5 Unforgettable Japan Travel Experiences

If you live in Japan long enough, fond memories and unforgettable experiences tend to pile up like plates at an all-you-can eat conveyor belt sushi restaurant. One of the most enjoyable aspects of living abroad is that almost every day is an adventure, a chance to experience something new. This could be anything from discovering a fantastic new Tokyo restaurant to the simple joys of learning a new, incredibly useful Japanese word.

That being said, no matter where we live and what we do, our memories tend to blend together. Many of them simply escape our mind’s grasp, destined to be forgotten. (This holds especially true when it comes to kanji characters.)

The following experiences, however, are ones that I’ll never forget. More than mere weekend getaways, these adventures have left an indelible mark on my life.

1. Hiking Mt. Fuji from sea to summit

Fellow hikers admire a majestic view on the way down from the summit of Mt. Fuji.

Before you close your browser window, appalled by this seemingly generic entry on this list, bear with me. Sure, almost anyone can trudge up and down Japan’s highest, most iconic mountain—the long lines filled with throngs of eager hikers is evidence of that.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of hiking from sea to summit is strolling through the neighborhoods situated between the ocean and Mt. Fuji.

Hiking the popular Yoshida Trail—from the mountain’s Fifth Station, to the summit, and back again—is just one of several ways to experience this UNESCO World Heritage site. For a much more thrilling, fascinating, and challenging adventure, try hiking from sea level to the peak of Mt. Fuji: the increasingly popular sea-to-summit route.

A campsite near the base of Mt. Fuji.
Travelers who brave the sea-to-summit route are exposed to a variety of beautiful scenery.

Brave travelers will attempt this trek in one shot, however, most people will want to divide the journey up into two or three days. This still presents a significant challenge while also allowing you to take in endless beautiful scenery, savoring the experience of a lifetime.

2. Traveling through time along the Nakasendo Way

During the Edo Period (1603 – 1868), there were five main routes connecting Kyoto and what we now know as Tokyo. Perhaps the most famous is the coastal Tokaido route—the very same route that is now served by the Shinkansen line that bears its namesake.

The streets of Narai-juku, a post town on a popular section of the Nakasendo Way. Narai-juku is a Nationally Designated Architectural Preservation Site, and these buildings maintain their original Edo-period design.

Lesser known but better preserved, however, is the Nakasendo Way, a route that cuts through the heart of the Japanese countryside.  Established around the eighth century and peaking in the Edo period, the Nakasendo Way was traveled by poets, warriors, and nobles alike.

Sections of the original Nakasendo Way still remain today.

Although modern roads and rail wind through this mountainous inland route, sections of the original road remain. The towns linked by the Nakasendo Way are frozen in time, their original architecture preserved for the ages. Strolling between these tranquil locales, isolated from modern infrastructure, is the closest you’ll ever come to experiencing a time machine. This journey is a must for any Japan travel enthusiast. Learn more here.

3. Cycling the Shimanami Kaido

Perhaps I’m suffering from recency bias, but cycling across the beautiful Seto Inland Sea is easily one of the most liberating and invigorating adventures I’ve ever experienced. So many of Japan’s travel destinations are “on rails” experiences—dealing with crowds and following a single route to and from your destination. The Shimanami Kaido is a welcome exception. Reserve your bikes, book a place to stay, and the rest is up to you. You can go as fast or slow as you like, stopping along the way to explore whatever piques your interest. This is adventuring at its finest. You can learn more and check out a sample itinerary here.

4. Hiking Mt. Asahi (Asahidake) via the Daisetsuzan Asahidake Ropeway

Ascending toward Mt. Asahi.

Whether you are a repeat visitor or long-term resident of Japan, a trip to Hokkaido is essential. And when you undertake your grand journey to the north, be sure to ascend Mt. Asahi via the Daisetsuzan Asahidake Ropeway. Few travel experiences can match the unrestricted freedom of traveling through Hokkaido’s unrivaled beautiful landscapes. Mt. Asahi, located in the northern regions of Daisetsuzan National Park, is Hokkaido’s tallest peak. Visitors who make the drive and ropeway ride up the mountain are treated to endless exploration opportunities and amazing backcountry ski slopes. No crowds. No lines. No guardrails. Mt. Asahi is unrestricted nature its finest. Just watch out for those volcanic vents….

5. Traversing the Alpine Route in the fall

Murodo, the highest point along the Alpine Route, offers magnificent views of the Tateyama Mountain Range.

With dense forests, splendid fall foliage, mountain trails dotted with volcanic gas vents, and a cable car ride with stunning vistas, traversing Japan’s famous Alpine Route is an adventure that reaches cinematic levels of scale and splendor.

Although the route is best known for its winter snow walls, I recommend visiting in autumn, specifically during the fall colors. Whenever you go, make sure to plan carefully. The route is regulated and private traffic is prohibited. You’ll need to take a series of busses, trolleys, ropeways to complete your journey, but trust me, it’s all worth the effort.

The ropeway that connects Kurobe Dam to the Alpine Route.
Kurobe Dam is one of the highlights of the Alpine Route.

The adventure continues

These five adventures, presented in no particular order, are just the beginning. It was incredibly difficult to narrow down my list, and as time passes, there will be more stories to tell. For now, if you haven’t tried the experiences on this list, it’s time to get out there and start making memories. And for my fellow Japan travel veterans, what are your top five travel experiences? Let us know via your favorite social media platform.

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Writer / Translator

Originally from Riverside, California, I've been living, working, and writing in Japan since 2009. Japan has become my second home, and I'm especially fond of Shinjuku, Tokyo. That being said, I also love getting out into the countryside and exploring the entire country. Through Tadaima Japan, I hope to share the wonders of Japan with a wider, international audience. Check out my articles if you enjoy exploring on foot, convenient cafes, and affordable dining.