Biking Culture in Japan

Japan is one of the most developed countries in Asia, arguably the most developed one in that part of the world. With that naturally comes infrastructure – noticeable too, as Japan has some of the cleanest cars to drive on this planet and some of the most developed public transport solutions available.

Given the nation’s strong economic power and relative stability, one could safely assume that most Japanese drive a car or at least abuse the train system a lot – which is true, mind you, however, many Japanese prefer to use their bicycles. In fact, Japan has one of the strongest and most widely spread biking cultures in the world, and they have good reasons for it too.

First is that it’s so common – in some countries, riding a bike will garner strange looks, whereas in Japan it is very common, similar to many European countries. Unlike those countries however, Japan isn’t all that strict on laws and regulations regarding the use of a bike – many ride without a helmet or lights, sometimes even regardless of the flow of traffic.

This leads us to the next reason – sheer convenience. In Japan, most things you’ll need to access daily will be fairly close, especially when living in a suburban or flat out urban area. While inconvenient to walk for half an hour, on the bike the stores or school might only be five to ten minutes away.

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Next is beauty. Japan is a beautiful country and biking is one of the ways to truly appreciate the scenic views and fresh air many parts of the country have to boast for themselves. Plus, it’s nice to simply stop every now and then, allowing the riders to be flexible in their transportation which riding a car or bus might hinder.

The final reason of note are the existing roads. You can bike pretty much everywhere in Japan as the nation’s roads are generally very well maintained and even have dedicated lanes for bikes, making it all the easier to enjoy the simple, yet healthy and effective, mode of transportation.

 

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Two Tips for the casual Golf tourist in Japan

Golf is one of the sports that has seen a significant rise in popularity across Japan, firmly entrenching it as one of the most popular sports across the nation. Golf is, by nature, a more exclusive and expensive sport than many others, appealing to the older generation of inhabitants living in the Land of the Rising Sun. Given the sport’s rise in popularity not just in Japan but in Asia overall, Japan has become one of the premier destinations in south-east Asia to play the sport at, mainly due to the large variety of high-quality courses available in the country. Golf is, of course, one of the more engaging of outdoor activities and is regarded as a great way to regulate one’s health and well-being.

 

Of course, when one visits Japan, especially from overseas with the intent of combining a holiday with a few rounds of golf, there are a few things one has to keep in mind. The first would be that it would be advised, in most cases, that one leaves their own clubs at home as they make traveling a hassle. Of course, this depends on whether you’re going solely for the purpose of playing golf or not. If all you plan on doing in Japan is playing Golf, then by all means, bring your clubs. If you’re more on the casual side of things, leave them at home – you can rent clubs in many places in Japan and bringing your own can become a nightmare with additional air-fees and customs. Some countries such as Australia are very strict when it comes to bringing back used golf gear from abroad, thus research into these things are essential.

Another point to keep in mind is dress code. If you’re a casual golfer who decided today would be a good day to not see any more of the prolific Japanese sights but play a round of golf, be aware – even though you can rent clubs, they might not be of the same quality as you’re used to. In addition to that comes the dress code, in many of the Japanese clubs there is a strict dress code to be adhered to, including the wearing of pants and polo shirts. Being ignorant of this could lead to more problems than worth the money, especially in a country like Japan wherein etiquette and manners are very much valued.

First image by factsanddetails.com

Second image by nodivot.com

Climbing Ogawayama

Rock climbing is an increasingly popular outdoor activity among the more adventurous outdoor enthusiasts who simply cannot settle for just walking around to enjoy a sight. Of course, in order to participate in some sort of rock climbing, one must find adequate rocks to conquer and it just so happens that Japan has some great rock climbing destinations.

Ogawayama is one such destination. Ogawayama is a mountain located between two of the Japanese prefectures, Yamanashi and Nagano, both known for their plentiful nature and culture. The mountain reaches almost 2,500 meters (1.6 miles) into the sky and is widely considered as one of the best rock climbing destination found in the Land of the Rising Sun. The rock is made of granite, a good substance of rock to be conquered when rock climbing.

A defining characteristic of the Ogawayama mountain is that is rather ideal for climbing – there are many slabs of rock along its slope to make use of, many cracks and splits in the face of the mountain to find adequate grip in, and plateaus to find to rest on before moving up higher into the mountain.

Ogawayama is also the home of some famous boulders in the rock climbing community. Names that might ring familiar for those intimately involved with the sport are the Banshousha slab boulder and the Captain Ahab boulder.

