Hoshitoge Rice Terrace at sunrise (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)
Hoshitoge Rice Terrace at sunrise (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

Inspiring Paths: Explore the Urban and Natural Side of Japan

Traverse Tokyo’s cityscape and Niigata’s blessed environment

Dust off your walking shoes, and embark on a journey from Tokyo’s glittering skyline to Niigata’s sunset-tinged countryside.

Although contrasting in appearance, both areas serve as excellent locations for exploration and are filled with visual intrigue. Why not deviate from the typical tourist route and explore Tokyo’s concrete jungle via kayak, bike, and foot? In Niigata, don your hiking shoes and immerse yourself in nature’s alluring majesty. Adventure awaits!


Tokyo Great Kayaking Tour

View of Tokyo Skytree from Sumida River
View of Tokyo Skytree from Sumida River (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

Gain a unique perspective of Tokyo’s cityscape with an evening kayaking tour along one of the metropolis’ most popular rivers. While usually reserved for natural environments, this kayaking tour swaps treelines for highrises and guides participants through Tokyo via small canals and the Sumida River. The one hour tour starts in the evening and provides guests romantic views of illuminated bridges, skyscrapers, and even Tokyo Skytree against dusk-colored skies. Thanks to the river’s gentle flow, the kayaking experience is perfect for beginners. As you float on the mellow current, the sounds of the city fade away—granting you a peaceful moment with the city.

Tokyo Great Cycling Tour

Cycling across Chuo-Ohashi Bridge
Cycling across Chuo-Ohashi Bridge (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

Pedal through old and new Tokyo with an energizing cycling tour. These half-day or full-day biking experiences are led by English-speaking guides and introduce cyclists to a number of the city’s wonders, including Edo period architecture, bayside views in Odaiba, impressive bridges, Tokyo Tower, the Imperial Palace, and much more! As you cycle along nature-lined streets, waterside paths, and city sidewalks your guide will stop periodically to provide insightful details about the surroundings. Thanks to the courses’ variety of spots, they provide perfect snapshots of Tokyo’s many sides. At the activity’s end, you will feel both physically and culturally enriched.

Olympic Stadium Running Route

Japan Olympic Museum
Japan Olympic Museum (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

Embody the heart of an athlete and give your trip to Tokyo a unique twist with a sports-themed running route. Although running may not be the first activity that comes to mind while traveling abroad, this physical pastime acts as both an invigorating and feel-good way to explore local sights. And for a sports-themed route, running only seems fitting! For this course, start with a loop around Yoyogi Park, and then head to Meiji Jingu Gaien. Here, you can admire a balance of nature and urbanity, as well as Japan’s National Stadium—the main venue for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Finish the run with a stop at Akasaka Palace for remarkable views of Western-style architecture. After the run, be sure to grab a refreshing treat as you bask in your lingering runner’s high. Don’t be afraid to get creative, and craft your own personalized route.


Hoshitoge Rice Terrace

Hoshitoge Rice Terrace
Hoshitoge Rice Terrace (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

Without a doubt, one of Niigata’s most alluring sights is the Hoshitoge Rice Terrace, located in Tokamachi City. This ever-changing landscape follows the seasons and time of day, making no two visits the same. Imagine gently sloping hillsides encircled by forest-clad mountains. Approximately 200 rice paddies dot the lush scenery, providing a mesmerizing composition of manmade and natural beauty. In spring and autumn, the reflective paddies shine with the colors of the sky, and in summer verdant rice plants sprout from the water—eventually transitioning to a golden hue. In winter, snow blankets the scenery, creating a tranquil landscape of visual wonder. For a truly remarkable experience, visit the rice terrace at sunrise to witness unkai, or “sea of clouds.” The morning mist coats the environment in an ethereal fog, framing the silhouettes of treetops and glowing with the colors of the rising sun. The intertwined sounds of nature—chirping birds, humming insects, and whispering winds—complete the surreal scene. Walk beside this treasured landscape, and see the magic for yourself.

Myoko—Naena Falls and Imori Pond

Imori Pond
Imori Pond (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

Myoko, located in southwestern Niigata, is a naturally-blessed region filled with outdoorsy excursions year-round—from wintertime skiing to summertime trekking. Among Myoko’s treasured nature, Naena Waterfall and Imori Pond stand out as some of its most beautiful wonders. Recognized as one of Japan’s Top 100 Waterfalls, Naena Waterfall is an enchanting landmark flanked by lush nature in almost every season. From the nearby parking lot, the waterfall is an easy 15-minute hike. Equally stunning is Imori Pond—one of Myoko’s most scenic spots. This gentle pond rests near the base of Mt. Myoko and, on clear days, acts as a perfect mirror of the snow-dusted mountains and surrounding forests. The trail along the pond’s circumference is about a 15-minute walk.

Kiyotsu Gorge

Ma Yansong / MAD Architects, “Tunnel of Light” (Echigo-Tsumari Art Field)
Ma Yansong / MAD Architects, “Tunnel of Light” (Echigo-Tsumari Art Field) (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

Listed as one of Japan’s Three Great Gorges, Kiyotsu Gorge (Kiyotsukyo in Japanese) is one of Niigata’s most inspiring sights. Rugged cliffs interspersed with light vegetation intersect the blue waters of the Kiyotsu River to create a unique V-shaped canyon. The massive cliffs themselves are characterized by their columnar-jointed rock surfaces, adding unique geometric elements to the scenery. For panoramic vistas of this natural wonder, visitors can follow the Kiyotsu Gorge Tunnel—a 750-meter long tunnel—through the gorge. The tunnel is decorated with a variety of contemporary art displays that incorporate the surrounding landscape into their designs. The most recognizable artwork, located at the end of the tunnel, is the Light Cave, which has water floors that mirror the gorge views. Thanks to the majestic landscape and visually-intriguing art displays, the hour long, roundtrip route is well worth the walk. In this instance, the journey is equally as rewarding as the destination.

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