A Nature Lover's Guide to Japan

The pagoda of Seiganto-ji Temple at Nachi Katsuura, a Unesco World Heritage Site
The pagoda of Seiganto-ji Temple at Nachi Katsuura, a Unesco World Heritage Site | © coward_lion / Alamy
Photo of Benjamin Kempton
Travel Writer30 March 2021

Escape the bright lights of Japanese cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, and discover natural wonders – from Mount Fuji to Nachi Falls – as well as some special bookable places to stay in the Land of the Rising Sun. Book now and make the most of Culture Trip’s Feel Good Booking Guarantee.

Mount Fuji

At 3,776m (12,390ft) tall, Mount Fuji’s distinctive snow-topped mountain is Japan’s highest. The sacred, active volcano, on the border between Yamanashi and Shizuoka, last erupted in 1707; it rises like a diamond from the landscape and can be seen from miles away – even from Tokyo and Yokohama on clear days. The best view of Mount Fuji can be enjoyed from Shin-Fuji Station, but if you prefer to head off into nature for the view, go to the Fuji Five Lake region, at the northern foot of the mountain, or to Hakone, a nearby hot spring resort.

Lake Motosu (Motosuko) offers a stunning view of Mount Fuji | © Sara Winter / Alamy

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  • Fuji View Hotel

    Fuji View Hotel
    Courtesy of Fuji View Hotel / Expedia
    What better way to enjoy views of Mount Fuji than from your bedroom window? Fuji View Hotel does exactly what it says on the tin and has its own onsen hot spring baths, by Lake Kawaguchi. There are also extensive gardens offering a variety of flora depending on the season. The best time to go is in spring, when more than 300 cherry trees come into bloom.
    More info

    The Tottori Sand Dunes

    Bet you weren’t expecting this. Created over millennia from the redepositing of sand from the Sendaigawa River, the Tottori sand dunes are part of the Sanin Kaigan National Park and span around 16km (10mi) of coast along the Sea of Japan. You can view them from the comfort of a camel or a horse-drawn cart, while the more adventurous might try paragliding or sandboarding. They’re up to 50m (165ft) high, so prepare for some serious speed if you decide to board down.

    The Tottori sand dunes make for ideal sandboarding | © Philipp Zechner / Alamy

    Tottori City Hotel

    Tottori city hotel
    Courtesy of Tottori City Hotel / Expedia
    The Tottori City Hotel is only a 10-minute drive from the sand dunes, making it the perfect place to stay if you’re here for adventure. It’s also eight minutes on foot from JR Tottori Station and 20 minutes from the ruins of the castle.
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    Jigokudani (Hell Valley)

    Jigokudani is nicknamed Hell Valley for a reason: it comprises a series of bubbling steam vents and volcanic activity. Nature lovers will adore the walking trails that meander through the wooded hills above Noboribetsu. After 20 minutes, you arrive at Oyunuma, a 50C (122F) sulphurous pond. Oyunumagawa, a hot river that flows through the forest, makes for an otherworldly sight. You can follow the river and enjoy a natural foot bath (ashiyu) along the way. If you visit Noboribetsu in autumn, the colours of the season add to the already stunning scenery, usually reaching its peak in mid-October.

    The Jigokudani Valley is known as Hell Valley due to its bubbling steam vents and volcanic activity | © Thanya Jones / Alamy

    Bourou Noguchi Noboribetsu

    Hotel, Spa Hotel, Luxury
    Bourou Noguchi Noboribetsu
    Courtesy of Bourou Noguchi Noboribetsu / Expedia
    Treat yourself to a special stay in Noboribetsu, which adjoins Jigokudani. With stylish, zen-inspired finishes, the hotel provides the ultimate in relaxation, from the sublime cuisine to the indulgent spa. This place is adults-only, though, so don’t plan on bringing the little ones.
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    Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

    Stroll 500m (550yd) through a corridor of thousands of towering bamboos. In the middle of the eastern section, near the main street, you’ll find Nonomiya-jinja, a popular Shinto shrine; meanwhile, one of Kyoto’s most beautiful Buddhist temples, Tenryu-ji, can be found on the south side of the western section. The walk is even more dramatic in winter when the bamboo freezes over, creating an icy walkway. Be prepared with your camera, this is one for the’gram.

    Find tranquillity in the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove | © ChrisP / Alamy

    Book and Bed

    Book and Bed
    Courtesy of Book and Bed / Hostelworld
    In Kyoto, the city of the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, is Book and Bed capsule hotel, a unique hostel that went viral on social media immediately after opening. It has become a haven for lovers of the written word. Sleep in small, cosy capsules located behind the very bookshelves customers come to browse. During the day, it has a bustling bookstore vibe; at night, it becomes a secluded, quiet retreat. Even if you can’t spend the night, it’s a great place to get comfy with a book and a craft beer for a few hours.
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    Nachi Falls

    A few kilometres inland from the coastal hot spring resort of Katsuura is the tallest waterfall in Japan: Nachi Falls (133m/436ft), which towers over the Kumano Nachi Taisha shrine, as well as the Seigantoji Buddhist temple. Both buildings are impressive, but the staggering cascade of water is the centrepiece. You can hike up the Daimon-zaka on a paved route lined with enormous evergreens, which leads you to the gates of Kumano Nachi Taisha.

    Nachi Falls is the tallest waterfall in Japan | © beibaoke / Alamy

    Hotel Urashima

    Hotel, Resort, Spa Hotel
    Hotel Urashima_8456c641
    Courtesy of Hotel Urashima / Expedia
    Hotel Urashima, in Nachikatsuura, the nearest town to Nachi Falls, features a cavernous hot spring bath with spectacular views over the Pacific Ocean. Dine on locally caught tuna and ceremonial kaiseki cuisine made with local produce. It’s also an ideal location for walking the Unesco World Heritage-listed Kumano-kodo Pilgrimage Route.
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    Akiyoshido Cave

    Go underground and visit Japan’s largest and longest limestone cave. The overground vast lands of the Akiyoshidai Quasi-National Park are equally as impressive and can be enjoyed from a network of hiking trails in every season. But you won’t want to miss the Akiyoshido Cave, which is 10km (6mi) long. Terraces of limestone pools, underground waterfalls and a cobalt stream can be seen along the way. There is also an adventure path for an additional ¥300 (£2) that is challenging, but rewards you with a view of the cave from a high above.

    Akiyoshido cave is the longest cave in Japan | © Thanya Jones / Alamy

    Guesthouse Himawari

    Guesthouse, Hostel
    Guesthouse Himawari_59a30b38
    Courtesy of Guesthouse Himawari / Expedia
    You’ll struggle to find a place to stay nearer Akiyoshido Cave than Guesthouse Himawari in the city of Mine. You also won’t find one that’s more budget-friendly. Enjoy a stripped-down, no-frills stay in this traditional Japanese guesthouse.
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    These recommendations were updated on March 30, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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