Valerie (also known as “Eri”) is a modern day nomad based in Tokyo, Japan. She makes her living dancing contemporary, teaching yoga, writing about her adventures, and making other people smile. When life hands her lemons, she brews up tea to sip with pinkie raised.
Many people visualize one or two places in Japan – those being Tokyo and Kyoto. To limit your mind and experiences to only these two cities, though extremely beautiful and breathtaking, does a disservice to the absolute glory of the natural wonders, to be found throughout this incredible island nation. If you want to see some amazing sights without having to move from country to country – then consider Japan your one-stop destination for these 5 natural phenomena:
Unkai Terrace in Hokkaido
Located at Hoshino Resorts Tomamu, you are a mere 13 minute gondola ride to the peak of Mt. Tomamu to see an incredible sight. The Unkai Terrace is located at the height of 1,088 meters above sea level. Image taking a seat, freshly brewed coffee in hand, and watching the sunrise over the clouds as they undulate around the peak of the mountain. It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime scenarios that just blow your mind away. Even if you see it twice, no two “unkai” or the “sea of clouds” are alike.
The weather also has to be just right, or else the phenomenon won’t happen at all.
Other locations to see a “sea of clouds” in Japan, besides the Unkai Terrace resort at Mt. Tomamu, are the Mt. Tokachidake in the middle of Hokkaido, Tsubetsu Toge near the Lake Kussharo (also in Hokkaido), and of course the famous Mt. Fuji (as seen in the picture below) around sunrise. The easiest Unkai Terrace to access would definitely be the one at Mt. Tomamu. Mt. Fuji can be pretty grueling for the inexperienced, and unfortunately, you might not make it to the top in time to see the gorgeous sunrise.
Jewel Ice along the Otsu Coast, Hokkaido
Maybe you’re not the mountain-climbing type. Never fear. There is something magical awaiting in Japan for beachcombers, too. Picture this: it’s mid-winter in Hokkaido (around late January to mid-February), and you find yourself on a beach covered in smooth blocks of ice that shimmer like diamonds as the sun peeks through the clouds.
All along the Otsu Coast and at the mouth of the Tokachi River, this spectacular gift from nature occurs annually. People have started calling it the “jewelry ice”, and you can see a plethora of photographs on Instagram. Next time you’re browsing Instagram, search #jewelryice or #hokkaido to see some amazing examples. Twitter will give you the same results, too.
The Hells of Beppu
Sure, hot springs are not particularly rare in Japan. The country has a vast amount of bubbling natural springs for people to enjoy throughout the year. However, the Hells of Beppu are special for a number of reasons. You can’t bathe in most of them, because they’re either too hot or poisonous. Plus, they’re also presented to attract tourists from near and far… and the hokey presentation of some may not exactly appeal to people looking for “natural.” That said, the wonders of these pools are worth experiencing.
There are seven in total, and they are aptly named either by color or for a unique characteristic:
- Umi Jigoku (sea hell) – a small pond of blue water that is surrounded by a glorious garden. Some lotus plants in said garden have leaves big enough to support small children.
- Shiraike Jigoku (white pond hell) – the pond is full of murky, white water. On the outskirts is a rundown aquarium and a small garden to visit.
- Oniishibozu Jigoku (monk’s head hell) – named after the boiling mud bubbles that look like the shiny shaved heads of monks. There is also a foot bath available.
- Kamado Jigoku (cooking pot hell) – you can drink the hot water for it’s medical benefits or try the snacks steamed specially by the boiling waters of the spring. It’s one of the more lively hells.
- Oniyama Jigoku (monster mountain hell) – a defining aspect of this one is the crocodiles that are bred here.
- Chinoike Jigoku (pond of blood hell) – the most photogenic of all hells. The red water is created by a nutrient rich clay found at the bottom of the pond. You can buy soap made from it, and your skin will love you.
- Tatsumaki Jigoku (spout hell) – this hell features a geyser that erupts every 30-40 minutes for about 6-10 minutes at a time.
Aoiike – The Blue Pond of Hokkaido
Located just beyond the hot spring town of Shirogane, the Aoiike, named after the blue color, caused by the natural minerals that have dissolved into the water, is just about as majestic as unicorns (but real). The pond, surprisingly, is actually man-made. It was originally designed to aid in erosion control after the eruption of the nearby Mount Tokachidake. However, no one expected it to turn blue or to become such a beautiful retreat.
There is a free parking spot found nearby, and you have to walk 5-10 minutes through some underbrush to reach it. Once you get there, you can enjoy the silence of the forest and the surreal surface of this gorgeous blue pond.
The Tottori Sand Dunes
So you know that Japan has beaches, mountains, snow, and tropical forests. But did you know that it has a desert too? Enter the Tottori Sand Dunes, located on the western coastline of the main island, Honshu. Over a course of a thousand years, the sand dunes were naturally created by the Sea of Japan, redepositing earth that had been washed out by the Sendaigawa River.
There are a number of attractions you can enjoy, such as sand surfing and camel rides across the dunes. Naturally, you can also just sit and enjoy the beach (though it is often quite blustery). Also near the dunes is the Sand Museum, where displays of large and intricate sand sculptures done by artists await. Originally, the displays were part of a yearly festival, but with the rise in popularity, the museum was able to create a space for the best to be preserved.
Japan is a wondrous place full of magic, if you know where to look. Though these top 5 phenomena are indeed beautiful and worth the trip, there are many other sights to behold, both natural and human in creation. Indeed, Japan continues to be a popular destination for travelers who love a divine blend of urbanization and rural landscapes.
So, which phenomenon are you going to visit first?