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GUIDE Hiking in Japan Japan's mountainous terrain has innumerable hiking trails for you to tackle

Japan's mountainous terrain makes it an appealing destination for hikers and trekkers

Mountains are within reach of all Japan's major cities, so those seeking opportunities to scale peaks have plenty of options. Whatever your hiking level, there are a variety of routes to explore, from leisurely strolls to more challenging climbs for seasoned hikers and climbers.

Along with the thrill of adventure, hiking offers a fascinating new perspective on Japan. Mountain hikes reveal natural phenomena, such as stunning waterfalls, steaming geysers, crystal clear rivers and breathtaking views. The scenery changes dramatically with the seasons—you'll see colorful leaves in the fall, snow in the winter and flowers in the spring.

There are variety of hiking trails across Japan

The most famous hikes across the country

There's no shortage of options for hikers in Japan, but there are a handful of iconic trails that hold particular prestige for those who complete them. Some require multiple days and are recommended for accomplished hikers only, while others offer numerous paths so trekkers of all abilities can finish them.

The country's best-known hike is the challenging Mt. Fuji climb

Climbing Mt. Fuji

Hundreds of thousands of people head to Mt. Fuji every year to conquer the most famous hike in Japan. The official Mt. Fuji climbing season starts in early July and lasts until September 10. Most people tackling Mt. Fuji via the popular Yoshida Trail start from the 5th Station, where a variety of souvenir and food shops make for a good opportunity to stock up before you start your ascent. It's a challenging hike, but one that feels rewarding once you get to the top and see the landscape in front of you.

It's not an excursion to make spontaneously. This challenging hike requires specialized equipment, as even the shorter routes last from five to eight hours. If you plan, you can reserve a space in a hut to rest (don't expect much sleep in these cramped, shared rooms) along the mountain trail. The trails get very crowded so, if you have the option, avoid weekends and holidays.

Many of the best known hikes involve a pilgrimage aspect

A holy trek spanning multiple days

The Kumano area's trio of shrines have been the site of religious pilgrimages for centuries, and it remains hugely popular with hikers. Most of its six main routes criss-cross prefectures along the country's largest peninsula, offering incredible views.

The traditional hike along the Kumano Kodo lasts around five days, but visitors can opt for shorter treks too, including ones requiring no overnight stays. It's possible to do it by yourself, but there are plenty of outfitters that provide guided trips, which takes the guesswork out of planning and makes the hike a more comfortable experience. The routes are open all year, though they get far more crowded on weekends and holidays. Even on busier days, it's worth joining the crowds to experience one of Asia's most spiritual walks.

Hikes can range from a few hours to days or even weeks

88 temples across four prefectures

A hiking trail that requires some real commitment is the Shikoku Pilgrimage (known as the “Shikoku Henro” in Japanese), which spans the entire Shikoku region. This ancient trek circles around the island's four prefectures—Ehime, Kagawa, Kochi, and Tokushima—with 88 holy temples along the way. It's a demanding undertaking, but a spiritually fulfilling one.

The 88-temple pilgrimage allows for a lot of flexibility. Walkers can start this circular route anywhere they want and move in the direction of their choice. Completing the hike on foot is the classic way to do it, though expect to spend upwards of 60 days navigating around Shikoku. Alternatively, do as most hikers do and supplement your walks with public transportation. Either way, it's a solid opportunity to take in the beauty of Shikoku.

The Japan Alps span six prefectures

A lush range of mountains

The Japan Alps , in the central region of the nation's main island, offers numerous hiking opportunities. The range stretches across six prefectures, divided into the Southern, Central and Northern Japan Alps. It's a sprawling area with an abundance of routes and paths to trek, along with plenty of temples and traditional post towns.

The majority of the Japan Alps runs through Nagano prefecture, so those hoping to experience the most variety should head to this chilly region and go from there. The Hida Mountains, to the north, have some of the country's best-loved hiking routes. To the south are the slightly more temperate Akaishi Mountains and beyond that, some beautiful rivers and lakes.

