Hiking in Japan: A Guide

Samuel Clennett

Japan’s beautiful mountains and broad network of national parks make for an exciting destination if you love to hike.

This guide will cover all you need to know about hiking trails in Japan, from short day trips from Tokyo, to more challenging multi day hikes which will test even the most seasoned adventurers.

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Hiking in Japan¹,²

Your experience of hiking in Japan can really be whatever you want it to be.

You can hit the trails from many major cities, combining high speed, high tech city life, with an altogether calmer look at some of the top hiking trails in Japan. Or, take on a bigger challenge. Multi day hikes in Japan could involve traditional pilgrim routes, or a chance to see the Japan Alps. There’s a huge variety of options, which change through the seasons - so you’re sure to find something which appeals no matter when your visit is planned.

Trails are typically well maintained, and a good network of mountain huts makes it possible to plan longer trips, even when travelling without a guide.

Best Hiking trails in Japan

Japan is a playground for hikers. To decide which destination and route will suit you best, you’ll need to do some research based on your personal preferences and the time of year you’re visiting. Here are a few top trails in Japan to consider.

  1. Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji is iconic. Easily reached by public transport from Tokyo, the trails can be busy during peak season, but sharing the experience of the climb is part of the fun³. It’s not a technically difficult climb, but there are dangers including altitude sickness and exposure, with ascents taking up to 7 or 8 hours.

  1. Kamikochi

In Japan’s Central Region, Kamikochi offers a range of hiking trails from single day strolls to challenging multi-day treks⁴. Make sure you use the trekking itinerary form to notify the authorities of your route, and so there’s a record if you run into trouble.

  1. Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Routes

There are various different routes to get to the Shrines at Kumano⁵. These pilgrimage routes have been active for centuries, and provide a perfect option for hikers looking for a spiritual experience.

  1. Harima Alps

Accessible year round from Osaka, Kyoto or Sanomiya, this trail is not too challenging, but should be avoided in wet weather. Take this route for views of Osaka and Kobe, as well as fabulous rock formations and wildlife including wild boar⁶.

  1. Mount Takao

If you want a different experience of hiking near Tokyo, try Mount Takao⁷. The main trail takes only about 90 minutes to reach the top of the mountain, but you’ll be rewarded with great views, especially in cherry blossom season and during the Autumn.

  1. Magome - Tsumago trail

This relatively short route in the Kiso Valley joins two restored historic post towns, and is a great place to visit to experience feudal era Japan. Visit during the various annual festivals for a really special trip⁸.

  1. Shikoku Henro trail

This pilgrimage route is 1,200km long in total, with temples and sacred sites throughout. Taking any section of this route will be a spiritual experience - allow around 6 weeks - and a significant budget - to cover the entire route⁹.

  1. Senjojiki Cirque

Senjojiki Cirque is a striking semicircular ring of mountains cut by ancient glaciers. This natural phenomenon, accessible from Komagane City in Nagano is a popular tourist destination. You can hike a couple of simple routes, or take the ropeway - or even ski the slopes in season¹⁰.

Guided tours

There are so many hiking routes to consider, you may decide to make it easier and opt for a guided tour which will do the planning and organising for you.

Walk Japan is a well established tour provider, offering a range of multi-day tours around the country¹¹. Try the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage on a 9 day walk, for a price of around JPY388,000¹². Or take a look at Inside Japan Tours for a range of hiking options from easy terrain to the more challenging¹³.

There are also many specialist guided tours which focus on a specific aspect of the natural scenery, history or culture - invest some time in research to find the perfect one for you.

Things to watch out for when hiking in Japan

On many levels hiking in Japan is fairly safe, simple and easy. Trails are extensive and well maintained, and the network of mountain huts and support services can increase convenience even with more challenging routes.

However, don’t get complacent, even with this sense of safety and order. Hiking anywhere can come with risks. Here are some things to think about¹⁴:

  • Make sure you have the right supplies for your trip - you may not be able to buy water on remote routes
  • When hiking Mount Fuji a lack of oxygen at higher levels, as well as sun exposure during day time hikes, can be a challenge. Night hikes are also risky due to the darkness. Be prepared, and take the right equipment for your trip
  • Weather can be changeable and extreme, especially on higher routes. Don’t attempt anything which is beyond your abilities
  • Some routes require hikers to complete an itinerary document so their route is known to authorities - check the details for your location
  • Stay on the trails - Japan has active volcanoes which can cause dangerous gases, and should be avoided
  • Be wary around animals - you might encounter monkeys, bears, wild boar or foxes. Do not feed them

A hiking trip in Japan will be a great adventure - whether you’re headed off on a gentle stroll to see the cherry blossom, or tackling a multi-day trek in the mountains. Don’t forget to arrange your Transferwise account and multi-currency Mastercard, to keep your costs down while you explore.

Sources:

  1. Guide to Japan
  2. Travel Japan - Hiking
  3. Climbing Mount Fuji
  4. Trekking to Kamikochi
  5. Kumano Kodo Guide
  6. Harima Alps Guide
  7. Mount Takao Guide
  8. Magome Tsumago Guide
  9. Shikoku Henro Guide
  10. Senjojiki Cirque Guide
  11. Walking in Japan
  12. Tour of Kumano Kodo
  13. Walking and Hiking in Japan
  14. How to Hike in Japan

All sources accurate as of 18 February 2020


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