Favourite nature activities for kids in Japan

Click on above Tabblo to see all the photos.

It is late summer at the time of writing. Kids have returned to school (i.e. Japanese public schools) most likely, bearing their wilting morning glories or buckets of rice that they have grown all summer for nature observation “shizen kyoiku kansatsu” or other completed nature projects.

Japan is still a terrific place for nature observation, despite the concrete jungles having rapidly overtaken most of Japan’s marshes, satoyama landscapes and forests. Thanks to the country’s abundant rainfall, weeds spring up quickly everywhere constituting wayside ecosystems for butterfly stops and other insect habitats. Kids can often be found catching cicadas, beetles, grasshoppers, butterflies and go crayfishing in city parks.

And if you can, venture once in a while, further into the mountains or to the coasts for more head-on confrontations with nature. Remember 80% of Japanese land is mountain and 66% of it is covered in forest, and no matter where you are, you can never be more than 100 km away from the sea with 2,500 km of coast to be explored.

Below is a list of Japanese kids’ favorite nature activities.

Favorite Nature Activities for Kids in Japan
2 Kabuto-mushi (long horn beetle) and other kinds of beetle-catching & raising / other bug-catching field activities with a bug box (mushi-kago).
6 Growing daikon (Japanese white radish), asagao (morning glories), sunflowers and strawberry-or potato-picking (see our fruit-picking info here).
7 Hanami or flower-viewing, and “mori tanken”= field trips to the woods.
9 Acorn-collecting or pine-cone collecting and handicrafts; nature crafts such as acorn-top-making; clover-chain (or dandelion) making; washi paper making; ai-no-hana or indigo textile dying; sea-shell jewellery-making; soba(buckwheat noodles)-making
There are numerous other nature-activities that can be carried on in Japan like alpine-mountain climbing, tree-climbing, etc.
Around  towns and even large cities, remain pockets of satoyama landscape – which is the typical Japanese countryside (not wilderness, but man-altered countryside). Fieldtrips to the satoyama are frequently conducted out for kindergarten and elementary school kids, sometimes to carry out rice planting or sweet potato-harvesting activities and remain popular outings for families too. (See School of Nature, Little Challengers trailer (2:19): The Children of Satoyama; 里山っ子たち Satoyamakko
Satoyama Little Challengers blog(Japanese))
We have begun a series of Nature Lovers’ Notes on the above 10 identified activities. To help you in your own nature journalling or nature observation work, here are some resources you might be interested in:

Field Guides for Japan

"Nihonno Ikimono no Zukan" or “Animals and Plants of Japan” (alternative title). Child-friendly and a great favorite in the home. Organized according to various habitats: Town /Mountains / Woodland or Forest / Ponds and Rivers. It covers animals, birds, fish and plants. Detailed descriptions are in hiragana but animal, bird and flower species have names in both English and Japanese languages.

"Field Guide to the Birds of East Asia" by Mark Brazil (2008) / "A Birdwatcher's Guide to Japan" by Mark Brazil...is OOP (out of print) but you can buy a copy from Brazil's website. Organized like a tour guide, you can pick your bird sanctuary location in various parts of Japan Brazil gives you a full description of what you'll see, and how to get there. Not a systematic field guide for bird identification really, and no pictures. But the info is useful for birding field trips around Japan. Available from Kinokuniya bookstore

"Birds of Japan" in English a spotter's guide by the Japan Society of Ornithology. Written by a Japanese ornithologist. Only problem with the book is that you have to flip back and forth between the pictures at the back of the book and the front section which describes all the birds.
"Nature in Tokyo: A Guide to Plants and Animals in and Around Tokyo" by Kevin Short. Very well-written. Though written for a Japanese adult audience, it is in simple enough English to be read to children. Ample pictures, but unfortunately mostly in black and white. A child might not want to pick this one up and read it on his/her own. Covers Tokyo and its immediate environs, but it has some useful general information on the rest of the country.
"Japanese Plants Know Them & Use Them" by Betty W. Richards, Anne Kaneko, 4-07-975121-4 Field Guide for adults but very useful if used by parent with child on a plant-spotting exercise.
Wild Flowers of Japan: A Field Guide” by Ran Levy and Kevin Short. Excellent coverage including photos and makes for a good read. Available in many local public libraries.
"A Flower Lover's Guide To Tokyo: 40 Walks for All Seasons", by Sumiko Enbutsu (Kodansha International, ¥2,200)
The Nocturnal Naturalist: Exploring the Outdoors at Nightby Cathy Johnson Mark Brazil is considered one of Japan's leading naturalists, especially for his authoritative birding guide although he writes on a wide range of subjects.You can easily find archives of several year's worth of environment/nature articles by visiting the Japan Times website. Then, under "advanced search"
type “Wild Watch” and that should take you to this URL, thereupon you can find Mark Brazil's articles dating back to 2002. In the same search, you can also look for Linda Inoki’s and Rowan Hooper’s archived articles. Linda Inoki writes about flowers and wildflowers in season in Japan while Rowan Hooper writes about animals of Japan in his Animal Tracker column.

