Outdoor Adventures

Features Travel - May 15th, 2009
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We are privileged to live in a place that boasts access to some of the world’s best outdoor activities, all just a stone’s throw away from our bustling metropolis. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie, a hardcore athlete, a naturalist, or all of the above, there is no end to the ways in which you can keep busy in the outdoors this summer. Read on for recommendations of just a few of Japan’s many well-kept adventure secrets, just waiting to be discovered…

Land

Hiking & Trekking Mount Fuji is not open to the public until August, but in the meantime there are plenty of worthwhile treks to take advantage of. One of the country’s best spots is the Japan Alps, aptly named for the 20-plus miles of breathtaking peaks, rolling hills, and unspoiled lakes, rivers, and forests. Day trips are available, as well as week-long ‘hut to hut’ excursions for those who like to rough it a bit longer. For details, talk to David or James at Evergreen outdoor tours: www.evergreen-hakuba.com.

Bungy Jumping Perhaps throwing oneself off of a bridge and plunging toward the bottom of a rocky ravine is not the most appealing summer activity to some, but bungy jumping grows in popularity each year, so there must be something to it. Japan has several bridges suitable for jumping, but jump sites change from time to time, so check www.bungyjapan.com.

Golf With over 2,350 18-hole courses in Japan, it is no wonder that golf rates as the country’s fourth most popular sport.  Golf club membership and green fees tend to be more expensive than in Europe or the U.S., but the courses are superbly maintained and the level of service, particularly for members, far exceeds that of courses in other countries. If you have not played before in Japan but wish to get involved, a good place for foreigners to get in touch and organize outings is www.gaijingolfers.com.

Mountain Biking Mountain biking is one of those wonderful sports that doesn’t require much in the way of equipment or special courses, but there are some great trails in Japan, many of them within a few hours’ drive from Tokyo. Courses range from beginner to advanced level, with varying degrees of grade and numbers of obstacles, such as drop-offs and tight turns.

Air

Skydiving in Japan

Skydiving

Skydiving If an extreme adrenaline rush is your thing, why not take a tandem skydive with a seasoned instructor this summer? An average jump includes about 50 seconds of free fall and several minutes of parachute descent. An average fee of about ¥50,000 includes insurance and a video capturing the experience. There are clubs all around Japan, and many cater to English speakers. For one try www.skydivingjapan.com (talk to Satoshi).

Hang Gliding / Paragliding With 70 percent of Japan being mountainous it’s not too difficult for the many hang gliding and paragliding schools to find good sites to fly. For the uninitiated, hang gliding is when you hang horizontally, suspended in a ‘sleeping bag,’ while guiding the v-shaped lightweight glider with a bar and shifting your body weight to control ascent, descent, and turning. Paragliding sees the pilot in a seated harness attached to a fabric wing by suspension lines. Lift initially takes place when a gust of wind picks you up, whereas with a hang glider you must run downhill and launch yourself and your glider into an updraft of air. For more information visit http://jhf.hangpara.or.jp/english.

Hot Air Ballooning If you ever have the good fortune to ride in a hot air balloon, it will undoubtably be an unforgettable experience—think science lesson meets fairground attraction. Even if you’re not flying, a ballooning event is well worth a visit just to see the colorful giants take to the sky. There are various clubs and weekly events throughout most of the year, but be prepared to travel as they tend to be a few hours’ drive from Tokyo.

Helicopter Tours What better way is there to enjoy the beautiful Tokyo summer sunsets than as a part of a private tour in the sky? Helicopter sunset tours around Tokyo can be chartered for as little as ¥47,000 for a maximum of five adults. The tours last 15 minutes and offer views of the metropolis from its best vantage point. www.excel-air.com

Water

Whitewater Rafting along Japan’s Pacific coast

Whitewater Rafting

Scuba diving About an hour away from Tokyo lies the town of Shimoda on the Izu peninsula. It boasts the kind of sea life that is famed throughout the Pacific region, and it is one of the best dive sites in Japan. Shimoda itself is no stranger to the Tokyo expat scene, as many foreigners own property there and make frequent visits, especially during the warm summer months—this means that there is an abundance of English-speaking businesses in the area. For scuba courses in English, as well as equipment rental and guided excursions, check out Mar Scuba (www.marscuba.com).

Surfing, Bodyboarding & Windsurfing There are various sizes of waves, suitable for surfing, bodyboarding, and windsurfing, all along Japan’s Pacific coast. Hardcore enthusiasts can—with the proper wetsuit—ride the waves year round, and several surf shops rent boards and wetsuits, as well as give lessons in English. For information about some of Japan’s best surf spots, as well as links to live beach footage and surf shop listings, check out www.japansurf.com.

Canyoning and Whitewater rafting Relatively new to Japan, canyoning entails floating, sliding, and even jumping through a water course of ravines, gullies, and waterfalls (no boat, just yourself). Popular with many companies as a team building exercise, canyoning is also a great activity for families, couples, and groups of friends—basically anyone who can don a wetsuit and enjoy a couple of hours of natural water slides, diving pools, and cascading falls made up of crystal clear water. Further down these same rivers and streams, the water increases in volume and velocity to what is termed ‘white water.’ A great compromise activity for those who want the adrenaline rush of canyoning without the high probability of getting knocked and bruised against the rocks, rafting is quickly gaining popularity in Japan. The various courses offer a range of difficulty, with something for everyone’s level of ability and nerve. Talk to Mike at Canyons to find out more: http://canyons.jp.

Kayaking and Canoeing For a less extreme (but no less physically demanding) water activity, canoeing is something that can be done by virtually anyone, and is perfect for families. Kayaking may take a bit more time to get used to (first timers should prepare themselves for the possibility that they may capsize their boat), but is equally enjoyable. Just a two and a half hour drive from Tokyo is the Minakami area of Gunma prefecture, where I Love Canoe (www.ilovecanoe.jp) offers both canoeing and kayaking tours for all levels.