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  • Gaby Doman

Sustainable Travel in Japan

Find meaningful ways to ethically explore Japan

A woman with a Japanese umbrella stands in front of thatched buildings, forest and Mt. Fuji in the distance

When you think of sustainable travel, perhaps you think of hiking through towering forests, staying in small, family-run accommodations and eating local, seasonal cuisine. Japan, which is 70 percent forested land, known for its ryokan inns and regional-specific dishes certainly ticks those boxes.

Japan consistently scores well on sustainable living rankings, perhaps because of its indigenous animistic religion, Shintoism, which is based on respect for nature. But Japan’s sustainable practices extend far deeper.

Read on to see the breadth of sustainable travel experiences in Japan, from supporting local communities and preserving cultural heritage to promoting responsible consumption.

A Japanese doll dressed in various layers of orange silk

Mataro Doll

Support Traditional Crafts

Japanese culture is equally defined by its modern architecture, cutting-edge public transport and boundary-pushing fashion and technology as it is its ancient crafts and traditions, which are seamlessly woven into contemporary life. Japan’s cultural heritage is the root from which new ideas blossom. There are around 236 nationally designated traditional crafts in Japan, which have to reach certain requirements to be included, such as having a history of more than 100 years and having a significant part of their production completed by hand.

Many of Japan’s crafts are passed down through families from generation to generation. Luxurique works closely with many of these artisans to help preserve their crafts and introduce them to a new audience. Our guests can, for example, watch Kyoto’s best kimono artisans at work, make kimekomi Hina dolls or learn the secrets behind Aritaware, some of the finest and most collectable porcelain in the world, from the 14th generation descendent of Ri Sanpei, the artisan who first discovered porcelain stone in the town.

Every region in Japan has its own crafts and, whether you learn a new skill from them or purchase a souvenir to take home, supporting Japan’s artisans and small businesses - is an excellent way to travel more ethically.

A potter makes a bowl on a potter's wheel

14th generation descendent of Ri Sanpei in Arita

Eat Locally and Sustainably

Sustainable and local ingredients are strong themes in Japan’s food culture and there are innumerable ways to sample and appreciate it.

You could organise shukubo (temple lodging) where you eat shojin ryori vegan Buddhist cuisine to experience the life of a monk. This way of eating involves minimal waste, with vegetable tops and peels utilised for broth and features seasonal food and ingredients that are grown locally, often with a few foraged finds.

An overhead view of various bowls of vegetables and rice

Shojin ryori meal

Beard in Unzen, Kyushu is a tiny restaurant that takes locally sourced ingredients to a new level. It proudly and exclusively uses veggies grown by a local farmer who has only planted his own saved seeds for 40 years, a method practically extinct in modern-day farming. These heirloom vegetables, says its chef, Shinichiro Harakawa, are distinct in taste to industrially grown plants and offer an authentic taste of the volcanic, fertile grounds of Unzen. ​The restaurant’s course-only menu focuses on these vegetables and local seafood plucked from nearby Omura Bay.

A row of wasabi plants lying on pine branches

Japanese wasabi

Another conceptual take on food sustainability can be experienced at Auberge Eaufeu, a hotel and restaurant that opened in a converted school that closed due to depopulation in Kanagaso in Ishikawa. Foodies travelling to experience its fine dining scene, masterminded by the innovative young chef, Shota Itoi, have breathed new life into the tiny rural town.

A line of smiling people wearing uniforms and aprons stand outside in a rural location

Photo credit: Eaufeu

Venture Off-The-Beaten-Track

Kyoto and Tokyo are certainly must-visits when in Japan, but be sure to schedule some time to explore some of Japan’s less populated spots, too. Outside of its big cities, you can experience another side of Japan and support communities that don’t benefit from tourism to the same extent. Try island hopping around the Izu islands, catch Aomori’s late spring sakura season or try sandboarding in Tottori. You’ll never run out of things to do, but if you’re lacking inspiration, Luxurique can organise itineraries to suit your requirements.

Shallow blue sea with a mountainous coast in the background

Beach in Izu

Another advantage of visiting less populated areas of Japan is the opportunity to explore Japan’s great outdoors. Adrenaline junkies and serene explorers alike can find plenty to experience, from bungee jumping to white water rafting, whale watching, cycling, canyoning, mountain climbing and skiing. Your travels to Japan are the perfect opportunity to try shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. This concept of mindfulness and appreciation of nature emerged in Japan in the 1980s as a way of replenishing from the stresses of everyday life.

