— Adventure
Exploring Japan's untouched lands
In collaboration with Arc'teryx
Photography by TC / DZ
Take a moment and imagine Japan. What comes to mind? Is it the glowing city lights, the overflowing road crossings, or the tiny restaurants tucked inside narrow alleyways?
Beyond the bustling city is a unique side of Japan that is seemingly untouched. Over 70% of Japan's land is covered by mountains, forests, small local towns and stunning shrines. I arrive in central Japan on a two-week adventure to experience this country's pristine lands.
Best time to go
By November, Fall is over in Ontario, but it's a stunning time to visit Japan. The weather is not too cold, festivities are just around the corner, and foliage colours are at their best (colours peak anywhere from mid-October to mid-November).

The majority of Japan is in the temperate zone of the Temperate Rainforest. In other words, it rains cats and dogs (similar to British Columbia in Canada). Combine moisture with high altitudes, and the weather can feel considerably colder. Prepare layers that keep you warm and dry, and focus on being lightweight because you'll be walking a lot! Running shoes are sufficient as roads are exceptionally well-maintained but bring hiking shoes if you're planning a challenging hike in the mountain ranges.
I'm testing the Cerium LT Hoody from Arc'teryx. It checked all the boxes: lightweight, easy to layer, and kept me safe from the elements.
Ryokan with private outdoor onsen
Hakone
Hakone is a 1.5 hr train ride from Tokyo and is a popular weekend spot for hot springs and views of Mt. Fuji. A short stay at a traditional inn called Ryokan is a must; they feature tatami-style rooms with private indoor/outdoor onsen (hot spring). Multi-course dinner and breakfast are included for a multi-sensory experience. At dawn, head down to Ashinoko Lake to see the iconic Hakone-jinja torii gate, one of the most popular photography spots. Come early to avoid crowds!
Kurobe gorge
Views you can only see on the Torokko train, Kurobe Gorge is one of Japan's most remote areas.
Kurobe Gorge is one of Japan's deepest ravines in the heart of the northern Japan Alps, a volcanic mountain range stretching Toyoma, Nagano, and Gifu Prefectures. A 2.5-hour shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo will take you to Shin-Kurobe Station. A connecting train from Shin-Kurobe takes you straight into the gorge's entrance at Unazuki-Onsen town, a small town famous for its hot springs.

The Kurobe Gorge Railway is an 80-min sightseeing train that runs 20 km along the gorge, crossing over 20 bridges and 40 tunnels. Opt for the open-window cards and get an unobstructed panoramic view of the gorge. By far, one of the most breathtaking experiences! The fog was a blessing in disguise; it created a dreamy fairytale-like scenery. The constant rainfall also caused hundreds of mini waterfalls along the slopes that otherwise wouldn't have existed on a clear day.
Ainokura
Ainokura is a UNESCO world heritage site and is one of Japan's most remote villages located deep in the mountainous region of Gokayama in the Toyama Prefecture. Ainokura is also one of the largest villages, with over twenty well-preserved gassho-zukuri farmhouses over 300 years old. These farmhouses have been converted into restaurants, museums, and minshuku (Japanese-style bed and breakfast). My highlight of the trip was exploring this magical village at sunrise! A photographer's dream to capture the farmhouses against the misty and mountainous backdrop at golden hour.
Gassho-zukuri or Gassho-style house is a very rare farmhouse known for its distinctive architectural style:

It is built of wooden beams combined to form a steeply-sloped thatched roof that resembles a person's hands in prayer ("Gassho" means to join one's hand in prayer).

No nails are used. Ropes made from mansaka trees are used to tie wooden beams up.

The roof is angled around 60 degrees to withstand heavy snowfall.

Farmhouses are positioned north and south to minimize wind resistance and to adjust the amount of sun to keep the house cool in the summer/warm in the winter.


If you want to experience the traditional Japanese lifestyle, schedule a short stay at one of the farmhouses. It's a great opportunity to meet local families, share common spaces with other travellers, rest in a traditional tatami-style room with futon bedding and enjoy a home-cooked dinner and breakfast.
Kumano Kodo
The Kumano area in the Wakayama Prefecture is located south of Osaka and near the coastline facing the Pacific Ocean. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is also known as the land of the gods for its sacred pilgrimage trails that crisscross the Kii Peninsula, called Kumano Kodo. For over 1000 years, Pilgrims travelled these trails to the three grand shrines: Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha, and Kumano Nachi Taisha.

Each of the seven pilgrimage routes can be accessed, ranging from a single day to multi-day hikes. If you're tight on time, you could take the local bus to the most famous stretches of the trail and hike up a short distance to the shrines.

Tip: Visit the information center, and purchase the Kumano Kodo unlimited bus pass to make the most of your visit.
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