Adventure

For An Unmatched Nature Experience, Make Your Way To Japan’s Tohoku Region

It's pretty normal to be left breathless in Tohoku.

Brought to you by Japan National Tourism Organization

Go on a journey of endless discovery in Japan.

It’s pretty normal to be breathless in Tohoku: between the bubbling hot springs, weeping cherry trees, so-called ‘snow monsters’, and mountain hikes through gorgeous deciduous forests, the Japanese region is almost too beautiful.

Covering the north of Honshu, Japan’s main island, Tohoku is a nature-lover’s paradise – a mountainous region with sweeping, largely untouched forests, save for the ancient shrines.

It’s best to think of the region as four separate places, as each season brings its own charms and attractions. Sure, Spring in Japan is a given, but between the powder-snow perfection of Mount Zao, the incredible colours of the deciduous season, and Summer’s sunny reprieve from the Australian winter, it’s easy to imagine making repeat trips to catch ’em all. Here are six top-notch experiences to get you started.

Cruise Along The Coast

 

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Overlooking the Sanriku Coast – a set of dramatic cliffs, coves and bays – would be a mistake.

Of the many stunning spots, the 8km Kitayamazaki Coast is a must. Take it all in at the Observatory, head on a boat cruise, and see if you can spot an eagle at Unosu, a set of five almost identical 200m-tall cliffs.

 

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But the jewel of the coast might be Tashiro Island, famous for its massive cat population and cat shrine. You know the one.


Get Teary Over Japan’s Ginormous Weeping Cherry Tree

When it comes to cherry blossoms, it’s hard to look past Miharu Takizakura. No, really: the 1000-plus-year-old tree is giant, standing at 12m tall and spreading 22m east to west.

Located in Miharu, the tree flowers mid- to late April, though don’t make the mistake of saying it’s merely in bloom. This tree ‘weeps’, with masses of pink flowers hang off the tree’s many branches, cascading down and swaying in the wind. Nothing quite captures its majesty, though plenty of photographers have tried.

If you’re hunting for cherry blossoms, a visit to Kitakami is another must. By the river, more than 10,000 trees bloom come late April, creating a pastel-pink 2km tunnel to stroll through.


Fujiwara Autumn Festival

Each November, Chusonji temple holds a three-day festival to celebrate and remember the Fujiwara family who built it.

The celebrations bring alive centuries-old traditions, including an authentic Noh play and a parade to the temple’s Golden Pavilion where everyone dresses in ornate Heian period robes, the style dating back to the 1100s.

The only thing more jaw-dropping than the parade’s end at the temple’s hall, covered floor-to-ceiling in gold, are the giant chrysanthemums across the grounds, which flourish in fire red for the occasion.


Hike Through One Of Japan’s Most Ecologically Rare Regions

 

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Shirakami Sanchi is arguably Japan’s best hiking region, thanks to the diversity of waterfall walks, gorges, upsettingly pretty lakes, and even a “mini Grand Canyon”. And, best of all, there are walks for novices and expert hikers alike.

The most popular is the Anmon Falls, a trio of waterfalls which journey deep into the virgin beech forest – the only one left in Japan.

Second is Nihon Canyon, an impressive sight which connects via walking trail to Juniko, a set of more than 12 lakes where many camp and fish in warmer months.

Shirakami Sanchi offers too many sites to list, but other highlights are Tanashiro Swamp, and the steep but rewarding trail to the top of Mount Futatsumori, which lets you gaze down on the World Heritage Site’s protected forests. It’s best to get a car to drive around and see it all.


Scale The Stunning, Sacred Mount Osorezan

 

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One of Japan’s most sacred spaces, Mount Osorezan’s sulfur lake, eight peaks and vibrant multi-colour rivers together mirror Buddhism’s image of paradise and hell – suitably, its name translates as “fear mountain”.

While the most remote site on this list, you won’t regret the trip to Osorezan: it’s meditative, slightly eerie, and its beauty is one-of-a-kind. Better yet, the temple includes overnight accommodation, with access to the ground’s onsens. Nothing scary about that.


Ski Around Snow Monsters

Mount Zao might be home to one of Japan’s most surreal natural wonders: in winter, its trees become “monsters” as the heavy snowfall freezes in the wind, giving them a unique, awe-inspiring shape.

They’re at their finest around mid-February – at Zao Onsen and Ski Resort, you can cut shapes between the towering masses on the smooth, powdery snowfields, making for a ski experience like no other. Or, if sport’s not your thing, a gondola and ropeway lets spectators take in the sights, too.

At sunset, you can grab a hot chocolate and watch the monsters light up from the summit café, before a well-deserved onsen bath.

(Lead image courtesy of the Japan National Tourism Organization)