Gardening with our kids is a great learning experience, you might like to pick up or share tips with a new yahoo group "Gardening in Japan". To join, see this URL. Looking forward to sharing ideas! Best regards, Jennifer in Fukushima

On gardening history in Edo period you might like to see this webpage designed for kids Somei: Landscape Gardening in Edo

Online Guides:

Wild Mushrooms of Japan (An online guide on how to study them)
Birds of Japan by Manabu Abe (bilingual)
Animals of Japan (bilingual)
Plants and Forests of Japan by Taishichiro Sato (bilingual)
Marine Fauna and Flora around the Japanese Islands by Matsatsune Takeda (bilingual)
Songs of crickets and katydids in Japan (Insect Sound World) / Studying Icy Insects (Kidsweb)/ Insects and Spiders of Japan /

Organisations & Resources for Nature Activities in Japan:

You can find a suggested list of nature activities for summer at our website Education in Japan as well as summer
school camps & camping info
English-speaking nature organizations:
For more information about Outward Bound Japan, phone: (03) 3235-5757 Website: http://www.obs-japan.org/ or www.feis.com/obs Unfortunately the local OBS's website is in Japanese only, but the concept is the same globally so look up http://www.outwardbound.org/ for more info and then seek help to sign up or enquire at this page http://www.obs-japan.org/inq/index.html on the local Japanese OBS web site if interested.

Evergreen is a great outfit that offers many programs and tours for those yearning for nature activities. Trekking, canyoning, biking and summer camps are all offered here and in great locations like Hakuba in the Japan Alps. Visit their website for more info.

Japanese-speaking organizations:

Science Educational Foundation of Japan hold many seasonal nature-watching events. SEFJ's Tokyo office at Phone: (02) 33... . Participants should be third-grade primary students or older. Primary school and middle school students mut be accompanied by a parent or other responsible adult.
NOTS's Programs For Children are available all seasons.
NOTS is a non-profit outdoors education organization founded in 1983. At present, NOTS has four facilities situated in Tokyo, Yamanashi, Gunma, and Tochigi. Its outdoor environmental programs, specially crafted for children or adults, focus on providing hands-on activities, which facilitate holistic personal growth and development. NOTS's aim is to provide a natural outdoor environment for effective learning and training, where challenging programs are conducted in the wondrous beauty of the wilderness and maximum learning opportunities are created for instructors, camp counselors and, most importantly, NOTS's clients to acquire profound outdoor knowledge and skills. Its unique outdoor environmental programs, which combined nature learning with development of outdoor skills, are tailored to suit different age groups - children, youths and adults - with the focus of helping those with a keen interest in the great outdoors obtain fundamental outdoor knowledge and skills, at the same time, instill a sense of appreciation of nature in the individuals. NOTS also specializes in assisting schools and corporate organizations with organizing outdoor activities and trainings.
Each of NOTS' programmes is specially designed to bring the children through a series of outdoor activities aimed at developing their life skills and deepening their appreciation for nature.
KODOMO TAIKEN COURSE Since 1984, many elementary school children have participated in, and benefited from, the KODOMO TAIKEN COURSE. The program includes hands-on activities such as making arts & crafts, outdoor cooking and fishing, as well as, nature walks, tide and star watching. The KODOMO TAIKEN COURSE is carried out every month.
MORI no YOUCHIEN PROJECT is a camping program for young children between age 3-5 years old with a "play in nature" theme. Both one-night camp program and more than one-night camp program are available all seasons.
SEASONAL CAMP Summer is the best season for camping! NOTS's summer camps are thrived with many exciting and fun filled activities - swimming in the river, building tree house, cycling, climbing and crops harvesting ¨C just to name a few. In winter and spring, NOTS stays active with many equally exciting and fun filled activities like skiing, sledding and snowshoeing.
ITUDOKO is a program aimed to encourage children, particularly those living in the city, to step outdoor to play with other children and embrace the exciting beauty of nature.
IKIIKI BOUKENTAI program, started by NOTS in 2000, has given many children with mental-disabilities a chance to participate in, experience and enjoy outdoor activities. The program, which is designed with the children's special needs in mind, includes activities like boating, horse riding and skiing.
For school: NOTS's Project Adventure School Program is an interactive outdoor program for school children to discover and learn, not only about themselves, but their fellow schoolmates and build bonds and lasting relationships with one another through the process of developing individuals' personal skills in a group learning environment. NOTS also offers training seminars for schoolteachers.
(NOTS also has a vast variety of outdoor environmental programs for adults, ranging from the endurance testing 1day-100km walk to the self-reflective solo sabbatical camp. The Satoyama course for adults is a one-of-its-kind program modeled after the traditional life style of Satoyama, providing urban dwellers with the rare opportunity to live like a Satoyama for a few days. In addition, it also provides adventure & communications-building projects for corporations.)
For camp counselors, instructors and directors: NOTS provides training and development courses for those interested in craving a career in the outdoor and nature-based areas.
Training Course for Nature School Leaders is targeted at nurturing and training leaders to work in nature schools around Japan.
Training Course for Camp Counselors - NOTS has been running training courses for camp counselors since 1984. Participants in the training courses for camp counselors will be equipped with outdoor and recreational skills and knowledge in outdoor education.

