Exciting Japanese Destinations for Fitness and Adventure

Japan is a country where the traditional and contemporary dance around each other. It makes you feel as if you're moving forward and backward in time, revealing a truly unique travel experience. Within this experience, you can find relaxing onsens (Japanese bathhouses) and heart-racing adventures. 

If you're looking for a spot where you can eat, relax, revel in natural beauty, enjoy traditional customs, and burn some calories, Japan satisfies all your needs. From the southernmost islands all the way to the northern tip, Japan offers an amazing balance of health and indulgence. Learn how you can explore Japan through diving, hiking, cycling, rafting, ​exercise classes, and plenty of walking, with nearly every adventure taking on an air of history, timelessness, and natural wonder.  



Rainforest covered in moss, Yakushima, Japan
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Starting at one of the southernmost islands of Japan, Yakushima, while not one of the easiest destinations to get to, proves well worth the trek. Once you arrive on the island, it opens itself up to you in the form of breathtaking hikes and stunning coastline. With countless mountain peaks, ranging in length and intensity, you can choose and modify each experience to your own ability.

One of the most stunning hikes in Yakushima, Shiratani Unsuikyo, provided the visual inspiration for the Japanese film, Princess Mononoke.

 Within this single area, you find numerous options to explore and wander. The longer 10- to 13-hour trip takes you to the Jomon-Sugi Cedar, an unimaginably ancient tree estimated to be between 2,000 and 7,000 years old. This hike, while not a difficult one, can prove long.

A shorter option, the combined Taiko Iwa Course, and the Yayoi-Sugi Course take about five to six hours. The majority of this trail is easy, but you'll encounter more challenging areas that will kickstart your heart rate and calorie burn. These trails transport you to a magical oasis, a moss-covered forest with an ethereal, almost otherworldly, ambiance, each step leaving you in awe of the ancient beauty that surrounds you. Gigantic trees, many of them 1,000 years old, guide you through the forest and push you onwards. Yaku-Deer, never having a reason to fear humans, walk around the forest with as much ease as you do, connecting you to a time and place long since past.​

If your adventurous spirit craves more intensity, Mt. Moccohomu-Dake remains the most difficult hike on the island. Relentlessly steep, the mountain with its never-ending incline will leave your body burning and heart rate skyrocketing. Other mountain hikes include Mt. Miyanoura- Dake, Mt. Kurio- Dake, and Mt. Okina- Dake to name a few.


Kiso Valley

Japanese bamboo forest
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In 1603 The Tokugawa Shogunate ordered local people to establish a road, or trail, to connect present-day Tokyo to Kyoto, the result was the Nakasen-do Way.

Spanning 340 miles from start to finish, portions of the trail remain virtually unchanged since its origin, and conservation projects have accurately and respectfully captured the integrity and the authenticity of a time and place long since forgotten.

The trail itself provides you with more than natural beauty, but with a chance to step back in history, imagining the samurais, merchants, and daimyos of a bygone time accompanying you on your excursions. Today you have the chance to walk the trail and choose your own destination. One of the most popular trails includes the 8.5-kilometer hike between Tsumago and Magome. If you choose to start the hike in Tsumago, you'll face a steady incline for much of the hike, making it a more difficult, but manageable route. Walking this ancient path, you'll come across small shrines, an old inspection post where a kind Japanese man offers you freshly brewed green tea, and the famous Odaki Medaki Waterfalls, also known as the Male Fall and the Female Fall. These very falls provided the backdrop where one of the most famous Japanese swordsmen of the 17th century, Miyamoto Musashi, practiced and perfected his craft.



Kappa Bridge

A mecca for hikers, campers, and nature enthusiasts, Kamikochi remains one of the most stunning destinations in Japan. Also known as the Entranceway to the Japanese Alps, it provides one of the most breathtaking views of the Japanese Mountains, with beauty beyond compare.

In accordance with the respect and beauty of the area, the Chūbu-Sangaku National Park prohibits the use of motorized vehicles; requiring travelers to walk and marvel while en route to their intended destinations. It gives you a sense of awe to walk through the trails of Kamikochi, as you trek past 3,000-meter peaks beckoning to be hiked.

If leisure activity is what you seek, spend time at the ponds and lakes in the area, such as the Taisho and Myojin ponds, which reflect the puffs of white clouds, the brilliant sun, and the mountain ranges surrounding them.

You can increase your intensity with a day hike to Mt. Yakedake, an active volcano. The round trip takes about seven hours to complete.

