Summer Activities to Explore the Mountains, Rivers, and Seas of Tohoku, Japan

Are you familiar with the Japanese term "Fuzei"? It embodies the Japanese unique sense of aesthetic beauty, which values the rustic beauty of nature. The Tohoku region is home to numerous picturesque locations, surrounded by stunning nature — the perfect embodiment of “Fuzei.” One can see the cherry blossoms in spring, enjoy the sea during summer, admire the vibrant autumn leaves, and experience the serene snowy landscapes in winter, all within the same area throughout different seasons. In recent years, nature-based activities have been gaining popularity, attracting many visitors.

Engaging in activities that let you connect with nature will rejuvenate you from the exhaustion from busy modern life. This summer, enjoy the mountains, rivers, and seas of the Tohoku region as you embark on thrilling outdoor activities.

Shirakami Sanchi, Japan’s First World Natural Heritage Site, Commemorates Its 30th Anniversary as a World Heritage Site

First, let's head for Shirakami Sanchi, which straddles the southwest of Aomori Prefecture and the northwestern part of Akita Prefecture. Shirakami Sanchi encompasses a vast mountainous area of approximately 130,000 hectares, known for its world class immense primeval beech forests that have remained virtually untouched. This pristine natural habitat is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including Asiatic black bears, Japanese macaques, black woodpeckers, and golden eagles. Recognized for its exceptional ecological value, the beech forest and its ecosystem were jointly designated as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site along with Yakushima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture, making it the first site of its kind in Japan. This December marks the 30th anniversary of its registration.

World Heritage sites are preserved in their original state, and their value is extremely important from a global perspective.

Although walking in the registered area is difficult due to many restrictions, several alternative walking routes in the area offer visitors a chance to experience the vast outdoors. Among them, the "Juniko Twelve Lakes Hiking Trail" is particularly popular.

Lake Juniko (lit. twelve lakes) is a collection of 33 lakes and marshes surrounded by beech forests in the western part of the Shirakami Sanchi. The walking course will take you around the major lakes in about 40 minutes.  The highlight of the hiking trail is Aoike (Blue Pond), a mesmerizing cobalt blue pond. Its crystal-clear surface lets you glimpse the decayed large beech trees in the water floating in the water and the fallen trees resting at the bottom of the pond, showcasing an enchanting allure that will captivate you. The appearance of the lake changes with the seasons, making it a destination worth revisiting time and time again.

A Relaxing River Rafting Experience That Even Children Can Enjoy

Shirakami Sanchi provides a diverse range of outdoor activities utilizing its stunning natural landscapes, including mountains, rivers, and lakes. Among the highly recommended options is river rafting on the Iwaki River, which has its headwaters in the Shirakami Sanchi. This fun experience can be enjoyed in a spacious seven-seater boat and is available from late April to early November.

The guide yells "Ready?” and with synchronized chants of One, two!" everyone paddles together in unison, drifting along the vibrant emerald green river while being captivated by the awe-inspiring landscape. The splashes of water, the invigorating breeze caressing the surface, the glistening reflections on the rocks, and the chirping birds make for a truly exceptional experience.

Along the route, there is a tranquil area with gentle currents where you can pause and enjoy apple juice, a specialty of Aomori. During the summer, visitors have the opportunity to play in the shallow waters and dive in to explore designated diving spots. The revitalizing water is sure to bring a smile to your face. 

Prior to embarking on the tour, there is a safety briefing and time to practice paddling, so children aged 6 and above can participate safely and have fun, making it an ideal event for families to create unforgettable summer memories together.

Be Astounded by the Vast Land and Sea at Ohakozaki Senjojiki

Embark on the "Michinoku Coastal Trail," a remarkable trail that spans 1,000 km along the Pacific coast, stretching from Hachinohe City, Aomori Prefecture, to Soma City, Fukushima Prefecture. As you traverse this vibrant "walking path," you can experience forests, villages, rivers, and the sea, immersing yourself in landscapes, history, and culture that may have eluded you at the rapid pace of a car. Prepare for encounters with nature, where you will discover the sights and traces of animals and witness the blossoming of plants along the way.

