For many, the concept of "adventure travel" conjures up images of physically demanding vacation activities like whitewater rafting or mountain climbing. But adventure also includes immersion in nature, treading lightly, and learning about the lifestyles and cultures of local communities while traveling.
The growth of adventure travel is coinciding with an increasing awareness of the need to protect the earth's environment and its limited resources and, in many cases, the desire to sustain traditional ways of life in rural areas. In Japan, many regional and local authorities are actively encouraging adventure travel tourism, seeing it as a means of boosting local economies and reinvigorating communities.
Travelers and host communities also see adventure travel as a safer and more attractive option in the post-COVID era, as it typically involves smaller groups of people spending more time outdoors. And there is so much of the great outdoors to explore in Japan, where travelers will encounter stunning mountain ranges, thick forests, rivers, oceans, and unique communities and cultures that have evolved in harmony with these landscapes.
Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido offers a range of opportunities for the adventure traveler. These include riverside walking routes, half-day river canoe trips, and coastline bicycle rides ending at Cape Soya, the northernmost point of Hokkaido, all led by experienced guides. In addition to stunning views, visitors can learn about the history and culture of the indigenous Ainu people on their journeys.
Off the northwestern coast of Hokkaido, the islands of Rebun and Rishiri feature wild, untamed landscapes in Japan's northernmost national park. Visitors can go hiking and sea kayaking; they can also enjoy a spot of fishing and savor the islands' amazing seafood.
For cyclists prepared to tackle a few challenging hills, it is possible to rent a bike on the Pacific coast of southern Hokkaido and enjoy a gentle climb to Lake Toya, a stunningly clear circular lake formed in the wake of an ancient volcanic explosion. Then, ride towards the Sea of Japan coast, passing through the lower reaches of Niseko, a world-famous mountain resort.
The Adventure Travel World Summit was hosted virtually in Hokkaido in September 2021, with 617 attendees active in the travel sector from 58 countries joining the event remotely. Commented Koshimizu Masaaki, Director for Adventure Travel of Hokkaido Prefectural Government, "We received a lot of encouraging feedback from participants, and based on this we are devising a number of new courses and programs; we hope these will encourage future visitors to Japan to come to Hokkaido for their adventure experiences."
Japan's southernmost main island of Kyushu also has much to offer those keen to get out among nature. The central part of Kyushu is dominated by Mount Aso, one of the world's largest volcanoes, which continues to spew smoke. An eruption many thousands of years ago created the amazing Takachiho Gorge, 100 meters deep and seven kilometers long.
Visitors can rent a boat for the best view of the sheer 80-100 meter high cliff walls from below and get up close to the 17-meter-high Manai waterfall. Alternatively they can go on a guided walking tour along a nature trail in the Takachiho Gorge or undertake a full-day trek on mountain paths along which goods were transported on horseback many years ago.
Cyclists can ride with a certified guide along gently undulating back roads in the foothills of Mount Aso through grasslands dotted with grazing cows. Those interested in the local cuisine can harvest their own fresh vegetables with the help of local residents and cook these on a kitchen furnace.
At the end of their ride, they can head out to a Japanese pub for some more local delicacies, perhaps washed down with a local craft beer or some sake.
These and many more outdoor adventure activities await future overseas travelers to Japan, offering a range of unique experiences that will allow them to get to know this amazing country from fresh angles, while supporting many of its local communities.