Japan – The Ultimate Ecotourism Guide for 2020

Japan is a country that is famous for being one of the most technically advanced and highly industrialized countries, so it may surprise you that ecotourism is thriving there. Ecotourism rose to national prominence in 1998 with the establishment of the Japan Ecotourism Society.

Since then, many of Japan’s islands have been visited by people who want to have fun in a socially and environmentally responsible way. Let us explore how you can enjoy yourself like these people by sharing with you the best destinations in Japan alongside eco-friendly accommodation, sustainable recreation, and natural revitalization through local communities. 

local train in Japan


We all know how planes affect the environment due to the noise, heat, and gases they release into our atmosphere. Unfortunately, you cannot avoid using a flight to get to Japan, but once you are there, you can avoid them if you want to travel across the country.

Japan has an efficient system of super-fast trains known as Shinkansen or bullet trains that travel at speeds of up to 199 mph. The owner of this bullet train system is the Japan Railways Group (JR Group), which is a consortium of independent companies that extended their services to almost all of Japan.

You can use the Shinkansen by buying a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) that gives you unlimited access to all trains owned by the JR group. This unlimited access is only available for a specified number of days, though, and it also includes access to JR Group-owned buses and ferry services.

big hut in snow at Shirakawago, Japan


Due to wasteful habits by guests, hotel staff and management, these establishments contribute CO2 emissions that are around 60 million tons annually. To offer conscientious travelers an alternative to mainstream hotels, many accommodations in Japan aim to lessen or eliminate their carbon footprint.

The first one of these establishments is the Yokomura Eco-Lodge that is about two hours away from Tokyo and is actually an old converted farmhouse. One of the main conversions that made this lodge eco-friendly is the use of old tatami mats to keep the lodge cool or warm without using a power-hungry HVAC system.

Another eco-friendly place that you can stay at is Yasuesou, which is the first certified organic hotel in Japan and Asia as of 22 May 2015. Also, if you are traveling on a budget, you could try using WWOOF to stay free of charge at an organic farm by working with the host.

Organic food outlets

Organically produced food does not have a negative environmental impact because synthetic chemicals aren’t used when the food is grown. Not using chemicals like synthetic pesticides saves the water and soil of that farm from getting contaminated, local wildlife is also spared as their natural habitats don’t get jeopardized.

Even though there are not many organic food restaurants in Japan, places that serve this type of food have been on the rise. One of these restaurants is Bio Café that is in Shibuya, Tokyo and it is said to be the first organic eatery in Japan. It serves both meat and vegetable dishes.

Another great organic restaurant is VegeVege that is in Nagoya. Despite its name, VegeVege also has fish and meat on its menu. Café Garaman Jaku in Okinawa that is owned by Kiyoko Yamashiro and she sources most of the herbs and vegetables that she uses from her own garden.

Hot spring pool in morning sunrise

Visit Japan’s natural hot springs

The Japanese word for hot springs is an Onsen, but the use of this term can also extend to bathing facilities or traditional inns that are near hot springs.

Since Japan has many active volcanoes, there are thousands of onsens available on almost every major island of this country that is privately owned or run by municipalities.

One of the best onsen destinations are in Hakone; it is only 2 hours away from Tokyo and has onsens that have been around for centuries. All the ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) and bathhouses in this area get their water from over a dozen local springs.

Another great onsen destination is Beppu city, this city’s skyline itself has white smoky wisps that show how steamy baths in this area can get. The best onsen available in Japan is the one in Kusatsu due to the huge volumes of water it has.

Public parks and national parks 

The best public park in Japan is Nara Park; the park got named after the city that it is in and it is situated at the bottom of Mount Wakakusa. This place opened up in 1880 and that makes it one of the most ancient parks in Japan, the park also has over 1,200 sika/Shika deer.

In 1931 national parks were first established to locate and preserve areas that the Japanese government describes as places of scenic natural beauty that people will enjoy.

