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Japan Tours and Life Style

Hiking in Japan- A Full Guide

The best walks in Japan are those that take you through the country’s incredible forests, mountains, and rivers while also highlighting its distinct culture, from its distinctive architecture to its spirituality and mythology.

Many of Japan’s best treks are traditional pilgrimage paths that take you from shrine to shrine, through beautiful woodlands, or over the summit of a mountain range. Hiking in Japan allows you to gently discover one of the world’s most distinctive and spectacular countries on foot if you know where to look. To get you started, here are seven of the top Japanese hiking paths.

Active volcanoes, epic long-distance pilgrimage paths formerly polished by emperors’ feet, and difficult walks that take you from the seaside to soaring summits hundreds of meters above sea level are all available to conquer. Japan is well-equipped for hikers, with an ultra-efficient rail network that makes moving about the nation a snap and a convenient system for sending luggage between hotels for a little fee. Here are our top seven hiking destinations in Japan.

 

MOUNT YARI AND MOUNT OKUHOTAKA IN THE JAPANESE ALPS

 

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The Hida Mountains, Kiso Mountains, and Akaishi Mountains, which run across Japan and bisect the country’s largest and most populous island, Honshu, are referred to as the Japanese Alps (with Tokyo on the east coast and Mount Fuji in the south). Reverend Walter Weston, an English missionary regarded as the “Father of the Japanese Alps,” popularised the name, and a memorial honouring him can be found in Kamikochi. The Alps provide many trekking opportunities, but this trip to the high peaks is a true bucket list experience.

It’s important to remember that this isn’t a one-day excursion, but rather a multi-day journey (or lots of day hikes). Mt Yarigatake is a 3180m tall mountain with a characteristic spear shape that gives it its name (‘Yari’ means spear in Japanese). The trail ascends through beautiful forests and rivers until you reach the genuinely harsh peak, which offers panoramic views of the Japanese Alps’ 15 mountains.

The walk will then lead you to Oku Hotaka via the fabled Daikiretto Gap, a treacherous path with sharp cliffs. It’s hard for the faint of heart, yet the gap offers unrivalled views of the Alps’ unique peaks. The next morning, an early rise brings you to the summit of Mt Oku Hotaka, Japan’s third tallest mountain, with the help of some iron ladders, and then it’s back to Kamikochi. This is a genuinely adventurous, hilly hiking route, and one of the best walks in Japan, in our opinion.

 

NAKAHECHI ROUTE ON THE KUMANO KODO PILGRIMAGE TRAIL

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The Kumano Kodo hiking paths capture everything of Japan’s tradition, history, and natural beauty. Emperors and samurai walked the road regularly, considering it sacred, and leaving comprehensive chronicles of their journeys here from Kyoto. The pilgrimage route was one of only two in the world to be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, the other being the famed Santiago de Compostela route that ends in Spain.

The Kumano Kodo is a network of trails, the most popular of which is the Nakahechi Route, which passes by Kumano’s three large Shinto shrines, which pilgrims would traditionally visit. Tanabe, on the Kii Peninsula, is where the Nakahechi path, which leads to Kumano, begins. Ancient pine trees, little villages, forest trails, breathtaking overlooks, a stop at Japan’s largest waterfall, and some gorgeous Japanese architecture await you after that. The trail is little about 70 kilometers long and takes four to five days to complete.

 

MOUNT FUJI PILGRIMAGE TRAIL

 

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Mount Fuji is well-known throughout the world. The dormant volcano is named after the Buddhist fire deity Fuchi, and a shrine to the Shinto goddess Sengen-Sama can be found near the peak. The pilgrimage trail up Mount Fuji passes through sacred forests and Buddhist temples. If you just have a small amount of time to go trekking in Japan, this is a must-do.

The best time to climb Fuji is in July or August, when the majority of the snow has melted, although you may still do part of the hike all year. On the Fuji climb, there are ten stations: the first is at the bottom of the mountain, and the tenth is at the summit. Many people climb to one of the four ‘fifth stations,’ and getting there is a spectacular hike in and of itself. If the sky stays clear, you can see Lake Kawaguchiko, Lake Yamanakako, Lake Saiko, Lake Motosuko, and Lake Shojiko from this vantage point.