Within this extensive trail, there are several designated routes to explore. 

The Tanesashi Coast course in Hachinohe City, Aomori Prefecture, presents coastal scenery that transforms as you walk, showcasing rugged reefs, white sandy beaches, and lush green pine forests. The Tashirojima & Ajishima Islands course in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, provides a serene and tranquil experience, blessed with a mild climate and abundant seafood. Finally, the Mt. Karo course in Shinchi Town, Fukushima Prefecture, takes you through a picturesque mountain village where the allure of the sea, villages, and mountains converge, offering an authentic Japanese landscape.

We highly recommend a route that leads you to "Senjojiki," a scenic spot situated on the coast at the tip of the Hakozaki Peninsula in Kamaishi City, Iwate Prefecture. You can encounter rugged granite rocks created through the cooling and solidification of magma approximately 120 million years ago. These expansive rock formations extend before you, unveiling a breathtaking vista of the vast ocean. 

Senjojiki, a place where visitors can immerse themselves in the boundless beauty of the land and sea, serves as a relay point along the "Michinoku Coastal Trail." Accessible through a one-hour trek from the nearest parking lot, this location offers a delightful summer experience with its lush, jungle-like path with abundant grass and trees.

The first point that comes into view after starting the trekking course is Sanganjima-island, an uninhabited island located off the Hakozaki Peninsula. Designated as a National Natural Monument due to its significance as a breeding ground for the Streaked Shearwater and the Swinhoe's Storm-petrel, the island is completely draped in vibrant Japanese bay trees, lending it a truly charming appearance.

Continuing along, you will reach the renowned "Ohakozaki Shrine," situated at the very tip of the Hakozaki Peninsula. This sacred place is a destination where local residents pray for a bountiful catch and the safety of their families. Adorned with vibrant, bright red torii gates, passing through them will offer a mystical encounter. 

At the peninsula's edge stands "Ohakozaki Lighthouse," offering magnificent views of the sea. Facing the vast open ocean, the colors of the sea on a clear summer day are especially mesmerizing.

At last, we arrive at "Senjojiki." Here, we encounter a challenging ascent over steep rocky terrain, where we proceed cautiously, utilizing ropes reminiscent of rock climbing, creating an exhilarating experience. 

As you descend to the "Senjojiki," prepare to be engulfed not only by the ruggedness of the colossal rocks but also by the invigorating symphony of waves crashing and roaring against them. Furthermore, you'll catch your breath at the breathtaking natural beauty that unfolds in a panoramic 360-degree vista. 

Although it is undoubtedly a challenging course, the exhilaration of reaching the destination makes it all worthwhile. It’s highly recommended for those who are confident in their physical fitness.

Soothe Your Senses and Experience “Forest Bathing” in Appi Kogen

Our final destination is Appi Kogen, a resort in Hachimantai City, Iwate Prefecture. While it is famous for its exceptional powder snow skiing in winter, during the summer, it presents a refreshing retreat with vast white birch forests, open grasslands, and a wide range of activities. From tennis and golf to “forest bathing,” gondola tours, and even glamping — there is something for everyone. 

The expansive beech forests that cover the plateau offer a cool retreat during the summer, making it one of Japan's top 100 “forest bathing” destinations. Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” is an easily accessible wellness practice popular in Japan, where one spends time among trees for therapeutic relaxation. The sunlight filtering through the leaves and the gentle rustling of the treetops in the breeze create a delightful and refreshing atmosphere. A stroll through the forest, surrounded by nature and the invigorating scent of trees, will surely soothe your mind and body, providing a much-needed respite from busy modern life. 

Located nearby, "Fudo Falls" is an exceptional destination that comes highly recommended. It proudly holds the distinction of being the sole waterfall in Iwate Prefecture to grace the prestigious list of Japan's Best 100 Waterfalls and is celebrated as one of the esteemed "20 Famous Waters of Iwate."

