Hiking Japan — An Overview

This post is meant to be an overview for people who are interested in seeing a bit more of nature while travelling Japan, whether it is sightseeing at the top of a mountain or an all-day hike. Whether it’s taking a day out of the cities and visiting the Japanese countryside, planning natural sightseeing when staying in mountain towns, or making a whole trip out of the trekking rural Japan, there’s something for everyone. Hiking in Japan is quite accessible thanks to public transit, sightseeing buses, and rides to mountain tops.

tokyo mt otake mt fuji
View of Mount Fuji from Mount Odake (a day trip from Tokyo) — Photo by Athena Lam

“Hiking” in Japanese is 登山, which roughly means to go up a mountain. How easy or difficult that process is depends on whether the said “mountain” is a hill or Mount Fuji. You could be in for a flat scenic loop at a summit, a multi-day trek with camping in mountain huts, or day treks through Southern Kyushu jungles or the Japanese Alps still encased in spring snow. From vending machines and a pristine toilet on a mountain to no signage or railings for a sheer summit cliff, hiking in Japan has something for everyone.

This post has:

  • Overview of what famous Japanese mountains have
  • Example of getting to and from a mountain
  • Hikes I’ve done

Overview of what famous Japanese mountains have

6698 Mount Yahiko Sunset 弥彦山 夕方
Sunset on top of Mount Yahiko, Niigata Prefecture, around the gondola station — Photo by Athena Lam

While Japan has more natural or wild pathways, most popular travel destinations, including the alpine ones, are designed to be convenient for non-driving city Japanese visitors.

“Famous” mountains can be places known for their natural beauty, such as the 100 Famous Mountains of Japan, which is a list made by one person that has become a “definitive list” after being popularised on NHK and other national media. In addition to being scenic, many mountains have long associations with human history, whether they are the iconic Mount Fuji, or a regional sacred ground like Mount Mitake and Mount Takao, which are both good day hikes from Tokyo.

You don’t need to rent a car just to go hiking, or to just see the view from the top if hiking isn’t your thing. The more famous the mountain as a sightseeing destination (and usually if it has cultural or historical sights at the top), the more amenities it has. Mountains can have any or all of the following: The sections below will repeat information because I’m assuming that people are skimming for different things.

Getting there:

Takao Station tokyo-7259
Train coming in to Takao Station for day-hikers from Tokyo — Photo by Athena Lam
  • A direct bus / shuttle routes from major cities like Tokyo to the trailhead (i.e. Tokyo > Mount Fuji during summer)
  • A gondola / ropeway / tram up to the top
  • Note many mountains only have shuttles in the summer

*Note on wheelchair accessibility: Many sightseeing mountains are senior friendly with the direct buses and gondolas. Some mountains may be wheelchair accessible. Trains, train stations, and public buses (not coach buses) are generally wheelchair accessible. The gondolas may not be because there usually are escalators or stairs to the platform where one gets onto the gondola. Some mountains also have direct car access routes. I’d recommend asking your guide or hotel to phone the ropeway (gondola).

Food / Ammenities:

joju shrine ishizuchi hinodeya ryokan food
Hot meals at ryokans a short walk from Mount Ishizuchi’s gondola. More popular mountains have English menus — Photo by Athena Lam
  • Basecamp area with restaurants and souvenir shops (if a popular /famous mountain)
  • Peak area with restaurants and souvenir shops (if a popular /famous mountain)
  • Ryokan (lodgings) and onsen near basecamp or at the top of the mountain

Sights:

Koyasan Koyo Fall Leaves Maples
Koyasan is a mountain town that would take a whole day to explore and has many quiet mountain trails — Photo by Athena Lam
  • Benches, springs, rest huts, toilets, vending machines on popular trails (basecamp, trailhead, summit)
  • Viewing platforms or towers

Routes:

mount ishizuchi hiking map
A general idea of all the routes you can take up to the peak of Mount Ishizuchi (popular routes have English). — Photo by Athena Lam
  • Multiple walking routes up with various difficulty levels
  • Scenic walking loop at the top (usually if there’s a gondola/transport)

Example of getting to and from a mountain

hiking tokyo
Shrine on top of Mount Takao can be accessed by gondola — Photo by Athena Lam

So, the first thing to do is to get out of the city to a mountain. From Tokyo, two mountains make a great dayhike: Mount Mitake and Mount Takao. Both require a train, then a bus, and maybe a gondola ride if you’d rather explore the shrines and trails at the top.

Other popular mountains may include Mount Koya, which is a historical mountain town rather than a hiking destination, or an entire alpine region like Nikko and Kamikochi, where you can spend a weekend and do various outdoor activities. Look up the following to find your route to the mountain:

  • Google search tourism guides to a place (i.e. Nikko area, or Mount Takao)
  • Google search for a “shuttle bus” or “coach bus” to your mountain destination
  • Google Map Search search from your hotel to the destination (to get a quick idea of the closest train station)
  • Read descriptions to find out if there are is a “gondola”, “ropeway”, or “tramway” up the mountain if you want to just sightsee (or access the hiking routes at the top)
  • Note any “scenic bus” tours for an alpine area, such as Mount Tate in Toyama, because they drop off at trailheads
  • Note when mountains are open or when bus tours are in operation. For popular places close to Tokyo and Kyoto, they may be year round, but in rural places, they are often only running in summer.

A typical public transit route for a day trip:

shikoku henro nojuku 四国お遍路 野宿 伊予西条駅
Bus Stop outside JR Iyo Saijo Station for Mount Ishizuchi hikers — Photo by Athena Lam
  1. Take the train from Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, or another city
  2. Take a bus from the train station to the gondola / tramway station
  3. Take the tram to the top of the mountain
  4. Stroll around the top of the mountain
  5. Return the same way you came. Pay special attention to the connecting bus & train times so you know when to leave because services may stop early in the evening

For day getaways from Tokyo (i.e. Mount Takao or Mount Odake), a quick Google Search will have many guides that teach you how to get there.

I focus on providing guides for mountains that don’t have much English information. They are usually more remote as well. To get a sense of how it would feel to get to a more rural place, you can check out my guide for Mount Ishizuchi (Ehime Prefecture, Shikoku) or Mount Haguro, Gassan, and Mount Yudono known as the Dewa Sanzan (Yamagata Prefecture).

Hikes I’ve done:

石鎚山 天狗岳 西条市
My favourite hike was along the summit wall of Mount Ishizuchi to Tengudake on Shikoku (advanced) — Photo by Athena Lam

Shikoku (mostly from the Ohenro, Shikoku Pilgrimage)

Honshu (Main Island)

Kyushu

You can also check out my Japanese Mountains: A Convenient Must-Do to get a sense of how hiking a mountain would feel like.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s