Despite its reputation as being the favored spot for anime fans and those seeking a glimpse of the future, Japan is also incredibly popular as a hiking getaway. The mainland of Honshu is home to the stunning Japanese Alps and while Hokkaido has numerous deserted national parks that are perfect for exploring, the south island of Shikoku also has some wonderful hiking trails.
There are plenty of options for hiking in Japan throughout the country to suit all levels of ability and the local people are usually more than happy to help you along your way.
Hiking in Japan – around Tokyo
In amongst the urban sprawl, Tokyo is actually home to a wide number of hikes and most (but not all) are usually very popular. The two most common hiking escapes from the capital city are to Mount Takao and Mount Mitake, both of which are between one and two hour’s travel from central Tokyo.
Both of these can be considered as perfect day hikes, while Mount Amagi on the Izu Peninsula and Mount Mihara on Oshima island would require a night’s stay somewhere nearby. The iconic Mount Fuji is, of course, relatively close to Tokyo and the most famous climb in the country. There are many hiking routes in the immediate vicinity as well and plenty of mountains in the Tokyo area offer great views of Fuji upon reaching the top.
Hiking in the Japanese Alps
The largest mountain range in Japan is actually comprised of three separate ranges and while there are limitless possible hiking routes within this total area, the most accessible (and spectacular) starting point is from Kamikochi. Set between the cities of Takayama and Matsumoto, there are plenty of buses that proceed directly to Kamikochi and from here there are a wealth of options.
Most people choose to camp in one of several camping sites but rooms are available also. There is a lot of walking to be done within the valley which isn’t too taxing but even this is at 1500m so you might be a little short of breath even here. There are also many mountains to climb with Mount Yake (an active volcano nicknamed the ‘burning mountain’) the most accessible.
Pilgrimage routes for Hiking in Japan
Besides having many naturally formed beautiful hikes, Japan has several of the most historic journeys in the world as well. Of the five old routes that carried all the traffic of the Edo period, the Nakasendō is the most famous as a walking pilgrimage. The Nakasendō journeys between Tokyo and Kyoto, lasting for over 500km and it is therefore a very difficult task to walk the complete route.
The most scenic part of it, however, is a very popular walk between the towns of Magome and Tsumago in the Kiso Valley. This section is just 8km long but with excellent tourist facilities in both towns and a route that appears unchanged in centuries, these are some of the most spectacular kilometers in the country.
Those seeking something a little more inspirational should consider one of Japan’s historic pilgrimages. The first of these is the Shikoku Henro, a 1,200km long route that follows the course that the famed Japanese Buddhist Kūkai is believed to have undertaken during his life in the 8th/9th Century. It takes in 88 temples around the island of Shikoku, as well as additional holy sites and when completed is among the longest hiking routes anywhere on the planet.
The Kii Peninsula which juts out from mainland Honshu to the south of Osaka and Kyoto is among one of the least visited areas by tourists in Japan. Right at the bottom of the peninsula lies an area that was traditionally known as Kumano which has long been associated with spiritualism and the afterlife.
People have been walking to reach the sacred temples and shrines of this area for so long that the various routes to reach the coast have garnered their own name, the Kumano Kodo. This network of hiking routes is still seen as an important pilgrimage today but is now also very popular with hikers.
Hiking in Hokkaido
Little needs to be said about Hokkaido besides assuring keen hikers just how good it is. National parks such as Shiretoko and Daisetsuzan, and the islands of Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu offer remoteness unlike no other. On the whole, there is less public transport, less facilities and a lot less people on Japan’s Northern island, so prepare accordingly.
Hiking in Japan
The volcanic islands of Japan have some vast mountain ranges set among the urban metropolises and while climbing Mt Fuji may be the most famous of all the hikes in the country, there are actually some much more challenging and exciting routes out there.
No matter where you go hiking in Japan, you are sure to find some beautiful scenery if you are willing to look for it. As memorable as walking through one of Japan’s neon landscapes is, exploring the country’s natural wonders offers just as much enjoyment.