Adventure in Japan: Unmissable experiences in 2024

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From its diverse culinary tapestry to unraveling the storied legacy of its samurai era, Japan offers a unique blend of experiences to cater to every traveler. Whether you seek heart-pounding excitement or a more tranquil yet equally captivating experience, the island gem offers a kaleidoscope of possibilities.

Adventure addicts can carve through the legendary powder of Hokkaido’s slopes or plunge into the depths of Ishigaki’s azure waters, where encounters with majestic manta rays await. You can also delve deeper into Japanese culture by mastering the art of the ninja or samurai. Crafting authentic ceramics and partaking in the serene ritual of a traditional tea ceremony should also be on the books.

For those in pursuit of spiritual enrichment, opportunities abound, from immersive stays with monks in secluded monasteries to transformative treks alongside living Buddhas. From solo travelers to families, Japan promises an adventure perfectly tailored to every visitor’s desires. Here are the five unmissable adventure experiences in Japan this year;

Island hop across the capital

Adventure in Japan

Go island hopping in Tokyo to discover a world beyond the bustling cityscape. Tokyo’s Izu Islands, a picturesque chain of nine inhabited islands and over 100 uninhabited islets and reefs unveil a hidden paradise just south of the mainland. Hop aboard a high-speed ferry for a swift two-hour voyage to Izu-Oshima, the largest island in the chain.

Here, the landscape transforms dramatically, trading Tokyo’s urban sprawl for rugged terrain and volcanic wonders. Traverse the trails encircling the crater of Mount Mihara, an active volcano, and marvel at the lunar-like expanse of Ura-sabaku—the only desert in Japan cloaked in black charcoal sands.

For a deeper immersion into nature’s embrace, venture onward to Hachijojima, a remote gem accessible by a 10-hour ferry journey or a swift 55-minute flight. Embrace the island’s serene allure with hikes around the 2,800-foot-tall Hachijo-Fuji, offering panoramic vistas of lush forests and crystalline waters.

Dive into the azure depths for guided snorkeling and diving excursions, where vibrant coral reefs teem with marine life, including graceful sea turtles and a kaleidoscope of tropical fish. After a day of exploration, unwind in Hachijojima’s idyllic outdoor hot-spring baths, where mineral-rich waters wash away fatigue, leaving you rejuvenated amidst the island’s serene vistas.

Live like a monk in Koyasan

adventure in Japan

Set off on a journey to the spiritual heart of Japan by visiting Koyasan, home to an ancient working monastery nestled 800 meters up Mount Koya. Accessible by a train ride, this ninth-century temple offers a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in the monastic way of life.

Spend a night within the serene confines of the temple, where you can mingle with the monks, witness their morning prayers, and partake in the daily rituals that have endured for centuries. Don’t miss the chance to explore the sacred Oku-no-in cemetery, where the founder of the temple rests. It’s a profound and unforgettable experience, offering a glimpse into the timeless traditions of Buddhism in Japan.

Glide down the slopes of Niigata

Adventure in Japan

Located north of Tokyo, the mountains of Niigata are a prime destination for snow addicts. You can access the region by taking a swift 70-minute bullet train (Joetsu Shinkansen) from Tokyo Station. Your journey will culminate in the tranquil town of Yuzawa which hosts several ski resorts.

Among them is Gala Yuzawa, a unique gem in Japan’s ski scene, boasting its bullet train stop right at the base of the slopes. This unparalleled convenience allows eager skiers to hit the 1½-mile Falcon Slope shortly after disembarking from the train.

Nearby, Naeba offers another sought-after ski destination, only a 40-minute bus ride from Yuzawa. With 24 diverse trails and English-speaking staff facilitating gear rentals, lift passes and lessons, Naeba ensures a seamless and enjoyable experience for all.

After a day on the slopes, both Yuzawa and Naeba provide a delightful array of après-ski options, including bars, restaurants, and rejuvenating hot-spring bathhouses—a perfect conclusion to a day filled with exhilarating alpine adventures.

Ride the steam train across Japan

Adventure in Japan

A journey aboard one of Japan’s iconic steam locomotives is a dream come true for train enthusiasts. The bucket-list adventure promises heart-thumping rides through breathtaking mountain landscapes. With only 12 operating steam locomotives across the country, this experience is as rare as it is exhilarating.

The Explorations Company‘s 14-day trip, priced at £14,000 per person is your best chance at the experience. Aboard the train, you can immerse in the rich history of Japan’s steam trains while exploring both classic landmarks and hidden gems.

This once-in-a-lifetime excursion includes journeys on five separate steam trains, offering a unique opportunity to traverse the countryside in a nostalgic style. From the rhythmic chugging of the engine to the panoramic views unfolding outside the carriage windows, every moment aboard these historic trains is etched with a sense of wonder and nostalgia.

Pedal through the picturesque Shimane

Adventure in Japan

Perched on the west side of San’in, Shimane emerges as a haven for cycling enthusiasts. The town has a diverse array of trails catering to all skill levels. For those seeking a restful ride, a scenic 30-mile route tracing the shores of Lake Shinji and the Japan Sea coast offers a picturesque journey culminating at the Izumo Taisha shrine.

Meanwhile, daredevils can tackle the challenging 52-mile course traversing the rugged Chugoku Mountains, ascending over 2,600 feet in elevation. For the most intrepid riders, the 87-mile hill-climbing odyssey in Okuizumo presents a grueling yet rewarding test, showcasing breathtaking vistas of rural Japan.

Shimane’s dedication to cyclist support is evident through its 200 Goen Cycle Stations scattered along the routes. You will find essential amenities such as water refill stations, bike repair tools, and even shower facilities along the way.

Enjoy your adventure in Japan

So, fellow wanderer, as you bid Sayonara to Japan, carry with you the memories of your adventures—the laughter shared with newfound friends, the moments of quiet contemplation amidst the chaos, and the sheer exhilaration of stepping outside your comfort zone. In the end, it’s not the destinations that define us, but the journeys we undertake and the stories we carry in our hearts.

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