Enjoy the Great Outdoors of the Tohoku Region Through Adventure Tourism
"Adventure tourism" (AT) is a new kind of way to travel that goes beyond outdoor activities. It's a learning experience achieved by experiencing a place's rich nature and culture and interacting with its people. It’s no wonder then that the Tohoku region, which is especially rich in nature and culture, is becoming famous as the perfect AT destination. The Tohoku region consists of six prefectures: Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Yamagata, Miyagi, and Fukushima, and accounts for approximately 30% of the geographical area of Japan's main island of Honshu. With unique ria coastlines, volcanoes, mountainous areas, and ski resorts, it’s a place that you can enjoy all year round, with each season offering you something different. In this article, we’ll discuss areas around Tohoku that are especially rich in nature.
Jul 06 2021 (Sep 15 2021)
Hiking in Shirakami-Sanchi (Akita, Aomori)
The mountainous area of Shirakami-Sanchi, which stretches from Aomori Prefecture to Akita Prefecture, is home to one of the largest beech forests in the world. The virgin forests that remain largely untouched by human hands are thought to be the domain of the gods and are a registered World Heritage Site.
Shirakami-Sanchi is the perfect place for a leisurely walk to relax amid stunning beech forests and to enjoy the spectacular views of the area’s most famous site: the Anmon (lit. “Shadow Gate”) Falls. The waterfall is surrounded by a rugged landscape of sheer cliffs. The sight of the water falling from the Iwaki River, revered as "the mother of the Tsugaru Plain," is a true testament to the power and gentleness of nature.
Hiking can be enjoyed year-round with different seasons offering unique and beautiful landscapes, from the fresh verdure of spring to the colorful foliage of fall.
Backcountry Skiing and Snowboarding in Shirakami-Sanchi (Akita, Aomori)
Skiers and snowboarders from all over love the powder snow atop Mt. Iwaki (1,625 meters high), the highest mountain in Aomori Prefecture.
While the mountain is crowded with hikers and tourists from spring to fall, few people visit it once the snow starts falling, making it the perfect location for backcountry skiing and snowboarding. Snow season on Mt. Iwaki gives you the opportunity to ski and snowboard freely through the fluffy snow while enjoying stunning views of the Tsugaru Plains, the Sea of Japan, and snowy beech forests. If you want to enjoy an exciting mixture of steep and gentle slopes and have vast stretches of pristine powder snow all to yourself, this is the place to do it.
Canadian Canoeing on Lake Towada (Aomori)
Lake Towada, located in Aomori and Akita Prefecture, is a famous giant caldera lake created by volcanic eruptions. It is known for its beautiful scenery full of expansive panoramic views and a bright, blue surface that reflects the sky and surrounding mountains on windless days.
Canadian canoes, which glide gently over water, are the perfect means to enjoy the beautiful views of Lake Towada. Paddle at your leisure at the edge of the lake and forests, through tunnels created by tree branches, and into secret inlets accessible only by canoe.
Canadian canoes are roomier than standard canoes, making it easier to relax in them. They can also handle a lot of weight, so bring your friends, family and pets, together with some snacks and drinks, and enjoy a picnic in the heart of nature.
Hiking on the Fukushima Side of Oze (Fukushima)
Oze is one of Japan's most famous highlands stretching over three prefectures: Fukushima, Niigata, and Gunma. The most popular way of enjoying it is to walk the Ozegahara Marshland that can be approached from the Gunma side but, in fact, the trails from Oze National Park in Fukushima Prefecture are filled with equally beautiful views that amaze even seasoned hikers.
There are many fantastic peaks in the area, such as the iconic Hiuchigatake mountain—the highest peak in Japan north of the Tohoku region—and Mount Aizu-Komagatake, often described as heaven on earth, both of which stand over 2,000 meters high. The Fukushima side of Oze also offers amazing views of the Nikko Mountains and access to Mt. Tashiro with its vast mountaintop marshland.
With many trails offering real mountain-climbing opportunities rather than just strolling, this area continues to attract serious hikers from all over.
If you love mountains, why not go beyond Ozegahara and enjoy hiking around Oze?
Hiking Across the Three Mountains of Dewa (Yamagata)
Dewa Sanzan (Three Mountains of Dewa) is the general term for three mountains located in central Yamagata Prefecture—Gassan, Hagurosan, and Yudonosan—which have long been venerated in Japan. The Dewa peaks remain a key area for Japanese mountain worship, especially for the mountain ascetic sect of Shugendo, and continue to attract many worshippers to this day.
It is said that every Dewa peak represents something different, with Mt. Haguro representing happiness gained in the present, Mt. Gassan the world of the past where ancestral spirits can find peace, and Mt. Yudono the future and longevity. As such, a pilgrimage to the three mountains is considered a "journey of rebirth" that grants you renewed energy for the life ahead.
