Active holidays in Japan
Wander the ancient pilgrimage routes of the Kumano Kodo, scramble up the rocky scree to the top of Mount Fuji, walk in the footsteps of samurai as you trace your way along the Nakasendo Highway or trek through mangroves on jungle-clad Iriomote - we can arrange short day walks or multi-day hiking itineraries of all lengths and difficulties.
If cycling is your game, challenging routes through mountainous rural regions offer 1,000-metre climbs, long sweeping descents and spectacular scenery to satisfy even the most indomitable cyclist.
The vast majority of Japan's population is squeezed into towns and cities that occupy less than 30% of the country's total area, leaving huge swathes of mountainous and undeveloped terrain ripe for exploration. With steaming volcanoes, vast forests and abundant nature occupying the length and breadth of the country, it couldn't be easier to incorporate a bit of the great outdoors into your itinerary.
Recommended Active Experiences
Join the ranks of the junreisha, or pilgrims, as you explore Ise, Mount Koya and the ancient paths of the Kumano Kodo on this classic trip.
Get off the beaten track as you explore the cosmopolitan cities, traditional hot spring towns and primeval forests of Japan's third-biggest island.
Active accommodation across Japan
Shiki no Yado Onoaida (Yakushima)
The Shiki no Yado Onoaida is a friendly, welcoming and well-kept Japanese inn, located amid the beautiful scenery of the southern part of Yakushima. This inn is testament to the truth that superb accommodation in Japan needn't cost the earth.
The Shiki no Yado Onoaida is not a luxurious or exclusive property – it is not even the most expensive on Yakushima – and yet it is consistently adored by guests, as evidenced by its 100% positive Tripadvisor rating.
The inn is run by a local couple with two young children, and has an informal, family atmosphere that immediately endears it to visitors. The hosts, Kentaro and Chan, who both speak excellent English, are eager to answer any questions and help you out in any way they can – including arranging activities, making reservations or helping you rent a car.
The inn serves organic food sourced from its own garden and has a lovely terrace area from which to enjoy the hills and mountains of this wild island. Hiking trails stretch out from the front door, and some of the rooms have outdoor hot spring baths in which you can soak the evening away while enjoying the spectacular views.
Ku Nel Asob (Iya Valley)
The Ku Nel Asob is a superb budget accommodation option. Luxurious it is not, but it is homely, welcoming and down-to-earth – in short, everything you could want from a stay in the Japanese countryside.
What the Ku Nel Asob lacks in slick service and luxury, it more than makes up for in character and charm – qualities that have made it a firm favourite in our book over the years. In fact, we've never heard review that was anything less than glowing.
An “eco guesthouse” housed in a 90-year-old building, guests at the Ku Nel Asob find themselves surrounded by the stunning mountain scenery of Shikoku. This is one of the most remote and rural parts of Japan – and it really does feel like it.
Facilities are basic, but this only serves to heighten the authenticity of the experience. The shared toilet facilities are located in the main building, so if you are lodging in the small separate building you will need to walk across to use them. There is no bathhouse at the inn, but guests are invited to use the onsen in the village free of charge – the guesthouse owner, Nori-san, will drive you there.
Macrobiotic vegetarian meals are included in every stay, and are both wholesome and delicious! Nori-san speaks excellent English and will do everything he can to provide information about the local area and make your stay as comfortable as possible.
Fuji Hakone Guest House (Hakone)
The Fuji Hakone Guest House is a simple Japanese-style, family-run accommodation with friendly, English-speaking staff.
Established in 1984, the guesthouse is an excellent budget accommodation located in the Hakone area - the perfect base for your exploration of the beautiful national park.
Rooms are simple but comfortable, and designed in traditional Japanese style, with shoji paper screens and futon mattresses laid out on tatami-mat floors. There is also a convivial lounge area where a breakfast of fresh fruit, bread rolls and boiled eggs is served every morning.
The guesthouse's prime features are its indoor and outdoor onsen baths, fed by natural volcanic hot spring water. Bathing facilities at the guesthouse are shared, (as is the norm in Japanese-style inns), but if you feel uncomfortable stripping off in front of your fellow guests you can book out the baths for private use.
A 50-minute bus ride will take you directly from Odawara Station to Senkyoro-mae bus stop, just one minute's walk from the guesthouse. Buses from this stop also service the rest of the Hakone area and are easy to use - the staff will be able to tell you which ones to catch. Free Wi-Fi is available.
Cycle Hotel ONOMICHI U2 (Onomichi)
The aptly named Hotel Cycle is part of ONOMICHI U2, a bike-friendly enclave which opened in March 2014 to serve the cycling community at the mouth of the Shimanami Kaido cycle route.
This is the first hotel in Japan where you can check in while sitting on your bicycle. We're not entirely sure why you'd want to do that, but it is handy that each guest room has racks on the wall to store your bikes – plus plenty of communal repair space for bike maintenance. Staff will even lend you the tools for this and can provide advice.
The ONOMICHI U2 project took over a former maritime warehouse on the waterfront to create a stylish 2,000-square-metre complex that contains a bike hire and repair shop, restaurant, bar, bakery and boutique shop – as well as the hotel itself, with its 28 guest rooms.
Rooms are Western-style, with twin beds from the Simmons bed company and en suite bathrooms. You could call the interior design “warehouse chic”; guestrooms face into the building's central atrium and are minimalist but stylish, with dark wood, art prints, angular bathroom fittings and high-tech lighting. The rooms are all non-smoking, have Wi-Fi and a TV. A buffet breakfast is included in your stay.
Tajimaya Minshuku (Magome)
If you're looking for an authentic, traditional experience, the Tajimaya Minshuku is an excellent choice.
The village of Magome is located on an ancient feudal highway, the Nakasendo, which once linked Tokyo with Kyoto. Today, people still head to the region to tread in the footsteps of samurai as they wander along forested avenues and through beautifully preserved traditional villages. Magome is one of the most attractive former post towns that line the route, and the residents of the village have worked together to ensure the preservation of its traditional atmosphere.
The old wooden building of the Tajimaya Minshuku is well in keeping with this, featuring a traditional irori fireplace and Japanese-style guestrooms, complete with tatami mats and shoji paper screens. Each stay includes breakfast and dinner, both prepared using local ingredients, and dinner is often succeeded by a performance of traditional entertainment.
Blue Sky Guesthouse (Hongu)
The Blue Sky Guest house offers simple, traditional accommodation with a very warm Japanese welcome.
Located just a short walk from Hongu Taisha Shrine, one of the three major shrines in the Kumano area, this is the ideal place to be based for exploring the surrounding pilgrimage routes.
The wooden building looks out over a garden with a stream, and is surrounded by woodland. There are only four guest rooms, all of which are simple tatami-mat rooms with en suite bathrooms. Breakfast is served each morning in the communal dining room and there is also a shared kitchen which guests are welcome to use should they want to prepare their own lunch or dinners. There are plenty of restaurants nearby if you prefer to eat out.
In terms of décor, location and facilities this is already a great option for anyone wanting to explore the Kumano region. However, what makes this place truly special is the extremely helpful and friendly owner who speaks English and is more than happy to make sightseeing and restaurant recommendations and help with anything you need. There is free WiFi throughout the accommodation and also laundry facilities.