The Ultimate Adventure Travel Guide to Northern Honshu

Ice climbing wall ‘Ice Candy’ at Akadake Kosen in Nagano
Ice climbing wall ‘Ice Candy’ at Akadake Kosen in Nagano | © Masa Sakano / Flickr
Christine Bagarino

When it comes to adventure, Northern Honshu is Japan’s ultimate destination. The region includes the northern Kanto area, the Hokuriku area on its Sea of Japan side, and the Tohoku area at its northernmost end. Whether you’re looking for extreme thrills or just some outdoor fun, there’s something for adventurers of every skill level to be found, and each season offers new and exciting activities.


Catch mad pow in Madarao

While most people’s minds go instantly to Hokkaido when it comes to fresh powder snow, there’s plenty to be found on Northern Honshu especially at Madarao Ski Resort in the northern part of Nagano Prefecture. With around 60% ungroomed runs, Madarao is a top destination in Northern Honshu for powder hounds.

To get there: From Tokyo Station, take the Hokuriku shinkansen to Iiyama (about 110 minutes).

Madarao Mountain Resort, Madarao Kogen, Iiyama City, Nagano Prefecture, Japan, +81-0269-64-3214

Scale frozen waterfalls (a.k.a. “ice falls”)

Ice climbing is rapidly growing in popularity in Japan, especially around Nagano’s Yatsugatake mountain range where the alpine terrain offers a winter playground for adventure seekers of every skill level and age group. The unpredictable and ever-changing winter landscape makes ice climbing a wholly unique experience from regular rock climbing. Get vertical as you ascend frozen waterfalls, or practice the basics on an artificial ice wall known as the “Ice Candy.”

To get there: From Tokyo, take the Super Azusa Limited Express train on the Chuo Line from JR Shinjuku Station to Chino (about 150 min). Take a bus from the Chino Station west exit and get off at the Minoto-guchi stop (about 60 min).

Akadake Kosen Hut, Akadake Kosen, Toyohira, Chino City, Nagano Prefecture, Japan, +81-090-4824-9986


Raft the whitewater rapids of one of Japan’s three fastest torrents

Mogami River is the beloved “mother river” of Yamagata prefecture and one of the three fastest rivers in Japan. Its source is Mount Azuma in southern Yamagata, and the river flows northward from the mountain and into the Sea of Japan. The steep canyons of Mogami Gorge offer a scenic natural backdrop to the river’s rushing rapids. For the most thrilling rafting conditions, catch the winter snow melt from springtime to early summer.

To get there: From Tokyo Station, take the Yamagata Shinkansen to Yamagata (about 150 minutes). Take the local Aterazawa Line to Shibahashi Station (about 40 minutes).

Rustica Outdoor, Okurihashi 461, Nishi-Murayama-gun, Asahi-machi, Yamagata Prefecture, Japan, +81-080-8219-6119

Ride a waterfall like a natural waterslide

Let nature be your water park in northern Gunma’s Minakami area. You’ll don a full wetsuit, life vest, and helmet for a fun day of floating downriver Superman-style, plunging into natural pools, and slipping and sliding through the gorge. There’s even a 65-foot waterfall drop that is not for the faint of heart.

To get there: From Tokyo Station, take the Joetsu Shinkansen to Jomokogen (about 65 minutes).

Canyons, Yubiso 45, Minakami-machi, Tone-gun, Gunma prefecture, Japan, +81-0278-72-2811


Go for a dive in “Shark City”

Go swimming with the sharks, literally, at a dive site in Chiba prefecture’s Tateyama City known as “Shark City” or “Shark Scramble.” You’ll find hundreds of banded houndsharks, which are completely harmless towards humans, but thrilling nonetheless to see up close! The docile sharks have been described as “gentle,” “cat-like,” and “big puppies” by visitors and are completely at ease swimming amongst people. The ecotourism from “Shark City” has helped the local banded houndshark population thrive, by keeping the sharks safe from being caught in commercial fishing nets.

To get there: From Tokyo, take the Sazanami Limited Express train from JR Shinjuku Station to Tateyama (about 130 min).

Ito Diving Service BOMMIE, Ito 962, Tateyama City, Chiba Prefecture, Japan, +81-0470-29-1470

Meditate in a waterfall as you train under a yamabushi mountain priest

The yamabushi are traditional mountain priests who practice Shugendo, an ancient Japanese folk religion that combines elements of Shinto and Buddhism with ascetic mountain training. As you train under a yamabushi priest at Dewa Sanzan, the three sacred mountains of Yamagata, you’ll combine spirituality with physical endurance and disconnect from the modern world. Although Shugendo traditionally excludes women, the tours offered in Yamagata are open to all genders.

To get there: From Tokyo, take the Joetsu Shinkansen to Niigata (about 90 min). Change to an Inaho Limited Express train bound for Sakata and get off at Tsuruoka (about 105 min).

Yamabushido Tours Suehiro-machi 1, Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture, Japan


Free fall 330 feet into the Ryujin Gorge

Catch some breathtaking autumn foliage from the top of the Ryujin Big Suspension Bridge — and then jump off of it. The longest suspension bridge in all of Honshu, the Ryujin Big Suspension Bridge stretches 1230 ft (365 m) across the Ryujin Gorge and is the best spot in Ibaraki prefecture to enjoy the fall colors. And at over 330 ft (100 m) high, it also makes for some killer bungee jumping.

To get there: From Tokyo Station, take the Hitach-Tokiwa Limited Express train to Mito (70 min). Change to the JR Suigun Line and continue on to Hitachi Ota (50 min). From Hitachi Ota Station, catch a bus bound for Shimo Takakura and get off at the Ryujin Otsuribashi Iriguchi bus stop (40 min).

Bungy Japan 2133-6 Kegano-cho, Hitachiota City, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan, +81-0278-72-8133

Trek the virgin beech forests of Shirakami Sanchi

Shirakami Sanchi is a UNESCO World Heritage site on the border of Akita and Aomori prefectures. The virgin beech trees here are the last remains of a primeval forest that once spread across most of northern Honshu. With its serene untouched beauty, Shirakami Sanchi is the perfect destination for a peaceful autumn trek.

To get there: From Tokyo, take the Tohoku Shinkansen to Shin-Aomori (about 180 min). Transfer to the Ou Line bound for Akita and take a Limited Express train to Hirosaki (about 30 min). From Hirosaki Station, take a bus to Shirakami Sanchi (about 55 min).

Shirakami Visitor Center, Kanda 61-1, Tashiro, Nishimeya, Nakatsugaru District, Aomori Prefecture, Japan

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