Japan's less famous routes are often far less crowded

Going off the beaten path

Not all of Japan's hikes are crowded. Across the archipelago you'll find opportunities that might not get the attention of Mt. Fuji, but still have their charm.

In the northern Japanese Alps, Kamikochi Valley offers postcard-ready views of mountains and rivers. This Nagano area is open from April until mid-November and, despite being a popular travel destination, it hasn't developed beyond a handful of hotels and shops. There are multiple hiking routes, including scenic paths running past the Taisho Pond. Keep an eye out for wild monkeys and a colorful array of birds. If you can deal with crowds, come during autumn to take in the spectacular fall colors.

In the middle of Hokkaido is the Daisetsuzan National Park . It's the largest national park in Japan, and among its many attractions are several mountain peaks to climb. The centerpiece is Mt. Asahi, the highest peak in Hokkaido. It's a favorite hiking spot in summer and transforms into a skiing and snowboarding haven in winter. The area is home to natural hot springs and multiple animal species not found elsewhere. Its rugged, mountain terrain is breathtaking any time of year.

Japan's far-flung corners have some of Japan's best hiking options. Yakushima , close to Kagoshima Prefecture , and can be accessed by boat or plane, via occasional flights operating out of Tokyo. Easy-to-navigate paths wind through the ancient cedar forests covering the island. More intrepid hikers can attempt Yakushima's steeper mountains, too.

Trails range from gentle strolls to expert-level climbs

Mt. Kita, in the southern Japan Alps of Yamanashi prefecture, is the second-highest mountain in Japan. It's a popular hiking destination, providing three main routes to the summit, past forests, and a river. Near the top, there are huts where you can stay along with a camping area.

The Shiretoko Peninsula , on the edge of Hokkaido, is the easternmost point of the mainlands. This part of the northern island is home to several impressive mountains, including Mt. Rausu. Numerous paths can be found in this part of the country, though it is advised you go with a guide as bears live here. The park area, where you can see the picturesque Shiretoko Five Lakes, makes for a more relaxed stroll. In the summer, waterfalls are the central attraction, while in colder months the drift ice is the biggest draw.

Mt. Daisen , in the Western prefecture of Tottori, is the tallest mountain in the Chugoku Region. This spiritual spot, home to a large Buddhist temple and a Shinto shrine, attracts people from across the country, so it's a good idea to work these holy spots into your hike. Climbers can scale ridges for gorgeous views of the surrounding region. It's most striking during fall when the leaves change color.

Mt. Aso in Kumamoto Prefecture is an active volcano that had an explosive eruption in 2016, so it's a good idea to check the news before embarking on a hike there. It features some solid hiking options, including the crater itself if conditions are deemed safe. You can also ride the famous Mt. Aso Ropeway, which takes you straight to the volcano. Besides trekking, you can ride horses at the base of the mountain or take in the green fields.

Day hikes are within easy reach of all of Japan's cities

Easy day hikes to take from Japan's major cities

Japan's capital features plenty of easy day hikes that still fall within the borders of the metropolis. The most popular is Mt. Takao, a pleasant one-hour train ride from Shinjuku station. Visitors can choose from eight paths up the mountain, each offering a different difficulty level. Set aside some time to enjoy the natural hot springs at the foot of the mountain, or gorge yourself on barbecued meats at the beer garden that opens in summer.

Getting to Mt. Mitake takes a little bit more time—expect to be on a train from Shinjuku for about 75 minutes. The scenery in this corner of Tokyo makes it worth it. This large stretch of land features forests, gorges and some small neighborhoods to explore. Part of the appeal is a popular shrine that many Japanese hikers visit, but the trails themselves also reveal plenty of natural beauty. One of the highlights of walking Mt. Mitake is going into the lower areas and seeing the waterfalls and rivers.