These places come from various environmental settings that include forests, coastline, deep ocean habitats, and volcanoes, to name a few.

One of the best natural scenic places in Japan is the Yoshino-Kumano National Park that is made up of various landscapes that include rivers, beaches, and mountains.

Another lovely park of this kind is the Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park that consists of two islands, numerous fishing villages, and a dormant volcano.

Go on a Kumano-Kodo trail and trek to an ancient holy place

One of the best ways to explore Japan’s natural beauty is by going on one of the pilgrimage routes called the Kumano Kodo (old ways). These routes stretch throughout Kansai’s southern region and are also registered as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, they have also been in use for more than 1,000 years.

The objective of these routes was to help people locate sacred places that are around the Kii Peninsula; these places are Hayatama Taisha, Nachi Taisha, and Hongu Taisha.

These places are also called the Kumano Sanzan and were famous shrines in the 12th century with pilgrims from as far as Kyoto and Osaka visiting them.

Unfortunately, one of the routes that form the Kumano-Kodo has almost disappeared due to the construction of nowadays road. In its heyday, this route that is known as the Ohechi used to have more than 30,000 people walking across it annually.

Explore some of Japan’s many islands

There is a Japanese island that is known as Yakushima. Tectonic plate movements are what caused this island’s total surface area. The temperatures on Yakushima island contrast greatly with each other, some places have subtropical weather while others have a cold climate, rainy weather is also common.

The good thing about this island’s differing climates and healthy rainfall is that it has become home to many species of plants and animals. While 20% of Yakushima is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is not the only island with a UNESCO recognized site.

To locals, Miyajima island’s name means the “island of the shrine” and it is referred to by this name because of its Itsukushima Shrine. This shrine and its torii gate are also registered UNESCO World Heritage Sites. At high tide, these monuments look like they’re floating on the ocean.

Mt. Fuji with red pagoda in winter, Fujiyoshida, Japan

The best temples and shrines in Japan

The oldest religion in Japan is Shinto and its name came up during the 6th century to distinguish it from Buddhism, which was becoming popular at that time. Many beautiful shrines and temples constructed throughout Japan’s history due to the presence of these religions.

One of the best Buddhist temples you will find in Japan is the Sensō-ji Temple, which is also called the Asakusa Temple. This temple got built in the beginning years of the 7th century; this makes it one of the oldest temples in Tokyo.

A popular Shinto shrine is the Usa Jingu that is found at the Kunisaki Peninsula. Its construction ended in the 8th century in dedication to Hachiman. This shrine is regarded as the main Shinto shrine in Japan and its main hall is also considered as a national treasure.

Matsumoto castle and red bridge in Osaka, Japan

Japanese castles

A popular Japanese castle that is named after the city that it is located in is the Okayama Castle that was built in 1597. World War II led to the destruction of this castle that is also known as the Castle of the Black Bird, but it got rebuilt in 1966.

The castle also features a mini-museum and a studio where tourists can learn Bizen-Yaki pottery methods. Besides rebuilt castles, Japan still has several castles that are in their original state.

One of the best original castles that Japan has is the Matsumoto Castle, which instead of getting perched on a hill, has a moat surrounding it. This castle is also one of three premier castles in Japan and was once used as a defense outpost.

Japan’s exquisite gardens

Designing gardens in Japan is an art form that took over 1,000 years to refine; these gardens come in various styles. Their styles vary according to their purpose; for example, gardens made for nobles are different from gardens made for Zen monks.

If you don’t have enough time to visit more than one Japanese garden, the Kenroku-en Garden in Kanazawa will be perfect for you. This garden feels like it is made up of different mini-gardens because of the various sceneries that it hosts, ranging from ponds, hills, and streams.

Kenroku-en is the best example of a Japanese garden made for nobles. On the other hand, one of the best gardens that were for Zen monks is a stone garden that is found at the Ryoanji Temple

This garden has 15 small groups of rocks spread out over the moss. The interesting part about these rocks is that one of them is always hidden regardless of where you are in the garden.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.