Japan isn’t all neon-lit crowds, busy sushi bars, and crowded crossings, discover its green and natural side, away from the crowds…
1. A Sacred Walk
The Kumano Kodo is a sacred pilgrimage route across the mountains of Wakayama (south of Kyoto) that’s been walked for a thousand years but was once reserved for emperors and samurai. You don’t have to be religiously-minded to appreciate the quiet, shaded trails, mountain and Pacific views and serene Shinto temples. Different sections offer walks of varying difficulty but all have welcoming guesthouses.
2. Magical Forest
Yakushima is a sub-tropical island home to the ancient forest that inspired the mystical setting for Studio Ghibli’s eco warrior anime film Princess Mononoke. The island has a mountainous interior but the forest is the star, a fairytale scene with giant 1000-year-old Japanese cedar trees, moss-smothered, twisting roots and babbling streams. Dense foliage hides macaque monkeys and delicate Yaku deer, while loggerhead turtles nest on the beaches.
3. Smoking Alpine Views
At the centre of Japan’s northern island, Hokkaido, Daisetsuzan National Park is the first place in Japan to see the russet blush of autumn and the first to be touched by snow. The highest peak is Mount Asahi, one of several active volcanoes and in summer hikers can enjoy colourful carpets of alpine flowers, clear lakes and dense forests. This pristine wilderness is also home to brown bears.
4. Wild Coast
San’inkaigan National Park spans 75 kilometres of coastline where powerful waves from the Sea of Japan and strong seasonal winds have whipped the land into fantastical shapes. Discover hidden sandy coves, mysterious tunnels and caves, tidal pools and the swirling, mesmerising Tottori Sand Dunes. Try sand-boarding or snorkelling and spot foxes, tanuki (raccoon dogs), huge flocks of birds and endangered white stork.
5. A Valley Lost in Time
The Kiso Valley is home to the Nakasendo trail, one of five ancient highways that connected Edo (old Tokyo) and Kyoto. Because travellers during this time made the journey on foot, the valley is dotted with historic towns where weary travellers can still stop to eat and rest. The most preserved of these post towns is Tsumago, a village of wooden shuttered houses, winding stone streets and mountain views. Stay a while before you take to the hills to follow the ancient road.
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