When Tokyoites need a break from the city, many people head straight to Nikko in nearby Tochigi Prefecture. Part of the appeal lies in the colorful temples found in this area, along with a handful of hot springs and traditional souvenir shops. For those wanting to explore nature, Nikko's Lake Chuzenji offers scenic hiking trails alongside its streams. Right next to the lake is Mt. Nantai, providing a slightly tougher challenge for day trip hikers. Not far from there is Senjogahara, a spacious, marshy plateau with spectacular views when the autumn colors are at their best.

Kamakura is south of Tokyo. This coastal town provides warmer climes, all sorts of delicious food and a famous Buddha statue attracting people from around the world. But Kamakura also offers hiking trails cutting through the region's lush forests. The bulk of them are relatively short but beautiful, passing by numerous temples—and temperatures are more accommodating than the ones you'd find up north. The best is probably the Daibutsu Hiking Course, connecting various temples via a pleasant wooded area.

One of the most famous pilgrimage trails in Japan is just a short trip away from Osaka, in the Kansai region. Mt. Koya, in Wakayama Prefecture, is known for its temples and religious structures, which offer you the chance to live like a monk for a couple of days. The main path up the mountain is the Koyasan Choishi Michi trail, stretching from the bottom up to the main area.

There are hiking opportunities all year round

Mt. Yoshino , in Nara Prefecture, is a lovely hike at any time of the year. It's a relatively straightforward climb to the summit, passing through a traditional-style town and various shrines along the way. To experience Mt. Yoshino at its best, you need to go in the spring when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. The hike up to the top becomes awash with pink during early April, which makes it one of the most famous spots in Japan to see sakura. Crowds will be heavy, but it's worth it to see how stunning the trees look.

Minoo Park is on the outskirts of Osaka. After a 25-minute train ride from Umeda Station, visitors can hike along a valley bordered by waterfalls and trees. It's a straightforward path to follow, taking around 45 minutes. Like many of these spots, Minoo Park comes alive in fall, when everything becomes blanketed with red, orange and yellow leaves. Make sure to buy a “momiji tempura” while you walk—a rare opportunity to try a deep-fried maple leaf.

Kyoto, meanwhile, has plenty to see within the city limits, but travel just 30 minutes north and you'll reach the charming mountain towns of Kurama and Kibune. Both locations are relatively laid-back with opportunities for short hikes through mountains surrounded by villages—a welcome escape from busy metro areas. Kurama Mountain Temple and Kifune Shrine are both a famous temple and shrine with hiking paths leading to them. Swing by Kurama Onsen afterward to relax and freshen up after your uphill hike.

Fushimi Inari Shrine, in south Kyoto, feels like an escape from the city. This famous sightseeing spot is best known for its thousands of orange “torii,” which line the path leading up to the religiously significant Mt. Inari. Whether passing underneath those gates or opting for an uncovered route, all roads lead to the summit. The three-hour walk includes many smaller shrines as well as stands selling a variety of tasty food for those who could use a break. When you reach Yotsutsuji intersection about halfway up, stunning views of Kyoto await you.

Hiking in Japan is one of the best ways to discover its beauty

Tips to know before hitting the trails

On the whole, hiking in Japan is similar to anywhere else in the world, with the same considerations. However, there are some country-specific notes to keep in mind.

A familiar sound on any trail in Japan is the bear bell. Many Japanese hikers attach a small bell to their bags or clothes to keep bears away. Beware that in some places like Hokkaido, and even areas around Tokyo, bears can be a concern.

More threatening in the wild are giant hornets, known as “suzumebachi” in Japanese. While these insects don't go out of their way to attack people, getting too close to their nests can result in them getting defensive.

Finally, most trails in Japan feature a handful of lodges one can stay at overnight. Most cost around 6,000 yen, but you can also find some very basic free options.

The latest information may differ, so please check the official website

* The information on this page may be subject to change due to COVID-19.

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