Renowned for its architecture, traditions, art, and popular culture, Japan offers something for everyone. The country attracted nearly 30 million visitors a year before Covid-19. The host of this year’s Olympics has many wonderful attractions. In this article, we explore eight stunning Japanese natural wonders, from the bamboo groves of Arashiyama to the Zao Snow Monsters.
1. Kabira Bay – Ishigaki, Okinawa
Located on the north coast of Ishigaki Island, this stretch of pristine tropical beaches drew thousands of tourists each year prior to the outbreak of Covid-19. With bountiful coral reefs and an abundance of rare marine life, there is as much to observe under the waterline as there is above it.
Swimming is prohibited throughout Kabira Bay due to the jellyfish and dangerous currents. However, visitors are welcome to take glass-bottom boat tours, with kayaks also available to rent to explore the uninhabited islands nearby.
2. Bamboo Groves of Arashiyama – Kyoto
One of the most photographed spots in all of Japan, this bamboo forest comprises swaying bamboo trees reaching up to 25 meters high. The attraction is featured in the Japanese Ministry of Environment’s 100 Soundscapes of Japan, areas recommended to Japanese citizens to escape the noise pollution of the city.
Locals recommend visiting the bamboo groves either early in the morning or late in the afternoon to experience it at its most tranquil. These magical groves are unlike any other forest on earth, comprising a seemingly endless world of bamboo and dappled green light.
3. Naruto Whirlpools – Tokushima
Just off the Naruto Straight, where the Pacific Ocean meets the Seto Inland Sea, the rushing tides create the Naruto Whirlpools, a natural phenomenon that happens twice a day, growing stronger in summer and winter, when they can reach up to 20 meters wide.
Visitors can view the attraction via a promenade accessible from near the Onaruto Bridge. Alternatively, there are several observation decks nearby.
The tidal current is the fastest in all of Japan, reaching top speeds of more than 20 kilometers per hour during spring tides.
4. Mount Yoshino – Yoshinoyama, Yoshino
For visitors arriving in Japan in the springtime, Mount Yoshino is a must-see, presenting a sea of cherry blossoms stretching into the horizon. Comprising more than 3,000 cherry trees in total, Mount Yoshino was first planted more than 1,300 years ago. Today, the site incorporates more than 30,000 cherry species.
In addition to its cherry trees, Mount Yoshino is renowned for its various temples and shrines.
5. Zao Snow Monsters – Zao Onsen, Yamagata
Resembling a crowd of humans, these snow-covered trees are situated in a popular skiing spot, presenting impressive views as visitors travel by cable car to higher altitudes. Also known as ice trees, the snow monsters take on curious shapes during heavy snowfall, molded by subzero winds.
Gathered around the Zao Ski Resort’s peak, the snow monsters are at their most spectacular in mid-February, when skiers and non-skiers alike can access the spot via a ropeway and gondola. One of just a handful of places in Japan where ice trees can be seen, Zao Onsen is also known for its hot springs.
6. Jigokudani – Yamanouchi, Nagano
World famous as the site where monkeys bathe in hot springs, Jigokudani is about so much more. This smoldering volcanic crater is known to the Japanese as Hell Valley, a place where Mother Nature vents a darker side, with ponds of bubbling mud and sulfurous geysers.
The spring waters of Jigokudani feed the famous Japanese thermal spa resort, Noboribetsu, where a luxury resort has been developed at the crater’s edge, attracting visitors from across Japan and beyond to experience the therapeutic benefits of the mineral-loaded waters.
Referred to as Hell Valley since ancient times, the region is buried in snow for almost a third of the year, and is home to troops of wild Japanese macaques.
7. Mount Fuji – Yamanashi
No list of Japan’s most impressive natural attractions would be complete without a mention of Mount Fuji. Standing at more than 12,000 feet tall, the snow-capped peak is Japan’s most famous landmark. On a clear day, it is visible from Tokyo, more than 60 miles away.
Mount Fuji is an active volcano. It last erupted in 1707, spewing tons of solid volcanic material into the atmosphere, blanketing the city of Edo, more than 100 kilometers away, in volcanic ash and rock.
8. Nachi Falls – Wakayama
Japan’s tallest uninterrupted waterfall, Nachi Falls stands 13 meters wide and 133 meters tall. The pagoda of Seigantoji in the foreground culminates in a truly spectacular sight.
This ancient stretch of primeval forest has been venerated since ancient times as the home of a Shinto deity. At the base of the falls, visitors can buy a taste of pure waterfall water for around 100 yen, which is said to offer a long life and prosperity.