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New rush of adrenaline: Extreme sports tourism in Japan

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From snowboarding and snorkeling to bungee jumping and zorbing, Japan is a diverse geographical and cultural landscape offering travelers a wide variety of extreme sports options. Becoming more popular amongst adrenaline junkies, Japan is quickly becoming a destination for those seeking their next thrill.

Sometimes called shock tourism, extreme tourism is a unique pocket of the tourism industry, a niche area that generally includes travel to a dangerous or risky destination. These global destinations can range from rugged mountainous regions, vast canyons, dark and deep caves, and remote deserts. One thing that is in common with each destination, is that travelers not only visit these precarious locations, but they also engage in risky, sometimes dangerous activities while there. Recently, extreme tourism has been gaining momentum in the land of the rising sun – Japan.

As Japan prepares for the 2020 Olympics, tourism is booming exponentially. According to cnbc.com, “[There is a] historic boom [in Japan] in the wake of the drive to draw some 20 million leisure visitors, timed to coincide with the planned Olympics in Tokyo”. In the past year, Japan excitedly welcomed some 28.7 million tourists, a major increase from 10.4 seen previously in 2013. Beyond the obvious draw of the upcoming Olympics, there has also been a recent increase in extreme sports tourism in Japan. As The Telegraph Travel section notes, “Japan is the 8th fastest growing travel destination for adventure, out of 20 destinations including Sierra Leone, Iceland and Vietnam”.

At Tourist Japan, CEO and Founder Ben Julius has seen a recent influx of tourists arriving in Japan specifically interested in extreme sports and seeking a new adrenaline rush. “Beyond the many tourist attractions, impressive culinary scene and deeply rooted traditions seen in Japan, there is an extensive array of options for those travelers seeking adventure in Japan”, says Julius. He continues to say, “These travelers are interested in combining culture, nature and thrill-seeking action, a perfect combination and something easy to accomplish while traveling in Japan”.

Filled with natural beauty and splendor, Japan offers many national parks, nature reserves, forests, and mountains.  According to Nellie Huang, adventure travel writer and social media expert of Wild Junket, “There are more travelers heading to Japan for surfing and skiing”. Huang thinks Japan is considered a great destination specifically for winter skiing and as she notes, “Especially in the northern parts of Hokkaido they have some of the best ski pistes in the region”. The diverse landscape is ideal for travelers seeking to find their adrenaline rush from the snowy, mountainous region of Hokkaido as Huang says, popular amongst skiers of all levels to the Tone River in the Minakami area which a well-known location for river rafting of all levels. In fact, Japan offers many rivers ideal not only for rafting but also kayaking and canyoning. Hiking, cycling, and paragliding are also popular activities for those seeking a rush of adventure while in Japan.

One of the most notable attractions for extreme thrill-seekers looking for their next conquest is a 62-meter skydiving jump found in Sarugakyo Onsen known to bring many visitors. Additionally, Japan also offers a 100-meter drop from Ryujin Gorge Suspension bridge which is found in the Nametoke Valley. Adrenaline junkies can also seek out the Forest Canyon which offers a thrilling 40-meter natural waterslide, a perfect outdoor playground for those interested in canyoning, abseiling and hiking amidst the beautiful natural surroundings creating an unforgettable experience.

Even among locals, extreme sports and adventure are bringing people together to get the adrenaline pumping. Meetup groups can be found in Tokyo ranging from kiteboarding to mountain climbing, online communities have formed to help adventure seekers connect. Tourists can also use these meetup groups and online forums to find their next adventure while traveling in Japan and connect with the local extreme sports enthusiasts who know the best places to visit. 

Beyond the rapid growth amongst locals and tourists, extreme sports tourism has also gained force and popularity due to social media and the rise of extreme sports influencers. Instagram has thousands of accounts devoted to extreme sports travelers, with hundreds of thousands of followers living vicariously through daily photo posts and videos showcasing extreme activities and travelers pushing the boundaries, continually increasing the danger and the threshold of specific destinations and adventure. Part of the thrill for these influencers is capturing the latest jump, trick or thrill on camera, sometimes reaching dangerous heights or locations which is difficult to capture. Hashtags like #extremesports, #adrenaline, #adventure #gopro are seen on a global scale all over Instagram with over 800,000 tags. The hashtag #japan currently has 94,693,498 posts on Instagram attracting adventure seekers and those looking for their next extreme endeavor in Japan.

From kiteboarding, flyboarding, and zorbing to paintball and tandem snowboarding, Japan had caught onto the trend and offers travelers and locals a wide variety of options. Using the natural terrain and landscape to its advantage, it is obvious to see why more and more extreme sports tourists are visiting this diverse country.

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