All about Hiking in Japan!
Hiking is of the most popular pastimes in Japan. “Why,” you might ask. Let’s run through what makes hiking such an exciting pass time in Japan. Not-to-mention with Mountain Day fast approaching (August 12th), now is a better time than any to get into hiking. The trails will be filled with hikers, and there’s no better time than late summer for a hike.
In the Pacific Ocean, Japan is known to many as the home of anime and sushi. There is another side to that Island though: mountains; more than 70% of Japan’s local terrain is mountainous. As a result, Japan is filled with people who live a mountain-oriented life.
For centuries mountains have held special importance in the minds of Japanese people. Today, it is believed that mountains are synonymous with the heavens—where the gods live. small shrines and makeshift altars dot many of the mountain passes. Larger shrines and temple are erected around the mountains. Specifically, Kumano Nachi Taisha and Fushimi Inari Taisha, in Wakayama and Kyoto respectively, are major pilgrimage sites in Japan.
It is often said that life is inseparable from nature, and that a life without it is incomplete—even detestable. People of all ages commonly walk the trails of Japan’s many mountains. But as the general population ages, you’ll increasingly find elders and aging adults than young parents & kids on the trail.
Mountains and abound forests, there’s a wide array of options for hikers. Looking for backpacking? Japan proves to be a suitable challenge for hikers and backpackers of all skill levels. Maybe single day excursions suit you better; pack a lunch, invite some friends, and make your way to the trail. You can do it here in Japan. High or low the countryside does not lack opportunities and experiences. Kamakura for example, isjust an hour away by train from Tokyo, offers 7 or so hiking trails–named the Seven Entrances. Connecting the beautiful scenery of Sagami bay with shrines and temples of the area, they’re truly not-to-be-missed destinations.
Let’s focus on planning your next trip. Whether you’re looking for something tough, or just an escape from the city, we’ll figure it out.
Mark the map: Planning a hiking trip!
- Difficulty: Each trail or Hiking site has a difficulty ranking based on their geography. Basically, there’s three levels: easy, medium, hard.
- Easy level trails are well-traveled and well-marked. Near the train stations, these trails are at the very least easy to access. Families are encouraged on these trails as they are safer. No gear is required. They’re perfect for a one-day plan!
- Medium level is more challenging with steeper and longer routes. It is still doable if you have no health problems. However, it may be unsuitable for kids. Hiking boots are recommended but not necessary.
- Hard treks require navigational skills and maps. They’re longer and more strenuous, so you need to be fully prepared and have adequate equipments with you.
Deciding on the duration of the trip will affect your whole trip. It’s not only about the things you bring with you but where you stay too. A good place to stay is just as important as the hike.; a bad camping site or lodging often make or break an excursion. We’ve compiled a few suggestions for you.
Fond of relaxing and sightseeing? Check out a ryokan (traditional Japanese style hotel, often with open-air hot springs) it’d be a great place for you to stay the night. You can always find lodgings and cultural resting spots on big mountain sites.
For professional hikers, especially solo ones, Yamagoya is my recommendation. It is a mountain hut, varying in size, where you share a bedroom, bathroom and dining space with other hikers. It is a nice way to meet new hiker friends! These mountain huts are a cheap option but still provide you with all the necessities; meals both in-house and take-away are offered too. However, availability for yamagoya can be dodgy. Some of them are open year-round but some open only over the vacation season and the minority of them require you to book ahead of time. As a general rule check with the hut staff before-hand.
Although the majority of us choose hiking as a pastime and may not have any intention of taking a professional trip, knowing the essential equipment and gears is crucial. Even if you are a beginner on an easy trail, there are 5 things you should prepare before heading off to the mountain.
(1) Footwear: it should be sneakers or hiking boots or at least something that your feet are comfortable in. If you’re so inclined, take yourself to an outdoor wear shop and have yourself fitted for boots. There are so many variations, and they change by brand—even year of manufacture. Something as simple as a size down can be the difference between an awful day out and a great one. Picking the right footwear is essential whether you’re a beginner or not.
Pro tip: for beginners looking to start hiking more rigorously, wear your boots or sneakers around a bit before hiking. Breaking shoe in is a necessity for comfortable hiking. You don’t want to get half-way through a trek and have your feet filled with blistered.
Socks: almost as essential as shoes, having good socks on your trip can make a huge difference. Avoid cotton socks like the plague; instead opt for wool or synthetic fabrics. This goes for other pieces of clothes too. Especially during the rainy season, cotton is a bad choice as it doesn’t retain heat and dries slowly. Synthetic fabrics dry faster and have the added bonus of staying warm. Likewise, this is the case for natural wool too. Most major sports outfitters carry hiking socks. At the very least you can buy them second-hand. 9 times out of 10 spending the extra money on socks will pay its way in comfort and durability.