The mountain faces the issue of crowding – meaning that it has become popular to a point where rock climbers must actually wait for a certain part of the slope, called a route, to be freed of other climbers before they can start their own. The site has become very attractive to climbers, both foreign and local, especially for its diversity in routes and difficulties. Some parts of the mountain are notoriously difficult to conquer and require real experience and a lot of caution, while some are as easy as the rocks and trees children climb on a daily basis.

It is to note that visitors might be facing routes that have no pre-existing gear on team, meaning that there are no pre-installed metal rings or loops to attach one’s safety gear on while rising in terms of height. Also, Japan is home to a large variety of weather conditions, making it crucial to be able to gauge the weather on a specific day. The area Ogawayama is located in is known for its strong torrents of rain and lack of little drizzles as it will either drench the area inches deep or not rain at all.

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Second image by cocolog-nifty.com

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.

First image by saipanquinn.blogspot.com

Second image by evergreen-hakuba.com

Bungy Jumping

There are literally hundreds of things to do in the Japanese outdoors. Riddled with beautiful landscapes, the Land of the Rising Sun has some of nature’s finest to present to its visitors. With its natural wonders and all different kinds of environments, Japan also offers plenty to those seeking adventure and adrenaline rushes. Whether one seeks extreme heights or supreme speeds, they’ll be able to find it in a multitude of forms across the Land of the Rising Sun.

Bungy Jumping is all about adrenaline. For those unaware, bungy jumping consists of tying a very elastic rope around one’s ankles, which is then secured at the top of a elevated platform, from which one then proceeds to leap off of. This is naturally not an activity for the faint-hearted as most jumps exceed several dozen meters in length and induce a high level of adrenaline to the system. Nowadays, Bungy Jumping is a fairly standard mark amongst the extreme sports, with venues hosting such jumps in many countries.

Japan too has become a nation with a scene for the extreme sports, including the bungy kind. There are many places in Japan wherein one can partake in the sport. One company that is responsible for some of the jumps is “Bungy Japan.” They are the self-proclaimed “purveyors of the finest adrenalin” since 2004. They have four sites where one can jump from: Minakami, Sarugakyo, Ryujin and Itski Mura. The Minakami and Sarugakyo venues are dedicated bridges with the sole purpose of being used for jumps. The Minakami Bridge is 42 meters high above a river and the Sarugakyo measures at an impressive 62 meters above ground level. Prices change depending on the venue. For instance, the Minakami jump costs 7,500 yen for the first jump, with each consecutive jump being cheaper. The Sarugakyo one costs 10,000 yen for the first jump and a combo for both bridges is available for 14,000 yen.

Sarugakyo

Preparing a jump

However for those not satisfied with those heights and the thrill they offer, there’s the so called “Sky Tree.” Located in Tokyo, those seeking the ultimate thrill can jump off the Tokyo Sky Tree, measured at a whooping 634 meters high. It’s set to open on May 22 of 2014 and is hailed as the highest bungee jump in the world, where thrill-seekers can leap off a 430 meter platform located at the side of the tower.

YEE!

Mid-jump!

Images by bungyjapan

 

Kite flying in Japan

If there’s one thing most people visiting Japan can agree on, it’d most likely that there is always something to do in Japan. The country is truly blessed with a people bringing such diversity and excitement, making it hard for anyone who’s ever been to Japan say their time in the country had been “boring.”

Japan is also blessed with some of the most extraordinary natural landscapes in the world, which are a common point of national pride for the island nation’s inhabitants. Not many other countries can boast a variety of environments as diverse and often picturesque as Japan possess. With an abundance of access to nature’s finest, it comes as little surprise that many of the best things to do in Japan are in the outdoors.

An outdoor activity that isn’t on the radar of many when they put Japan and “outdoors” in the same context is Kite Flying. A reason for this is that while many in the western world do so as children, they never get the opportunity to go outside and fly a kite as an adult – until they have their own children and do it with them, that is. Add to that the era of the internet and technology and we’re presented with a dying form of enjoyment. Flying kites is one of the simplest outdoor activities and is a wonderful opportunity for families and friends to bond and strengthen relationships.

Kites shown on traditional Japanese artwork

Unlike much of the western world, the Japanese have not forgotten about the simple joys of watching a kite soar through the air in the slightest. Flying kites have been in Japan since sometime around 700 AD, brought to the country from China by the way of Buddhist missionaries. That’s a long time ago – so long in fact that there’s an entire museum dedicated to the art located in Tokyo, called the Teimeiken Kite Museum.

