Geocaching in Japan: Get in on the global treasure hunt
Visit any popular tourist destination in Japan, and it’s likely that you won’t be too far away from a Geocache. However, unless you’re looking for it, the chances are that you won’t even notice.
Geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunt game that can be played by anyone who has a GPS-enabled device such as a smartphone. The aim is to search for hidden, physical ‘caches’ that people have placed in locations they think are worthy of a visit. There are caches all over the world, from America to Afghanistan to Antarctica. There’s even one on the International Space Station!
Caches come in many different shapes and sizes, from old film canisters to Tupperware containers to plastic buckets. Even the smallest ‘micro cache’ will contain a strip of paper that you can sign to prove you found it. Larger caches may also hold various goodies such as small toys, trinkets and badges. You’re welcome to take anything that you find in a cache, as long as you replace it with an item of the same or greater value. You must always put the cache itself back where you found it, for the next Geocacher who comes looking.
You can search for nearby caches on websites such as geocaching.com, or by downloading a smartphone app - there are a number to choose from. If there’s a cache that you fancy checking out, you simply download the GPS coordinates app and look for it. Sounds easy enough so far, doesn’t it?
Coordinates have a tendency to be slightly inaccurate, though, due to factors such as tree coverage or buildings, so whilst they’ll (hopefully!) lead you to the general vicinity of the cache, you’ll need to use your imagination to actually find it. Thinking creatively when searching is all part of the fun – is the cache in the hollow of a tree, disguised as a rock or fixed to the underside of a bench by a magnet? The more caches you look for, the quicker you’ll become at spotting potential hiding places.
Geocaching in Japan is a good way to discover new places, or even see a familiar place from a different perspective. There are over 4000 caches hidden across the country, and that number continues to grow as more people get involved.
Most caches are concentrated around the most frequently visited areas of Japan, with Kamakura, Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto offering particularly rich pickings. However, you can also find caches in the wilds of Hokkaido, along the coast of Kyushu, and dotted around various outlying islands from Sado to the remote Iwo-to. Caches hidden in city centres tend to be small and unobtrusive, whilst in quieter rural areas you’re more likely to find larger containers with items inside that you can swap.
There are caches in temples, in forests and on mountaintops. If you’re climbing Mount Fuji, be sure to take a look for the cache hidden at the summit! In the centre of Tokyo there are micro caches that thousands of people pass by every day, unaware of their existence. Some caches require you to hike over fairly difficult terrain to reach the hiding place, whereas with ‘multi caches’ you must answer a set of clues before even getting the final coordinates.
As a general rule, caches should be hidden in interesting locations. You’ll find caches at most of the major tourist spots, but some of the best ones are often slightly off the beaten track and will take you somewhere you wouldn’t have otherwise discovered, be it a quiet shrine tucked away down a narrow road, or an amazing natural viewpoint.
Geocaching is a brilliant activity to get you outdoors and exploring your surroundings in more depth. It might sound clichéd, but much of the enjoyment comes not from finding the cache, but from the search itself. Looking for something that most of the people around you don’t know is there also has its own thrill. You might feel a bit self-conscious at first, especially in crowds, but you’ll soon perfect your ‘stealth’ techniques!
With GPS widely available on phones these days, it’s increasingly easy to get into Geocaching, and it’s a fun hobby to take up whilst travelling in Japan. It’s an activity that all the family can do together, and is a great way to get to know somewhere new. If you haven’t already, you should give it a go – just be aware that you might end up addicted!
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