Japan offers many beautiful coastlines, mountains and gorges. While some of these natural treasures are difficult to access, others can be enjoyed comfortably and without much effort from trains, boats, ropeways and cars. The following is a selection of such scenic rides:
From the fast shinkansen to local lines, trains are one of the most convenient modes of transport in Japan. Among the hundreds of train lines covering the country, there are several that are known specifically for the scenic views along the way.
The Kurobe Gorge Railway was originally built to aid in the construction of the Kurobe Dam and is now a sightseeing train through Kurobe Gorge, a beautiful, forested ravine in the rugged mountains of the Northern Japan Alps. Covering about 20 kilometers, the 80-minute journey leads across more than 20 bridges, through over 40 tunnels and offers visitors panoramic views of the gorge and river below.
The Sagano Scenic Railway is a sightseeing train that runs along the Hozugawa River between Arashiyama and Kameoka. The train travels at a relatively slow pace taking about 25 minutes for the seven kilometer journey. Views along the line change with the seasons and the train is particularly popular during the autumn when the leaves along the ravine change color.
The Hakone Tozan Railway, Japan's oldest mountain railway, winds through a narrow and densely wooded valley over many bridges and tunnels, and changes directions at three switchbacks. The section between Hakone-Yumoto and Gora is especially beautiful in June and July when thousands of hydrangeas are in bloom along the tracks.
Boat rides are a great way of seeing the waterways and coastlines of Japan. Cruises by traditional flat-bottomed boats ply along several picturesque rivers, while larger sightseeing boats explore lakes and coastlines.
The Abashiri Drift Ice cruises are only offered from late January to late March. The boat ride take about an hour and travels out into the Sea of Okhotsk, offering visitors a chance to see drift ice in the open water.
Sightseeing boat cruises are operated along the rugged western coast of the Shiretoko Peninsula from mid April to mid November. These cruises are the best way to view the peninsula's dramatic coastline with its tall cliffs and waterfalls. Another highlight of these cruises is the variety of wildlife that can be seen, such as brown bears, deer, foxes, whales, dolphins, sea lions and sea birds.
The Hozugawa River Cruise is a sightseeing boat ride down the Hozugawa River from Kameoka to Arashiyama in traditional flat bottomed boats. The cruise takes about two hours to travel down the river and is a relaxing way to see the natural scenery of the largely undeveloped ravine. Note that cruises may be cancelled in case of inclement weather.
A flat-bottomed boat ride into the Geibikei, a spectacular gorge outside Hiraizumi in Iwate Prefecture. It leads about one kilometer into the gorge and back, and passengers can leave the boat for about 15-20 minutes to walk further into the gorge at the turning point. Scenery along the gorge is attractive at any time of the year but particularly so during the fall color season.
The Kinugawa River Cruise is a ride down Kinugawa River in flat bottomed, wooden boats and travels through mostly undeveloped stretches of the river. Boatmen provide commentary and explanations of the scenery along the 40-minute cruises. Note that cruises may be canceled in case of inclement weather.
The Water Bus in Tokyo is a convenient alternative to trains and subways when visiting destinations that are near the water, especially the man made islands of Tokyo Bay. Visitors will be able to experience seeing Tokyo from a different angle and pass under the various bridges spanning the rivers and waterways.
Ropeways and Cablecars
Ropeways and cablecars are a convenient means of accessing mountainous terrain without having to hike up. Thanks to the high elevation, visitors are usually treated to great views.
The Tanigawadake Ropeway lifts visitors from the base of Mount Tanigawa to the upper station halfway up the mountain from where views of the surrounding scenery can be enjoyed. It is particularly popular during the autumn color season.
The Shinhotaka Ropeway is unique for using double decker gondolas to carry up passengers over 1000 meters into the high elevations of the Northern Japan Alps. The journey along the ropeway and the observation deck at the upper station offer excellent views.
The Shin-Kobe Ropeway lifts visitors up the southern slops of the Rokko mountain chain. Great views of the city of Kobe can be enjoyed from the gondolas and from an observation deck beside the top station. The night views are considered among the best of Japan.
Dozens of roads for the specific purpose of sightseeing have been built in scenic places across Japan, especially in the mountains and along coastlines. While some of them are toll roads and restricted to cars, others are free to use and also enjoyable for cyclists.
The Bandai Azuma Skyline is one of Japan's most spectacular mountain roads. The former toll road starts in Fukushima City and winds into the high elevations of eastern Mount Azuma before descending towards the Urabandai region. It provides outstanding views of beautiful landscapes and volcanic scenery and is especially popular when the autumn colors are at their best.
The Trans Kyushu Route between Kumamoto on the west coast and Beppu on the east coast is a highly recommended way to experience Kyushu's rural countryside, hot springs and volcanic terrain. The Yamanami Highway makes up a large part of the route and offers scenic views of rolling hills and volcanoes along the way. The route can be also enjoyed by public transportation.
Japan's version of Germany's "Romantic Road" leads over 350 kilometers across three prefectures (Nagano, Gunma and Tochigi). The route passes through various interesting towns, hot spring resorts and lots of natural scenery, including places like Karuizawa, Kusatsu and Nikko.
The Boso Flower Line is a road that follows the southern coast of the Boso Peninsula between Tateyama and Chikura. Several flower farms and parks are located along the road which are particularly pretty from January to April.
The Osado Skyline is a scenic road through the Osado Mountains of northern Sado Island. The skyline is a windy, toll-free mountain road that takes about one hour to drive and offers panoramic views of the island from a number of vantage points. Visitors can also reach the summit of Kinpokusan, Sado Island's highest peak, in about a 90-minute walk from the rest area along the skyline.
With its varied geography and extensive road network, Japan is a highly attractive country for both multi-day cycling tours and short bicycle excursions.
Cycling is a popular means of experiencing the Shimanami Kaido, a 60-kilometer long toll road across the Seto Island Sea, which traverses six islands between Onomichi and Imabari. In addition to the scenery, the islands offer attractions such as temples and museums.
A popular 17 kilometer cycling route leads through the Kibi Plain, a rural flatland just outside of central Okayama City. The route loosely follows the legend of Prince Kibitsuhiko and passes several important shrines, temples and burial mounds along the way. The route also passes through rice fields which allows for picturesque views of the rural countryside.