Facilities & Fields: NOTS has the following 4 facilities in Kanto region.
*Tokyo office (in Tokyo)
*Hinoharu school (in Yamanashi)
*Niiharu school (in Gunma)
*Nikko -kirifuri School (in Tochigi)
Tokyo School (office) - NOTS's central office is located in Komae city, about thirty-minutes west of Shinjyuku. The school organizes many programs catered to people living in the urban city, such as day camps in the park, seminars and lectures on nature environment.
Hinoharu School is located in Hokuto city in Yamanashi prefecture, which is about two hours west of Tokyo.It is in the Satoyama area, surrounded by Yatsugatake Mountains and Minami Alps. The nearest train station is HINOHARU Station on Chuo line.
The school has a Japanese traditional house-style facility called Shiseikan, a seminar-house, two campsites, PA(Project Adventure) site, and a field with many organic vegetables.
Niiharu School. Niiharu village in Gunma prefecture is a very rural area, about three hours north of Tokyo.Niiharu School was a vacant wooden schoolhouse, which NOTS took over and refurbished into a campsite.
Nikko-kirifuri School - Nikko is one of Japan most famous sightseeing spots. The shrines and temples of Nikko are listed as World Heritage and the Kirifuri Highland entertains visitors throughout the year. There are restaurants, hotels and facilities for leisure dotted around Nikko and hiking courses to the waterfall are available.
Nikko-kirifuri School is centrally located in Nikko city, close to Kirifuri waterfalls and Toshogu shrine. There are about forty cottages and a playing field.
Contact via E-mail: info@nots.gr.jp * please write a title name "Inquiry about NOTS website"


Gankoyama is an eco-village located in Boso, Chiba prefecture, which both a fun as well as educational place for families or school groups. Designed to help people understand the importance of forests and conservation. All sorts of great hands on and outdoor nature activities: building your own tree house or furniture, bows and arrows, cooking campfire style with food gathered in the forest – in a self-sufficient sustainable tree house village! No electricity at all powers the campsite, only sustainable resources! Nevertheless, you get to stay in clean pleasant treehouse cabins (not your own which will be torn down and materials reused). Visit the website for information and their picture gallery. The site has links to articles in Metropolis and Outdoor Japan which you can read in English as well.

DISCOVER JAPAN(website) will help you get out of the city and explore the beautiful countryside of Japan. For over 25 years, David Green and Yoshiko Kimura have been organizing outdoor activities for children and adults. They want people to discover the culture of the country outside of Tokyo, and they facilitate this through outdoor adventures. Some of the activities of Discover Japan include weekend bicycle tours, community ski/board trips, a children’s ski camp, and the Nanbo Discovery Camp and Summer School (residential summer programs). Nanbo Kokusai Mura is their lodge and seminar house, 200m from the beach in southern Chiba. It is the home for company retreats, children’s scouting trips, sports group’s team building trips, school outdoor education activities, family or club “getaways” and much more.

The Community Ski/Board Trips to Shiga Kogen in Nagano started in 1985. In the 24th season of ski adventures there will be one ski camp for children (December 18-21) and two community ski trips for families and older children (February 13-16, February 20-23). As always, the entire lodge (New Yokote Ski Lodge, on the slopes of Mt. Yokote) has been reserved for the trips. For more information, see their website or contact David Green (090-7716-0102). Nanbo Kokusai Mura, 2899-1 Seto, Chikura-cho, Minami-Boso, Chiba.

Nanbo Discovery camp operates full room and board camps located on the Boso Peninsula (Chiba Prefecture) They have  both summer school sessions and camp sessions in English. Visit their website.

