Alternate ways to explore Japan

Japan is famous for its bullet trains but there are many other ways to explore this amazing land. In fact, some of the best ways to see Japan don’t require you to stop at a single station. If you’re a fan of the path less travel, here are some alternate ways you can experience Japan.

On foot

Before COVID we all took going out for a walk for granted. So what better way to travel than to use our most ancient mode of transport, our own two feet.

Hiking and walking trails

• Kumano Kodo
Once a sacred pilgrimage for emperors, the Kumano Kodo is a spiritual experience open to all those seeking to take life in the slow lane, and to explore the remote beauty of the mountainous Kii Peninsula.

  • Shikoku Henro, also known as the 88 Temple Pilgrimage, lets you explore the sacred sites of Shikoku at a leisurely pace. One of the few circular-shaped pilgrimages in the world, the entire route is about 1400km and can take around 60 days to complete the entire route (though some choose to complete a smaller section of the route based on their available time) — plenty of time to soak up the island’s charm, history and abundance of beauty.
  • Ginsendai hiking trail, Daisetsuzan National Park, is one of many trails leading into Hokkaido‘s largest national park, Daisetsuzan. Famous for its showcase of autumn leaves, this moderately challenging walk leads to the peak of Mount Akadake which offers views that are well worth the ascent.
  • Michinoku Coastal Trail The Michinoku Coastal Trail is a series of trails that places you between the Pacific Ocean and region of Tohoku, offering you around 700km of unrivalled beauty from lush grassy knolls, to waterfalls and rocky coastlines. The trail starts in the northern city of Hachinohe in Aomori and ends in Soma, Fukushima.

By car

If you like to have complete control of your clip and bond with a small group of people on a road trip, hiring a car is the way to go.

Not only does does your own car free you from a regimented itinerary, it also allows you to visit the remote and inaccessible corners of Japan that can’t be reached via bus or train. Only on your own road trip can you find those unforgettable encounters with locals, and spontaneously discover those treasured unmarked on tourist maps.

If you’ve never driven in Japan before, there are quite a few things you need to study up on before you hit the road, however, the key things you need to be mindful of are:

  • You’ll need an International Driving Permit
  • Japan drives on the left
  • Road signs and rules mostly follow international standards
  • The legal driving age is 18 years old
  • Drinking and driving and using your phone while driving is prohibited
  • Hiring a car with English-capable GPS is a must if you aren’t confident with the language (if you’re not using Google Maps etc. through data)

Once you’ve hired your car and understand the road rules, “Where do you go?”

The real answer is anywhere and everywhere, it’s your car! However, there are a handful of routes that are particularly special during specific seasons.

Irohazaka Winding Road (Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture) in Autumn

Irohazaka in autumn? Twice as awesome.

Irohazaka is a pair of famous winding roads located in the mountains of Tochigi Prefecture. Connecting the lower elevations around Nikko to the higher elevations of the mountainous Okunikko region, these two roads are the ultimate in scenic driving in Japan.

Picture it. Twisting and turning your way down a steep mountain side flush with bright autumn colours. Just be sure to keep your eyes on the road.

Patchwork Road (Biei, Hokkaido Prefecture) in Summer

Biei is one of Hokkaido’s most picturesque landscapes, featuring patchwork fields of colour flowers and gently rolling hills that seem never ending. 

There are two iconic driving roads in Biei, Patchwork Road and Panorama Road, with each offering their own unique driving experience through the stunning scenery. While you’re in the area, be sure to drop by Shirahige Falls and adjacent famous blue pond

Tsunoshima Ohashi Bridge (Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture) in Spring

If cruisy ocean drives are your thing, then Tsunoshima Ohashi Bridge is a must.

Connecting the main island of Honshu with the tiny island of Tsunoshima, the 1780m long bridge is a favourite among drivers not only because of the scenic drive over the coast’s cobalt waters, but because of what lies at the end of the bridge. 

While on in the area be sure to check out the view of the bridge from the zen-like Amagase Park and visit the Tsunoshima Lighthouse and Motonosumi I

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