(2) Bags are crucial; there’s a few main criteria you should follow when choosing a bag: durability, comfort, size, back support, and accessories. If for instance, you’re just planning a day-trip, a smaller bag would be best. Obvious I know, but you only need to carry food, water, medical supplies, and spare socks really. Back support isn’t as necessary. For larger trips try afford bigger bags, and this really where you’ll want to invest. Bags with bad comfort and back support will lead to stress injuries and blisters. In other words, skimping here will pay you back in discomfort.
(3) Rainwear, 100% a necessity, don’t leave for hike without rainwear. Even if it’s not predicted to rain, it doesn’t weigh much. You never know when it might rain, or you might get wet. You’ll be thankful when you don’t have to walk around wet.
(4) Clothing for those who sweat a lot and hike overnight. Hats and towels also help when the weather is hot. Material can make a big difference too. If you can stay away from cotton and buy synthetic fabrics.
(5) Other Equipment. Bring food, water, medical kit (bandages, sunscreen, blister patches), and a charged phone, these are necessities. As a traveler you should bring a camera too—not a bad idea.
- On your trail, at first hiking in Japan didn’t sound relaxing. I thought I’d be relying on my survival skills and expected long and difficult treks. I was totally mistaken! Established routes have vending machines along the trail, basecamps with restaurants, toilets and souvenir shops too. For example, do you know about the hop-on & hop-off services some mountains have? It’s the bus services running along some hikes. You can hop-on or off the bus wherever you are on the trail. For those who aren’t confident in their hiking ability, knowing this piece of info is a huge relief. Not only are there vending machines and buses, there are nice resting places under the tree cover.
- Hiking insurance, don’t take this lightly, especially those who are: interested in hiking at difficult sites, going solo or want to discover uncommercialized routes. The number of accidents is increasing dramatically along with its popularity. More than 300 hikers die or go missing annually. That is the reason why in some prefectures, submitting the registration form called “登山届” or Tozan Keikakusho “登山計画書”, or Tozansha Todoke “登山者届” is obligatory. If you don’t do it, you may be fined up to 50,000 yen! The common accidents are due to health problems, losing direction and lack of preparation. Make sure you plan everything carefully and take some time to learn the Japanese needed for the trek if you don’t know the language.
7 best trails in Japan you should try!
If everything is all set, wait no more, let’s hike! Here are the 7 best trails in Japan you should try:
- Mount Takao (Takaosan) – is a leisurely and gentle trail with cable car provided. You can reach the mountain in less than 1 hour from Tokyo. From Shinjuku Station take the Keio Line to Takaosangushi Station – from here, just follow the signs and instructions to the site. Mount Takao offer 3 trails to the summit with different difficulties. You can take on the first one without any major preparation.
- Mount Fuji: No need for introduction on this recommendation. Although it is a famous trekking destination, you may need some crucial skills and proper preparation for the hike as Mount Fuji is more challenging compared to Takaosan.
- Kumano Kodo, Kii Peninsula, roughly 100km south of Osaka, is a famous UNESCO recognized pilgrimage. It may be lesser -known than the two above but it is definitely no less rewarding. Besides the three principal shrines on the mountain, you will also come across numerous shrines and religious sites along the road. What is more fascinating is that there are 7 options of trails you can choose from.
- Mount Hiei, the mountain—just 20 minutes away from central Kyoto by train—is highly accessible. You’ll not only find historical palaces and shrines in Kyoto but also the miraculous view of Mount Hiei to excite your stay in this quiet city. While climbing to the summit, you will be surrounded by fantastic views of the Kyoto metropolitan area and Japan’s largest lake, the Shiga lake.
- Mount Chokai, Toyama is a volcanic peak that offers the best hikes in Japan. It is not too far from Tokyo, but it might be better to drive a car there as the trains are not frequent and its hard to track the train’s schedule. The mountain is not steep, and the trails are smooth, making hiking this beautiful gorge a breeze.
- Mount Asahi (Hokkaido)
If you are tired of the tumult of the mainland, why don’t go north to Hokkaido for some rugged beauty? Located within Daisetsuzan National Park, Mount Asahi’s volcanic landscape owns an unsullied wilderness and lush frondescence that can prelude any hiker. We can experience all the greenery with lakes and rocky terrain here.
- Mount Kaimon, from Tokyo, we went to Osaka, Kyoto, Hokkaido and now to our final stop Kyushu. Mount Kaimon gives the best routes for some marvelous sea views. It is only 30 minutes away from Kaimon Station. There is only one trail to the summit and the mountain is rather small. However, the scenery and fresh air make up for it easily.
Now, it’s your turn! Go out and start hiking Japan! It’s always a good time for some exercise in the fresh air. Don’t hesitate to try out this popular activity while you are in this beautiful Country!