Hiking through Dewa Sanzan is recommended as a relatively easy way to experience Japan's unique mountain worship religion. So, why not go on one of Japan's foremost sacred mountain pilgrimages that even Japanese people rarely experience?
Standup Paddleboarding in Matsushima, One of Japan's Three Most Scenic Spots (Miyagi)
Matsushima, which is considered one of the three most scenic spots in Japan, incorporates the towns and cities of Shichigahama, Shiogama, Matsushima, and Higashi-Matsushima, and consists of more than 260 various islands within and outside of Matsushima Bay.
Oku Matsushima, which is located to the east of Matsushima Bay, is a rarely explored area that remains warm in the winter and is blessed with beautiful landscapes full of large growths of Chinese windmill palm trees and camellias that flower in early spring.
Thanks to the island's unique topography, Oku Matsushima enjoys gentle waves and is protected from the wind, making it perfect for standup paddleboarding (SUP), which makes you feel as if you were walking on a water. It’s one of the best ways to explore the area.
During SUP, you stand on boards that are wider and more buoyant than surfing boards and paddle to move forward, so it’s as easy to get around on them as walking on the ground. SUP is perfect for enjoying Oku Matsushima, which has small islands and caves that might be hard to access in other ways, so definitely give it a try if you ever get the chance.
Backcountry Skiing and Snowboarding in the Zao Area (Miyagi)
The Zao Mountains, which stretch over Miyagi Prefecture and Yamagata Prefecture, are in an area with heavy snowfall that's known for its frost-covered trees. There are many spots suited for backcountry skiing and snowboarding in the foothills of the mountains. Especially popular among skiers and snowboarders are nature trails that let you get a close look at the area’s famous frost-covered trees as they take you through forests of birch, beech, and Sakhalin fir.
If the conditions are right, it may even be possible to ski or snowboard by the Okama crater at the summit of Mt. Zao, one of Japan's few active volcanos.
Skiers and snowboarders will be delighted by the fluffy powder snow that can be enjoyed all around. Zao may not be quite as famous as Niseko, but it rivals it in the quality of its snow and is a popular destination for experienced aficionados of snow sports.
If you are a seasoned skier or snowboarder, backcountry through Zao to experience powder snow that you just can’t find on maintained slopes.
Rafting on the Mogami River, One of Japan's Three Fastest Rivers (Yamagata)
The iconic Mogami River in Yamagata Prefecture is also known as the setting for many haiku poems composed by Matsuo Basho, one of Japan’s most famous poets. "Gathering the rains of May, How swiftly it flows, The Mogami River" is a haiku Basho wrote based on his own experience of traveling down the river after its waters had risen due to heavy rains. It gives you a good idea of the fierce power of the Mogami, which is considered one of Japan's three fastest rivers.
Basho would have ridden on a wood boat, but if you want a more thrilling experience, try whitewater rafting instead. If you like outdoor sports, the recommended time to go is the spring when water from the melting snows and rain fills up the river, spraying you from head to toe as you advance through the raging stream. The rafting experience also offers you stunning views of the powerful Mogami Gorge and the majestic Asahi Mountain Range.
Hiking Through the Multi-Colored Goshikinuma Ponds (Fukushima)
The Goshikinuma Ponds in the Urabandai area of Fukushima Prefecture are beautiful ponds that were created by eruptions of Mt. Bandai. The colorful bodies of water dotting the woods around the mountain are popular tourist destinations often referred to as "mystic marshes" due to their stunning colors, ranging from emerald green to cobalt blue, turquoise blue, emerald blue, and pastel blue.
If you want to thoroughly enjoy the Goshikinuma Ponds, the best way to do so is by hiking. It is an incredible feeling to walk along the ponds while enjoying birdsong and the sunlight breaking through the trees.
Some hiking courses are wheelchair accessible, so everyone can enjoy them.
Mountain Bike Across the Appi Highlands at the Foot of Mt. Hachimantai (Iwate)
Mt. Hachimantai is a 1,614-meter-tall mountain straddling Akita Prefecture and Iwate Prefecture. At its foothills are the gentle hills of the Appi Highlands, an expansive area that seems to go on forever.
Mountain biking down the Appi Highlands slopes is a fantastic experience! What a refreshing and invigorating feeling to ride through the broadleaf forests of Japanese beech and konara oak trees, the occasional pasture, and vast meadows, all with the majestic mountains in the background.
Each season brings with it something different to the area, from the vibrant, fresh verdure and gentle breezes of spring to the darker forest colors and bright sunlight of summer or the multi-colored foliage of fall.
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.