 

MOUNT TAKAO FROM TOKYO

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Mount Takao, at 599 metres, is located just outside the city limits of Tokyo. The JR Chuo Line’s Takao Station is roughly 50 minutes from Tokyo’s lively Shinjuku district. A funicular will carry you halfway up Mount Takao from there, or you can walk from top to bottom in about an hour and a half. The most popular path up is the Omotesando Trail. It’s mostly paved and passes by all of the tourist attractions. However, it does become crowded. The Biwa Waterfall Trail, the second longest at 3.3km and perhaps the most difficult way up is a great alternative. You’ll go past a waterfall and along wonderful forest roads, which have been used for religious retreats.

The Inariyama Route, a 3.2-kilometer unpaved ascent over Mount Inari, is well worth a visit. It’s known as the “every-season trail” since the gorgeous vegetation can be found all year. The Biwa Waterfall Trail (also known as ‘Trail 6’) and the Inariyama do not pass via the ropeway or funicular stations, which can be interesting to observe, but they are also less busy than the Omotesando Trail. Going up the less-traveled trails and returning to the main trail is a good option. The mountain is home to wild boars, monkeys, and over 1,200 plant species. It’s also one end of the Tokai Nature Trail, which runs from Mount Takao to Minoh near Osaka and is 1,054 miles long.

 

THE SEVEN WATERFALLS OF KAWAZU

THE SEVEN WATERFALLS OF KAWAZU
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Hiking in Japan is often associated with gorgeous forests, mesmerising rivers, old legends, and stunning waterfalls. This seven waterfall trek in Kawazu is one of the top hikes in Japan if that’s what you’re looking for.

This route winds through native beech woodland and farms until it reaches the waterfall trail, which is deep in the Amagi Highlands. The seven range in height from the Odaru, which drops 30 metres, to the Kanidaru, which drops only two metres. There are wild swimming holes and hot springs along the way, and the trail is placed in the footsteps of Nobel Laureate poet Kawabata Yasunari, who immortalised the area in his narrative “The Izu Dancer.” Along the delightful stroll, statues are depicting the heroine of this short novel. This hike is only one or two hours long, yet it catches the beauty and culture of Japan well.

 

THE SHIKOKU HENRO PILGRIMAGE

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If our previous two entries were too short for you, the Shikoku Henro Pilgrimage trail, one of the world’s few circular pilgrimages, spans 750 miles and passes through over 80 temples, as well as numerous other sacred sites where Ku-kai (or ‘Kobo Daishi,’ the founder of the esoteric Shingon school of Buddhism and one of the religion’s most important figures) is said to have trained.

Over the course of that distance, you’ll witness the best of Shikoku, Japan’s smallest main island, from its forests and rivers to its culture, and gain a sense of the country’s spirituality. There are numerous hiking trails to choose from. The Shikoku Henro Pilgrimage might take up to six weeks to complete when starting from Temple 1, Ryozenji in Tokushima. It’s a journey of unhurried travel, self-discovery, and breathtaking scenery. Because the most popular route follows the order of the temples, it’s simple to design a part-route trek, such as walking from temples 13-17 or temples 71-77, to construct a shorter hiking path.

 

MIYANOURA ON THE ISLAND OF YAKUSHIMA

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Yakushima is a Japanese island known for its cedar forests, which are home to some of Japan’s oldest trees, as well as its diverse wildlife, which includes red-bottomed macaques, sika deer, Japanese raccoon dogs, and Japanese weasels. The woodlands have been designated as a National Park and a Natural World Heritage Site since 1993. Locals joke that it rains “35 days a month” here, but as you might expect, all that forest, rain, and the flora and wildlife that come with it create some mesmerising and notably distinctive sights.

The trek up Miyanoura isn’t as high as the Japanese Alps or the heights of Fuji, but it’s one of the best hikes in Japan because of the gorgeous trees and because it’s so unique. The path begins with a steep vertical climb and continues through a variety of woodlands until reaching the 360-degree vista at the top. As you descend, you’ll come upon Jomon Sugi, the forest’s tallest and oldest cedar tree, ranging in age from 2,170 to 7,200 years (quite a range!). This is the Japanese hiking route for you if you enjoy trees and want to venture off the beaten path.

 

 

When to Hike in Japan?

