Today, visitors to Japan can enjoy luxurious hotels, high-end restaurants, bullet trains, supermarkets that resemble something out of a science-fiction movie and even live lobster vending machines. As a result, it can be easy to forget just how much natural beauty there is in the country. Around 70% of Japan is uninhabited mountains and forests!
Old symbols of classical Japan—carp-filled ponds and waterfalls in dense and beautiful forests—still exist if you know where to find them. Here are five natural wonders in Japan you won’t want to miss.
Why to Escape Japan’s Cities
I love Japan’s cities; I’ve often stated that if I could only exist in one environment the rest of my life, it would be Kyoto during cherry blossom season. With this being said, natural wonders in Japan are very worthy of a spot on your itinerary, even if some of them are day- or weekend-trips from major cities. For example, many Tokyoites (and foreign visitors to Tokyo) ride the Shinkansen up into the Japanese Alps to de-stress.
Of course, many of the Japan nature spots I’m about to list are pretty far off the beaten path. Unless you’re already on Kyushu island or in rural prefectures like Mie and Yamaguchi, you’re going to take a more significant diversion than a day or a week. Well, with one big exception—I’ll mention that famous Japanese mountain in just a couple of paragraphs!
My Favorite Natural Wonders in Japan
Beppu, located in Oita prefecture on the northeastern coast of Kyushu island, is rightly known as Japan’s onsen capital. Watching the hot spring vents’ steam rising into the air (TIP: Set your GPS for Yukemuri Observatory to do this!) is an almost mystical experience! But to truly experience the Beppu Onsen hot springs, you need to immerse yourself in the water, or enjoy a relaxing hot sand bath on the beach. Even if you simply tour the colorful “Seven Hells” (which you can’t swim in—don’t try), there is perhaps a no better place for a detoxing break from Japan’s bustling cities than Beppu.
Akiyoshi Limestone Cave
Akiyoshi Limestone Cave, situated within Akiyoshi-dai Quasi-National Park in Yamaguchi prefecture, extends over six miles, making it the largest limestone cave in Japan. At some points, the cave is more than 300 feet wide! A river flows through the cave system, which means the reflection of the cave walls can make you feel like you’re walking across a deep ravine, a little like the scene towards the end of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” when Indy crosses an invisible bridge.
If, after visiting the cave, you are still in explorer mood, unleash the Indiana Jones within you by playing the Jungle Explorer slot game on your phone. Along with hundreds of other games, the thrilling slot is available at Casumo.com. Akiyoshi Limestone Cave is one of the most beautiful natural wonders in Japan, so make sure it’s on your itinerary.
Akame-shujuhachi-taki is the collective name for 48 jaw-droppingly beautiful waterfalls located in Mie prefecture. You’ll find stunning waterfalls of all sizes in the area, from the grand to the small. The rest of Mie-ken, however, is just as attractive as these cascades. You’ll come across dramatic gorges, moss-covered rocks and gushing rapids! Set aside a few hours to explore the region, which is the ideal location to meditate and find inner calm.
Although it’s always good to explore Japan off the beaten path, some places are popular for a reason—namely, Mount Fuji. Located on the island of Honshu a couple of hours west of Tokyo by train, Fujisan is also the second-highest mountain volcano in Asia. If you’re feeling adventurous, and aren’t content with the views you get in towns like Hakone and Kawaguchiko, you can also take a trek up the mountain. Regardless of how you decide to view Mount Fuji, its primacy among natural wonders in Japan is very much deserved.
Some places in Japan, such as Miyazaki prefecture’s Takachiho Gorge, make you feel like you’ve gone back in time—way back in time. A narrow chasm was cut through the rock over the centures by the Gokase River, Takachiho Gorge boasts dramatic basalt walls some say look like dragon scales. In particular you’ll love Minainotaki waterfall, which is over 55-feet high. Note that if you visit during the summer months, you can see the gorge illuminated every night until 10 pm.
I’ve just listed off some of my most favorite natural wonders in Japan, but others that didn’t make the cut are equally spectacular!
- Ie island in Okinawa prefecture
- Lake Towada in Aomori prefecture
- Hokkaido’s Biei “Blue Pond” and Naka-Furano Lavender Fields
- Naturo Whirlpools in Shikoku
- Mystical Yakushima island
The topic of this article notwithstanding, make no mistake: Japan’s cities are awesome, too! As you prepare your Japan itinerary, consider blending the urban and the natural.
The Bottom Line
You might be most familiar with the neon-bathed streets of Tokyo or Osaka, but the deep in nature is where Japan’s true mystique lies. Although this list of natural wonders in Japan isn’t exhaustive, it should give you a great deal of inspiration for your next trip, whether you head off the beaten path in Kyushu island, or stick close to the tourist trail at Mt. Fuji. Here’s to hoping your next Japan trip takes place sooner rather than later!