Mt. Chogatake, at 2,664-meters, is an even tougher climb, with an unforgiving vertical incline. Each step over rocks, tree branches, and makeshift ladders, rewards you with ever-more impressive beauty. This seven- to eight-hour hike is challenging, but it's up to you whether you want to take it at a leisurely pace, or put your body to the test, climbing as quickly, and safely as you can.

Higher and farther mountains, such as Mt. Yari and Mt. Oku-Hotakadake, located close to Kamikochi, also provide stunning hikes but require planning, time, and possible camping. With no shortage of things to do in the area, your body will be buzzing with inspiration and motivation. 



Columned stairway at Fushimi Inari shrine, Kyoto, Japan
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In the streets of Kyoto, you'll find a magical relationship between the old and the new, a balancing act between the present and the past. Women and men with the latest smartphones walk down the streets in traditional Kimonos. Areas where Geishas still pride themselves on the art of entertainment keep themselves shrouded in mystery and intrigue.

Cycling, one of the best and most affordable ways to take you from one location to another, simultaneously offers a great low-impact workout while also providing an intimate view of the city as you pedal past ancient temples, bamboo forests, and impressive shrines.

Start with a bike ride to the Gion area of Kyoto. The trip will transport you to a time when modesty, mystery, and magic moved together. Upon arrival, park your bike and walk through the district. The area is famous for sightings of the secretive and mysterious Geisha, and a chance encounter is guaranteed to send thrills through your body. 

Another must-see location, the Fushimi Inari Shrine, acts as a workout wrapped in wonder. To arrive at the shrine you must first climb stair after stair up a mountain, shrouded beneath a thousand red torii gates, each donated to the pilgrimage.

A roundtrip hike up Mount Inari takes about two to three hours, but you always have the option of turning around if you get tired. Side forest trails also allow you to escape the crowd and burn calories as you explore the quiet bamboo forests and smaller shrines.

If you're looking for a more heart-pounding experience in Kyoto, rafting is available just outside the city, on the Hozu River.



Witoon Mitarnun/Getty Images

Hokkaido, an island north of mainland Japan, offers nature and fitness enthusiasts everything they could possibly desire. With lots of activities designed to get the heart racing, including hiking, snowboarding and skiing, white water rafting, kayaking, and more, the island has it all. That said, Hokkaido specifically offers some of the best cycling in all of Japan due to the island's expansive, breathtaking natural beauty, consistently cool summer temperatures, and its quiet roads. 

While Hokkaido is the second largest of the four main islands, the population is low compared to its land mass. This means there are fewer cars and less overall traffic.

Residents of the island respect and remain courteous to cyclists, creating a relaxing, enjoyable, low impact activity for travelers of all fitness levels.

It's this last factor that's particularly beneficial to cyclists. Plus, many of the roads are considered scenic highways, allowing you to surround yourself with the area's natural beauty—​the green of the mountains, the blue of the coastline, and the rows and rows of flowers that bloom in July and August. In addition, exceptionally well-maintained roads provide a smooth ride throughout the island.


Ryukyu Islands, Okinawa, and Yonaguni

Better known for its mountains than its diving, Japan has recently begun making a name for itself underneath the water. Okinawa, the southernmost prefecture of Japan, and the islands surrounding it, known as the Ryukyu Islands, provide avid divers a break from the rest of the country's dive spots. While much of Japan’s diving is located in cooler water, Okinawa offers divers the chance to swim in warm, sub-tropical, clear waters.

On the island of Yonaguni lies the underwater Yonaguni Monument. The Monument, famous for its man-made ancient structures, has become a huge draw for the diving community.

In addition, divers have the chance to witness schools of Hammerhead sharks swimming in the swift ocean currents. 

Additional dive locations include the Izu Peninsula near Tokyo, Tsushima Island in the Korea Strait, and the Ogasawara Group, which includes the island of Iwo Jima. So take a break from the hiking, the mountains, or the lights of the big cities, and submerge yourself in the waters around Japan.


Gyms, Fitness Centers, and Exercise Classes

While the number of outdoor activities is practically endless, sometimes you just want an exercise class to give you an extra push. In practically all of the major cities, you can access gyms and boutique studios, just as you would in the United States, including yoga, martial arts, and even CrossFit.

In Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, the Reebok CrossFit SSC teaches its classes in English and Japanese. The box allows travelers to drop into group classes, open gym times, basic courses, and free intro classes.

With the exception of the free intro classes, drop-in rates are priced at 2,000 Yen, or about $20 a session, about what you could ​expect to pay in the States.

Hour-long group classes include a warm-up, a strength session, and the workout of the day. Given that classes are taught in English and Japanese, this box provides a great environment for foreigners, locals, and travelers alike to work together, sweat together, and share a unique experience.

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