One reviewer says: Discover Japan is out in the Bozo Peninsula (Chiba prefecture). There is more emphasis on marine biology, a bit of “studying” and group meal cooking and so on. It is also an outdoor experience. My daughter went on an overnight school trip to this camp a few weeks ago and she loved it. For more details, visit their website: http://www.discoverjapan.co.jp/

Another reviewer says: The kids seem to really like David Green! This camp is about kids loving nature.The camp features bilingual counselors, outdoor activities, located in Minami Boso Peninsula Chiba. Aimed at kids into grades 3 through 7, directed by David Green, hiking, snorkeling, collecting specimens, collecting specimens from tide pools, playing on the beach,etc. Campers stay either at the Hakkuso lodge in Tateyama, and/in tents at the beach with cookouts over a campfire.

Location: 422-1 Sunomiya, Tateyama, Chiba
Phone: 0470-28-2824.
Contact: David Green
1-3-3-202 Okamoto, Setagaya-ku
Tel: 3708-4012
Email: dgreen@gol.com
David Green has been a science teacher at Nishimachi for nearly three decades, and his wife Yoshiko Kimura, is a 4th-grade teacher at St. Mary’s.

IZU OSHIMA is a great place for kids in a really pristine location! Camp director Dave Moodie (who is also Aquatics Director at St. Mary’s International School and Head Coach of the International Buccaneers Swimming Team) provides a great opportunity for international kids to enjoy outdoor activities & swimming in a beautiful island setting enhanced by local Japanese culture.  Izu Oshima emphasizes the outdoor experince and the sporty side of things. One arrives by boat from Tokyo. The water is clear (like in Okinawa) and you can swim with turtles just a few meters off from land. There is also a hike up a small peak. There was one girl on the trip that just finished last week, who didn’t know how to swim yet, but she also really enjoyed her experience. Visit this webpage for camp details.

KEEP is an unusual Christian and environmental initiative. It operates Seisen Ryo as the centerpiece of KEEP. Opened in 1938 as a lodge and campground for youth empowerment in Kiyosato, Seisen Ryo serves as a conference and retreat center for individuals and groups. Seisen Ryo is centrally located within a short walk of any of the six hiking trails around the area. Just across the road from Seisen Ryo, the Yatsugatake Nature Center offers interactive exhibits about the flora and fauna of the Yatsugatake Highlands, the local culture and history of the Kiyosato area, and information about the hiking trails in the area. Mountains surround the area, with the Yatsugatake Kogen Prefectural Park to the north, Mt. Fuji and the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park to the south, the Southern Alps National Park to the west and the Chichibu Tama Kai National Park to the west. Campers and visitors alike can spend time in Seisen Ryo’s coffee shop and restaurant. Seasonal overnight packages are offered with workshop themes such as country furniture building, nature photography, owl watching, or skiing packages with nearby Sun Meadows Ski Resort. Seisen Ryo also hosts public music concerts and other special events throughout the year. See a photo of Keep’s lodgings here.

3545 Kiyosato, Takane-cho
Hokuto-shi, Yamanashi-ken
407-0311 Japan
Tel: 055…
Fax: 0551-48-3575

Tokyo-based adventure school Outward Bound Japan, offers diverse adventure programs catering to nature lovers of varying experience and preferences. A branch of an international adventure institution, the school offers programs that include a 21-day camping tour in which participants traverse the Japanese archipelago from the Pacific Ocean to the Sea of Japan entirely by foot and mountain bike; a 10-day trip featuring rock-climbing, mountain-climbing and stream-climbing (hiking up mountains along stream beds) in Nagano Prefecture's Northern Alps; a five-day trekking trip on Mount Fuji; and various three-day rock-climbing and mountain-bike rallies in Kanagawa, Yamanashi, Shizuoka and Nagano prefectures.
All tours are led by experienced outdoor instructors who have completed the company's special training program.
"Our main purpose is not to teach participants adventure skills but to help them grow as people through nature activities," says Mamoru Hirose, deputy general of the school. "We encourage participants to push themselves beyond their perceived limits and achieve more than they believe they can."
The school caters particularly to high-school and college students, but tours are open to anybody age 16 and over.
A special five-day program aimed at 35- to 60-year-olds is held in June and October. Participants stay at the company's lodge in mountainous Nagano Prefecture and go trekking, rafting and stream-climbing.
Outward Bound Japan also hosts a one-week program for children in March, August and December and occasionally holds weekend "Japanese Language Camps," designed to teach participants the Japanese language and Japanese culture via outdoor activities. -- source: Japan Times. Outward Bound is featured in the article "How to escape the urban grind" - read it at this link.

If you are looking for nature programs and camps in Japanese, see our listings at Japanese nature programs

1 thought on “Favourite nature activities for kids in Japan”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s