Dreaming about Japan: From Shikoku Surf to Mount Fuji Sunsets

While international travel remains irrelevant, all we can do is dream of adventures abroad. Simon Day wanted to visit Japan.

For 18 months, I hadn’t missed traveling. My twin sons were born on Boxing Day 2019 and for a year and a half I had been buried in the joy and pain of becoming a new parent. I had had the privilege of spending much of my 20s living and traveling abroad, and since returning to Aotearoa I had constantly planned my next adventure to sample the landscapes, flavors and experiences of the world. But now my priorities had changed. The Covid-19 restrictions didn’t seem relevant to my bubble. I couldn’t see past my little boys.

Then one day I went to my favorite ramen restaurant. Greeted in a harmonious choir by the staff – “Irrasshaimase! – I was immediately taken back to Japan. The steaming bowl of noodles and an Orion beer in a frosted glass made me want to walk the noren of a izakaya in a Tokyo alley.

I have visited Japan twice. I remember when I first arrived feeling like I had been transported to another planet. The bright neon lights and the vividness of everything had flooded my senses. Now a plate of edamame and a bowl of broth and noodles suddenly made me want to jump on a flight and relive it all.

When all I could do was dream of taking my passport for a flight to Narita International Airport, I suddenly started to see Japan everywhere. On a flight to Wellington, as I looked out the starboard window on the west coast, Taranaki’s symmetrical cone reminded me of Mount Fuji. As I wandered through the bars and restaurants in the alleys of our capital, I remembered my first night in Osaka, lost in the alleys of Shinsekai. Queenstown’s Instagram posts featuring that city’s somewhat infamous onsen made me wait a long time to return to Hokkaido.

There is inspiration everywhere you look, with New Zealand’s natural beauty sharing many similarities with Japan. So while we are still trapped within the confines of our borders, we’ve rounded up some of the best and in many ways familiar places of Japan to inspire you on the day we return to international travel.

Illustrations: Ross Murray

Mount Fuji

The first time I saw Mount Fuji, I was fascinated. Speeding between Tokyo and Osaka on the shinkansen, its perfect snow-capped cone gradually appeared through the window as if it was growing before my eyes. It’s easy to see why the mountain, rising 3,776 meters from Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, has become a spiritual and artistic muse.

The sunrise from the top of Mount Fuji is so special that it bears its own name – goraiko (御 来 光, literally “arrival of the light”). The elevation allows for a view like no other, as the sun rises from the early morning sea of ​​clouds that envelops the island.

The official climbing season on Mount Fuji runs from early July to mid-September, with the round trip taking between eight and 12 hours, depending on the trail taken. Many hikers choose to hike through the night to catch the goraiko at the top – for those climbers, or for anyone who needs it, the mountain huts dotted along the various routes provide hikers with a place to rest and hike. full.

The next time you hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, dream of climbing Mount Fuji.

Illustrations: Ross Murray

Caving in Okinoerabujima

The isolated coral island of Okinoerabujima is part of the Amami Island Group and lies between Kyushu and Okinawa. Accessible by ferry or plane, the island is famous for its 300 limestone caves.

The Shoryudo Cave is the largest and can be explored without specialized equipment. The 3.5-kilometer cave – with its first 600 meters open to the public – is filled with ancient stalactites and stalagmites carved over millennia, and its emerald pools glow under visitors’ headlamps. For the more seasoned explorer, there are also more advanced options on the island. It’s like a luxurious version of the Waitomo Caves.

Once you’re done caving, consider heading to Cape Tamina, located in the northwest of the island. Admire the limestone walls of the 52m high cliff as the crashing waves showcase the eroding beauty of nature – don’t forget to keep an eye on your foot to prevent any slipping, it is a long way down.

Skiing in Hokkaido

The train that connects Sapporo to Niseko Ski Resort is very different from the high-speed trains that catapult you between the main centers. It is tiny and slowly traverses the thick snow of the northernmost island, first along the coast, then through the forest and into the mountains.

The snow in Niseko was unlike any other I had known. After a night of heavy snowfall, the city was covered with white columns. The powder is thick and fluffy, the flakes are visible when they fall in the sky. Skiing on these terrains is like floating on a cloud.

But the best thing about skiing in Hokkaido is relaxing in the geothermal hot pools of a traditional onsen, many of which are located outdoors in stunning natural surroundings. The sources are rich in minerals and have many benefits for your skin health and muscle recovery.

But onsen are more than just ski rehab, they’re an important part of the Japanese way of life, and a unique label means they’re a cultural immersion too. Leave your inhibitions in the locker room as you will swim (in gender-specific pools) naked.

Illustrations: Ross Murray

Surfing in Shikoku

Four years ago I bought a surfboard and a wetsuit. Embarrassingly, I wore the suit once (accidentally put it inside out) and never took the board out of its bag. Watching surfing at the Tokyo Olympics – the first time the sport was included in the games – made me want to unpack the board for the very first time.

The smallest of Japan’s four main islands, Shikoku is a microcosm of the country’s natural beauty. With its mountains, rivers, beaches and ocean, Shikoku provides access to everything a more adventurous traveler is looking for. It is also considered to be one of the best places in Japan for surfing.

The south coast of the island, in the prefectures of Kochi and Tokushima, is where you will find the best waves, with a number of beaches and point breaks. But the most famous surf of Shikoku is its river mouth and during typhoon season surfers come from all over the world for these waves. If the swell is calm, get your adrenaline pumping on a canyoning in Nametoko Gorge or ziplining through the Iya Valley.

Maybe next time I visit Japan I will take my wetsuit and surfboard. I can only dare to dream.

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