The one activity that has been increasingly appearing on everyone's Japan wish lists and will only gain in popularity in 2021: hiking! Whether it is taking a walk up a mountain or strolling around lush green marshes, hiking provides a wide array of experiences and allows you to savour both Japan's magnificent nature and the local culture. Even sightseeing around large cities like Tokyo and Kyoto, unforgettable hikes are a short distance away. That's the reason why Japanese people enjoy spending their weekends walking up the slopes of Japan's 100 famous mountains and there is a whole hiking culture hiding around the corner!
However, hiking in an unknown place can be an unnerving experience and make you question your plans. Don't fret! We prepared a list of top places you should add to your Japan bucket list for all levels of hiking enthusiasts. Not everyone lives and breathes mountains so in some cases we also give you more gentle alternatives of reaching the summits. You won't be missing out on anything because ropeways really allow you to savour the views. We also list two plateaus which offer superb walks and are both suitable for seasonal walkers and seasoned dwellers.
Mt. Takao, Tokyo
Starting off on the outskirts of Tokyo, Mt. Takao located only 50 minutes away from Shinjuku, is a local must see. People flock to Mt. Takao because it offers beautiful views of Tokyo, on clear days you can see Mt. Fuji, and... there is a monkey park close to the summit! Once you reach the top, you can visit Yakuoin Temple devoted to mythical long-nosed tengu! That’s a true hiking package. Mt. Takao is especially stunning in spring and autumn and it’s best to visit it during the week to avoid crowds. It takes around 90 minutes to claim its peak, and is popular all year round, with its various hiking trails that you can choose depending on your desired adventure levels. Does this sound like a bit too much? It is also well suited for family visits or people on tight schedules! Instead of walking the whole way up you can choose to take a cable car to the top or a chair lift halfway up the mountain and just take in the views.
Did you know that Japan's largest and longest cave is located in Yamaguchi Prefecture? Start your Akiyoshidai escapade in the gorgeous cave and then continue on to Japan's fascinating plateau. This geological eye candy came to life as a result of massive coral reef drying out thousands of years ago (this area used to be under the ocean)! This unforgettable karst plateau offers a few different hiking trails which are ideal for a day out in the wild. Getting to Akiyoshidai takes around an hour by bus from Yamaguchi city and you can combine a visit here with a daytrip to Hagi, a quaint samurai town!
Mt. Bandai, Fukushima
Are you ready for a hike that will be the highlight of your trip? Head to western Fukushima prefecture to see one of Japan’s 100 famous mountains - Mt. Bandai! Towering over the elegant Lake Inawashiro, you would have never guessed that this serene area has been changed by an eruption in 1888. Don't worry, this 1816 m giant is a dormant volcano now but its legacy remains in place and you can find a museum devoted to the changes that have happened since that faithful eruption in the area. Called Aizu-Fuji by some due to its unforgettable silhouette, Mt. Bandai is recommended for adventure seekers who are willing to spend around two hours on the least challenging trail to reach the top. Approach Mt Bandai from the Urabandai region behind the mountain, and you'll be treated to an entirely different silhouette of twin peaks straddling crater. Take a bus or order a taxi from one of the local train stations to reach Mt. Bandai and don't forget to check out the stunning local villages in Oku-Aizu!
Senjogahara Plateau Nature Trail, Tochigi
Leading from Lake Chuzenji to Yumoto Onsen, Senjogahara Marshland offers one of the best hiking trails in Nikko National Park. Located an hour bus ride away from Nikko it’s a must see for anyone in the area visiting Toshogu Shrine and staying overnight. The hike itself takes between two and a half to three hours to complete and it winds past the majestic Yudaki Waterfall. We especially recommend visiting in autumn when the vibrant autumnal colours take over the area enclosed by towering mountains. Experiencing this area's natural charm is not limited to the warmer months. Covered in snow during the winter, it's the perfect place to rent out some snowshoes for the winter wonderland experience!
Mt. Horai, Shiga
Time to relax with inimitable views of Japan’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Biwa! Half an hour from Kyoto station it's the perfect day escape from the busy streets and temples of Japan's cultural capital. At 1174m, Mt. Horai is not the highest peak but the route to the top is not one of the easiest hikes. Going up Mt. Horai you can expect a two and a half hour walk with striking views. Those with less hiking ambitions can take a ropeway to Biwako Valley, a resort located at 1100 m. The ropeway also happens to be the fastest in Japan! Biwako Valley prides itself on magnificent views and its facilities which include viewing terraces and cafes.
Ending our list we offer you a spiritual experience on Yashima - a flat topped mountain located a train ride away from Shikoku’s Takamatsu city, famous for its Sanuki udon noodles. At the heart of the mountain you can find Yashima temple which is the 84th temple on Shikoku’s 88 temple pilgrimage. Take the paved path up the mountain and join the pilgrims which often stop to dwell on this part of the route. The walk shouldn't take more than an hour and it's filled with small curiosities to sustain the pilgrim's spiritual journey. However, if you want to mainly focus on the sights, you can also take a bus to the top! Around the island you can find monuments to commemorate the 12th century Battle of Yashima which marked the devastating defeat of the Taira clan and Minamoto's victory. Yashima is the ideal viewing spot over Takamatsu and the glittering Seto Inland Sea, its flatness meaning you can really see it all!