To reach Fudo Falls, you must embark on a journey along a mountain road that features a striking torii gate, departing from the national highway. As you traverse this scenic route, a lush forest gradually unveils itself, revealing the sacred Sakuramatsu Shrine. This revered shrine has long been associated with matrimonial blessings. Follow the path lined with lanterns, and you'll eventually arrive at the captivating Fudo Falls.

This historical sanctuary holds profound significance, having been a sacred site for ascetic practitioners since ancient times. Even today, it exudes a serene and tranquil ambiance, enveloped by the encompassing forest. A vermilion bridge gracefully spans the basin of the waterfall, further enhancing the enchanting scenery.

With its awe-inspiring 15-meter vertical drop and billowing sprays of white water, Fudo Falls offers a sight that leaves spectators breathless. Its captivating beauty extends beyond the summer season, captivating visitors with its tapestry of vibrant hues during the autumn foliage season.

From early July to mid-August, you can enjoy watching the fireflies at Appi Kogen. Three types of fireflies are known to inhabit the plateau: "Hime-botaru (Luciola parvula)," "Heike-botaru (Aquatica lateralis)," and "Genji-botaru (Luciola cruciata)." Witness the mesmerizing sight of the fireflies gracefully dancing and emitting their enchanting glow during the brief summer season.

Enjoy an Exhilarating Off-Road Driving Adventure Through the Woods

Adding to the allure of Appi Kogen is the recently acclaimed “Kuruma Asobi Adventure Field Appi,” a sprawling outdoor facility. This all-encompassing destination provides exciting ways to engage in car-themed activities and recreations. Not only can you experience thrilling outdoor adventures, but you can also indulge in a relaxing löyly experience in a trailer sauna, enjoy a stay in a cozy log or dome house, and even try camping. 

Engage in a variety of thrilling wheeled adventures at Appi Kogen, including off-road courses, a special off-road course where you can drive your own car, buggy experience, mountain biking, and crazy cart rides. The selection of rides is extensive, featuring the renowned Polaris four-wheel buggy, a beloved off-road vehicle in the United States, and the exhilarating off-road experience in a Jimny, a quintessential Japanese off-road four-wheel vehicle. These popular activities are unique and exhilarating. 

Enjoy an adrenaline-pumping journey through the mountain off-road course, specially designed to utilize the natural terrain, and ride freely through the forest. Brace yourself for an exhilarating experience as you encounter muddy paths, challenging hill climbs and descents, cambered sections, V-shaped ditches, water crossings, and more.  

Riding through this lush and natural off-road terrain, you can release the stresses of everyday life. 

Try the exciting selection of activities at Kuruma Asobi Adventure Field Appi, including Segways (stand-up  electric two-wheeled vehicles) and crazy carts (electric carts capable of drifting) on a designated course that encircles the facility. Additionally, there is a kids’ play land, so parents and children can have fun together. 

Families with children should also consider a visit to Appi Kogen Farm. Covering approximately 100 hectares, this expansive farm provides more than just farming — it offers a sightseeing experience. Here, you can engage with friendly animals, try fishing in the ponds, have a barbecue, or even try glamping. Observe grazing cows, savor the farm's fresh soft-serve ice cream and milk, or simply unwind and enjoy a relaxing time.

Tohoku, Japan Has a Variety of Summer Activities for Everyone to Enjoy

With its beautiful nature that transforms with each season, Tohoku has many outdoor activities waiting for you. In addition to the activities we covered, there is a diverse range of options for summer, including SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard), fishing, surfing, sea kayaking, paragliding, and canoeing.

Embark on a unique journey in the Tohoku region, tailor your itinerary to your needs, and create memories that will last a lifetime.

  • Shirakami Sanchi, Japan’s First World Natural Heritage Site, Commemorates Its 30th Anniversary as a World Heritage Site
  • Soothe Your Senses and Experience “Forest Bathing” in Appi Kogen

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