Two people wearing skis stand on a snowy mountain

Skiing in Japan

Take Trains

Travelling within Japan is both efficient and sustainable. Its vast network of high-speed Shinkansen bullet trains whip across Japan at 320 kilometres per hour, and local trains cover much of the rest of the country. Taking trains in Japan is as much about the journey as it is about the destination - especially if you opt to travel on a super luxury option like Seven Stars Kyushu, Twilight Express Mizukaze or Train Suite Shiki-Shima.

A train passes cherry blossom trees and a rape field

A local train in Japan

Support Recovering Regions

Twelve years ago, on 11th March 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated large swathes of Tohoku’s coastal areas. The impact it had is hard to overstate and, even now, the reconstruction and regeneration of the area is very much ongoing. One of the best ways to explore the beauty of this region and contribute to its revitalisation is to hike a section of the Michinoku Coastal Trail, a 1,000-kilometer trail from Aomori to Fukushima, along the affected coastline. Stay in local ryokan inns, eat in family-run restaurants, meet locals and spread the word about this beautiful part of Japan. The trail will take you along remote beaches, along craggy cliffs, through quaint fishing villages and provide beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean.

Rocky islets in blue sea

Michinoku Coastal Trail

The Sanriku Fukko (reconstruction) National Park, along part of the route, was also created as a way to regenerate the area whilst remembering the great destruction. Its craggy rock formations are the breeding grounds of black-tailed gulls and streaked sheerwater birds. You can also explore fishing ports, eat fresh seafood and marvel at the resilience and pride of the locals you’ll meet.

Rocky islets rise from the sea just off the shore of a sandy beach

Michinoku Coastal Trail

Visit a Zero Waste Town

Few places take sustainability as seriously as Kamikatsu in Tokushima. In 2003, it became Japan’s first zero-waste town, implementing a comprehensive plan to work as a community and eliminate the need for waste collection by separating its waste into 45 categories, which are then recycled or turned into compost. Its efforts have also put it on the map as a tourist destination, attracting sustainability-minded people looking for inspiration.

Visitors can visit its Kuru-kuru Shop to pick up free second-hand goods, including porcelain, clothes and other household items, all donated by its villagers. Other items are upcycled, with discarded kimonos and carp streamers given a new lease of life as bags, purses, toys and other items at Kuru-kuru Factory.

While in Kamikutsu, you can have a craft beer in Rise & Win Brewery, constructed from materials salvaged from demolished buildings. The beer is made using citrus peels discarded by local farmers who produce ponzu sauce.

A table of beers, vegetables and other food

Photo credit: Rise & Win Brewing

Discover Hokkaido’s Indigenous Ainu Culture

Every visit to the northernmost island of Japan should include an opportunity to learn more about the Ainu people, the indigenous people of Hokkaido and the surrounding islands. Ainu language and culture are very distinct from Japanese but, sadly, both are at risk of being lost. In fact, according to Google’s Endangered Languages Project, there are fewer than five native Ainu speakers left. However, in recent years, efforts are being made to preserve the Ainu language and culture as well as introduce it to tourists. Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park is the only museum dedicated to Ainu culture. It showcases artefacts, has a theatre program and features a food court of authentic Ainu dishes.

Two people wearing traditional Ainu tribe robes

Authentic Ainu dress

You can also experience Ainu culture at the neighbouring Poroto Lake in Shiaoi, where you can learn the Ainu art of ice fish for Japanese smelt, or visit the Lake Akan Ainu Kotan, an Ainu settlement where you can buy traditional crafts and watch performances. You can even experience Ainu culture in Sapporo’s Umizora no Haru restaurant. It’s decorated like a cosy Ainu home and features dishes including Ezo deer skewers, slow-roasted duck, roasted brown bear, roasted venison nigiri sushi and Biei Wagyu beef steak.

A forest and stone lanterns

Leave it to Luxurique

Sustainable travel is built into Luxurique’s DNA. We exist to help preserve Japan’s cultural heritage and share it with our guests. Whether you want to book EV cars, immerse yourself in Buddhist life, or learn the finer details of Japan’s crafts from a master, we can craft a tailored itinerary to make your Japan trip an ethical and enjoyable one. Contact us for more information.

You can read our commitment to aligning with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, here.


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