Japan is also a longstanding pioneer in the concept of sustainable tourism. With the Japan Ecotourism Society – a not-for-profit organisation with the objective of activating local economies through tourism while preserving the natural environment – having put sustainability on the map since 1998, Japan has become a top destination for eco-conscious travellers.
Most importantly, you’ll find an abundance of ‘slow travel’ experiences in Japan that not only help you minimise your impact on communities and the environment, but also provide for more authentic and culturally immersive adventures. Here are some tips for travelling more slowly and sustainably in Japan.
1. Travel by train
Japan has one of the most extensive and reliable train networks in the world – it’s a country where trains are a fast, frequent and cost-effective way to travel long distances as well as take short hops within the cities and surrounds. From the high-speed shinkansen (bullet train) to local rail lines, subways, mountain railways and scenic tourist trains, it’s easy to see all the different sides of Japan while reducing your carbon footprint by planning your trip around the rail network instead of relying on car hire or flights.
You can visit japan.travel to find out more information about some of Japan’s many scenic rail journeys.
2. Immerse yourself in the regions
Experiencing the bright lights of Japanese city life (hello Tokyo!) is a must for any first-time visitor to Japan’s, but some of the lesser-known regional destinations are where you will find the most authentic and sustainable cultural experiences. Learn all about Japan’s first zero waste eco-town, Kamikatsu, with a stay at Hotel Why, Saku’s one-of-kind Kurabito Stay offers guests the rare chance to experience a day in the life of a traditional sake brewer by hand-making sake in its onsite chambers.
Other immersive cultural experiences that champion Japan’s values around eco-conscious tourism include learning how to unwind and live from the land at Miyama FUTON & Breakfast mountain retreat and enjoying the tranquillity, local cooking and traditional architecture of Yoshino’s Ryokan Kato near the Mt Yoshino UNESCO World Heritage site.
Choose to stay at a traditional farm house in the beautiful countryside of Shizuoka where you’ll experience working alongside local tea farmers, either on the land or in the tea factory itself.
3. Eat how the locals eat
One of the joys of travel is trying the different local cuisine and Japan is of our favourite foodie destination. Eat locally sourced produce on your travel and help to reduce the carbon footprint of the food you eat. Seek out seasonal seafood near coastal areas, eat plenty of locally farmed vegetables inland and eat authentic, local food.
There are many boutique hotels in Japan’s rural regions that aim to showcase local ingredients and culture through their dining options, such as the Shiroiya Hotel in Gunma Prefecture. Exploring food stalls and local eateries is also a great way to ensure you’re eating local.
For a special way to enjoy locally sourced produce in Japan’s regions, why not try Fukushima’s Food Camp experience which brings together Fukushima’s finest producers and chefs to create a one-day open-air restaurant in an idyllic countryside setting.
4. Shop local
As a visitor to Japan, you’ll probably want to pick up a memento or two to remember your experience, but you can easily support the slow travel movement by being conscious about what you buy (and where from). Instead of succumbing to the bright lights and convenience of multipurpose chain stores, seek out local arts and crafts such as some of the many independent arts and craft shops you’ll find along the streets of Kanazawa, which is famously acknowledged by UNESCO as the City of Crafts and Folk Art.
A similar principle applies to where you stay overnight – in Japan, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to opportunities to experience country farm stays, homestays and guesthouses. In fact, you could visit WWOOF Japan to connect with local hosts all over the country who are willing to provide food and accommodation in exchange for participating in some of their daily activities.
5. Take part in low-impact activities
With a range of climates across Japan’s archipelago, the country is unsurprisingly home to some of the most spectacular landscapes and unique wildlife in the world. Better still, some of the best natural settings in Japan lend themselves to a variety of fun-packed eco-friendly activities like hiking, canoeing, cycling, diving, snorkelling and visiting Japan’s many National Parks, temples, shrines, castles and onsen – the list goes on. Many of these activities can either be done independently or as part of a guided tour.
6. Source local guides
Organising a local tour guide can be a great way to guarantee you have a top-quality travel experience in Japan while giving something back to the communities you’re visiting. A local tour guide will be able to take you to places and offer local tips and insights you’re unlikely to find online or in guidebooks. You can explore Japan’s extensive network of Systemized Goodwill Guides (SGG), who are registered with JNTO, to find out more about the types of tour programs available in different regions, as well as how to reach out and book your tour.
7. Be kind to the environment
While many of us adopt eco-conscious practices at home, these can often be easy to forget when travelling overseas. Fortunately, however, some of these are simple to keep up during a trip to Japan. While digital technologies like Japan’s mymizu app are specially designed help you locate water refill stations around the country, you could also reduce your reliance on single use items when moving around by carrying around your own chopsticks, hot drinks container and reusable bags.