Half a day away on the opposite side of the world is a country of striking contrasts. With culture, history, volcanoes, breathtaking scenery, Samurai houses and castles, natural hot springs and temples, Japan provides the visitor with a smorgasbord of experiences to delight both young and old.
One might not necessarily associate this Far East destination with walking holidays but Japan’s popular Nakasendo Way walking tour features in ‘1,000 Places to See Before You Die’ and ‘The Rough Guide to Ultimate Adventures’, both best selling books. Starting in Tokyo, this 12-day tour involves between two and five hours per day of walking on terrain that is considered easy to moderate. It takes in mountaintop villages, temples and hot springs as well as, rather surprisingly, a trip on the famous bullet train.
More adventurous and energetic travellers may prefer a hike to Mount Aso, one of the largest active volcanoes in the world. Even now it steams with white smoke in an environment more akin to that of the moon, devoid of greenery and where lava has hardened to create a blackened landscape. Alternatively, take a trip back in time on an old pilgrimage route to the great Kumano shrines in the sacred Kii Peninsula.
Land of the Rising Sun
It follows that land that can be explored on foot can also be discovered on cycling holidays and Japan has much to offer the two-wheeled traveller. Both guided and self-guided bike tours provide an unforgettable experience. Cycle around the geisha quarters, temples and palaces of Kyoto or through valleys of green rice fields with visits to a tea farm or miso factory.
Other cycling holidays will take you along scenic coastal routes to the noise of waves crashing against the rocky shores or through shady bamboo forests where the only sound is that of rustling leaves and wildlife. One can see the cranes in Izumi or watch the sun set in the Land of the Rising Sun. At every stop enjoy exquisite Japanese cuisine and relax in the many hot springs.
One of the best times of year to visit Japan is cherry blossom season (late March to the end of April) which every year creates some of the world’s most stunning spring scenes as the delicate pink flowers blanket the country. It is a magical time in Japan and it’s traditional to celebrate the blossoms with picnics, parties and festivals.
Japan offers such diversity for its visitors. With tropical beaches, World Heritage Sites, Zen temples, white water rafting or canyoning experiences, there is something for everyone. Enjoy lakes, mountains, lavender fields, markets, imperial palaces, amusement and adventure parks and stunning architecture both old and new. A holiday in Japan will stay with you forever. Steeped in history with traditions and rituals dating back thousands of years whilst at the same time renowned for being at the forefront of technology, Japan is a destination that will surprise and enthral the most inquisitive of visitors.
Jules Jones is a freelance travel writer who contributes regularly to numerous mainstream press, travel and holiday websites and blogs. She enjoys walking holidays with her husband and four children who, as city dwellers, savour the freedom of the great outdoors. Jules stopped off briefly in Japan on a world tour and plans to return for a prolonged visit soon.