Japan is also well known for its traditional festivals held for numerous occasions throughout the year. There are also a number of festivals involved kites, with some even centered on the act of letting kites soar through the air. One of them is the Sagami Giant Kite Festival, held on May 4 and 5 each year in the Kanagawa Prefecture. The festival has been around since the 1830s and was initially held to celebrate the birth of a child. Over time the festival grew in uniformity – and the kites grew in size, to the point where the kites are now close to 15 meters in height and close to 1 tonne in weight, making the entire festival a spectacle to see.

One of the giant kites.

First image by asahi-net.or.jp

Second image by kcpwindowonjapan

Snorkelling in Japan

Japan is one of the largest island nations in the world, ranked in top 10 globally according to size. Therefore, 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. Many things to do in Japan are outdoors and one such activity is Snorkelling – the perfect mix of swimming and diving.

SCUBA diving is often hailed as the most popular form of diving. However SCUBA diving is not quite simple – in fact it comes with dangers that many are unaware of and therefore requires a license to participate in, which in turns costs money and time to acquire, making SCUBA a serious time investment. Snorkelling, on the other hand, is the far more casual, relaxed alternative. The equipment needed is easily available and can turn a visit to the beach into a fun and safe activity for all ages.

Thumbs up after a successful dive.

There are many places to go snorkelling in Japan. One such place is Ishigaki Island, located in the Okinawa Prefecture. Ishigaki Island is the second largest island in the Yaeyama Island group and a perfect snorkelling venue. The waters in this part of the nation are renowned for their crystal-like clarity, comfortably warm temperatures and wonderful views. Its reefs are filled with colorful corals, fish and all sorts of aquamarine life. The clownfish is a frequent sight in the Ishigaki reefs, a favorite among children who have seen the popular film Finding Nemo. Even the fabled blow fish, called Fugu, is commonly found here and will definitely blow up to its maximum size if disturbed. Eels and other sea life are also common and sometimes even large sea-turtles can be seen speeding across the ocean floor.

The territorial clownfish, a common sight in Ishigaki.

Ishigaki Island is also host to the so-called “Manta Point,” where manta rays tend to congregate. They can be observed by the use of guided snorkelling tours as it is very much frowned upon to swim out there unsupervised due to the high amount of ships passing the area. Sharks are very uncommon in those waters. Some tiger sharks are sighted in areas from time to time, but they stay in the deeper waters. In order to maintain safety, snorkelers should stay within the reef. For those interested in the sea predators, there are plenty of tours to view them from boats.

First image by wsj

Second image by ishigaki-japan

Surfing in Japan

Nature is one of the most defining characteristics of the Japanese culture. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that many of the nation’s outdoor activities are based on the natural environment available. There are literally hundreds of different outdoor activities to do in the Land of the Rising Sun, making the country ideal for all tastes to visit.

A surfer in action.

One of the most prevalent forces of nature influencing Japan is water – the ocean more specifically. As an island nation, the Japanese have an abundance of access to water and all things that come with it. One of the things that this proximity to water enables is to participate in the sport of surfing. For those unaware, surfing is figuratively “riding” waves in the water by the help of specialized, lightweight, boards.

While Japan is small when put in comparison to Australia or America, the two largest countries in the surfing scene, there are plenty of spots to visit for surfing in Japan. The spots one decides to visit depend on a variety of factors – the most important of which normally include the size of waves, the amount of people and the environment of the location. For instance, one location with some of the best waves in Japan is Chiba, located about 1 to 2 hours away from Tokyo. While Chiba’s proximity to Tokyo can be a blessing for one, it can be a deal breaker for another as the beaches there draw large crowds on good days, which might make surfing in the area uncomfortable. In such cases, surfers who prefer quieter atmospheres but strong waves might want to book a trip to Niijimia, one of the islands of the Izu Island Chain. However one must keep in mind that such islands also tend to get crowded in the summer vacation months, especially when adolescents wish to get away from the busy city life, making planning ahead essential for the surfer with such preferences.

Some of the finest waves Japan has to offer.

There are a few things foreign surfers should keep in mind when visiting Japan. First that having a GPS-enabled device is a very good idea, especially when one doesn’t know the areas well. Some of the best surfing spots aren’t exactly indicated by signs on the road. Another is to bring a few bottles of water to rinse the salt and sand with since there aren’t many public bathrooms or anything similar at most “hidden” surf spots.

First image by transworld.net

Second image by surfingmagazine