Hiking is best enjoyed as a three-season activity in Japan due to its lengthy, snowy winters. While summers in Kyoto might be oppressively hot, they are the ideal time to visit the Japan Alps to escape the heat. The temperatures become much more tolerable after you travel over 2000 metres, and even in August, you may need a fleece as well as a rain jacket at 3000 metres to help you withstand Japan’s capricious mountain weather.

In July and August, all of the mountain huts are open, and summits can become a festive occasion as many hikers prefer to witness the sunrise from the top of an alpine peak. Hiking above the tree line in the Japan Alps requires an early start, with the optimum clear-weather window falling between 3 and 9 a.m., after which clouds come in, obscuring the views. Many first-time hikers are taken aback by how misty the mountains maybe, but the cloud usually lifts just before dusk, giving those breathtaking panoramic views once more. In the summer, though, afternoon thunderstorms are a definite possibility, so use caution in stormy circumstances and be prepared to deal with rain and mist.

The greatest time to see the cherry blossoms is in April, but keep in mind that the Japanese Alps are still in winter mode. Keep a watch out for other flowering trees such as dogwoods, magnolias, and parasitic wisteria vines at lower elevations.

June is Japan’s rainy season, so keep in mind that the weather can be highly unpredictable, with days of heavy rain and severe humidity. The mild rainy weather also brings out the mountain leeches that inhabit in Honshu’s forested areas.

Typhoon season begins in September, so keep an eye on the latest typhoon updates when planning your hikes. Furthermore, a brief rainy season comes around the first two weeks of the month, and once that passes, the humidity and sweltering summer temperatures normally subside, making hiking much more enjoyable. Autumn foliage peaks around September in both Hokkaido and the Japan Alps, so people who can’t make it to Kyoto for the spectacular autumn colours can get a sneak peek at higher elevations.

The months of October through November are ideal for exploring the mountains near Kyoto, especially when the foliage is at its greatest. The first snowfalls in the Japan Alps normally occur in early-to-mid October, and most chalets close for the season at this time.

Hiking in the winter is also a possibility, but only for those who have the necessary equipment and experience. With regular avalanche danger and unstable snow cornices, the Japan Alps are normally only ascended by people training for Himalayan expeditions. Keep in mind that the sun sets approximately 4:30 p.m. and that many mountains (including Kyoto’s Hira mountains) remain snowcapped all winter.

 

Types of Hikes

Day Hikes

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Day hikes are by far the most popular option for visitors, requiring only a small backpack and an extra layer of clothes, as well as lunch, snacks, and enough water to keep you going. While most of the walks in the Japan Alps are difficult to complete in a single day, you can head into the alpine sections for a taste of the landscape and perhaps a sighting of a rock ptarmigan or two by basing yourself at one of the gateways.

 

Hut to Hut

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Trekkers can finish a multi-day traverse without carrying a large load by using the mountain cabins. All you’ll need is enough cash (a daily budget of 12,000 yen per person) to cover complete accommodation (dinner, breakfast, and futon bedding), as well as a daypack of supplies (snacks, drink, sunscreen, and an extra layer) to make it your next night’s lodging.

 

Backpacking

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Backpacking is the way to go for budget hikers, as camping is a fraction of the cost of a night’s stay in a mountain hut. Because most campsites are near mountain huts, the camp charge (typically between 500 and 1000 yen per person) includes the use of the hut’s restrooms. Water is frequently not included, so plan on spending an extra 1000 yen each day on it. Many of the mountain campsites are on rocky ground, making tent pegs difficult to secure. A freestanding tent is advised. Many of the huts along the way also provide lunch and instant noodles, so carrying additional money to buy lunch along the way could help you lose weight.

 

Hiking in Japan is, in general, identical to hiking anyplace else in the globe, with the same considerations. There are, however, some country-specific considerations to keep in mind. The bear bell is a common sound on Japanese trails.

To keep bears at bay, many Japanese hikers affix a little bell to their bags or clothing. Bears can be a problem in some locales, like Hokkaido and even parts of Tokyo. Giant hornets, also known as “suzumebachi” in Japanese, are more dangerous in the wild. While these insects don’t assault people on purpose, going too close to their nests can cause them to become protective.

Finally, most routes in Japan have a few lodges where you can spend the night. The majority of them cost around 6,000 yen, however, there are some extremely basic free options as well.

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