The fact that the exhibition is located outside sets the tone for the types of collections there are to see in the museum. Many different types of sculptures can be seen, with some even constructed upon water. The Picasso collection is most likely the centerpiece of the museum’s collection, a pavillion dedicated to the genius’ works featuring 188 pieces of his ceramic work that the museum had been able to acquire.

First image by japan-guide.com

Second image by bornplaydie.com

Skydiving in Japan

Japan is a country that offers all kinds of activities to its residents and visitors. One can choose to spend one’s time indoor or outdoors and for those willing to explore the beauty of the Japanese outdoors, there are many different activities to explore. The nation is riddled with beautiful countrysides and varying types of environments for outdoor enthusiasts of all levels to enjoy.

For those who aren’t quite content with merely experiencing such views from the normalcy of land travel, skydiving (also called parachuting) might be worth taking a look at. Skydiving is an extreme action sport and definitely not something for those faint of heart. The activity involves jumping out of an airplane at high altitudes and sailing to the ground by the way of a parachute. This action sport is something for those seeking thrills and adrenaline rushes – but also allows an unparalleled experience, and view, of the beautiful sights Japan has to offer. A rather nontraditional approach to experiencing the country as opposed to taking a tour bus to see some sights, but definitely worth it for those with a stomach to handle the several thousand feet high drop.

Mid-drop.

There aren’t that many places to go Skydiving in Japan, but some do exist. One such place is organized by the Tokyo Skydiving Club, which also serves as the home of the Japanese National 4-way and 8-way team which is a type of formation skydiving wherein the members of the team create different formations in the air prior to using the parachute in order to land. The Tokyo Skydiving Club operates on the Honda Airport, located rather close to Tokyo in the Saitama Prefecture. The club is open on weekends mainly and is a “full service dropzone,” meaning that different kinds of parachuting can be done from there. The airplane they use is a Cessna Caravan C-208, which is a lightweight, single-propeller aircraft with space for 9 to 14 passengers, depending on its interior configuration. For those who have never done skydiving before or wish to do it once in a while, the Tokyo Skydiving Club also offers complete sets of rental gear as well as individual and group coaching. It should be noted that foreigners willing to parachute in Japan must register with the appropriate government offices prior to landing in the country due to safety and legal reasons.

Cessna Caravan C-208

A few other drop zones exist throughout Japan, however the Toyko Skydiving Club is regarded as the best and is frequently visited by the most well-known names in the field.

Images by avationguy