While Japan is best known for its futuristic technology and fast-paced way of life, it’s also home to some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. The country is covered with volcanic peaks, active volcanoes and sky-high mountains, many of which are significant religious and cultural pilgrim routes. There are tons of hiking opportunities that you can incorporate into your Japan vacation, varying across all difficulty levels. Generally speaking, the hiking routes are well-maintained and have signposts along the way, making for a much easier and more pleasant hiking experience. From scaling the epic Mount Fuji through to seeing hundreds of temples on Japan’s stunning Shikoku Island, here are the best places to go hiking in Japan.
1. Mount Takao, Tokyo
Mount Takao is just a short train ride from Tokyo. While it’s one of the easiest hikes in our roundup, the views are equally as incredible as some of the more challenging hikes. The mountain’s peak is 1,965 feet high and you’ll see incredible, panoramic views of the surrounding lush green forest. The hike can be done in an hour or so and takes an hour to descend. There’s also a cable car that you can hop on if you’re feeling a little tired. If the sky is clear, you might even catch a glimpse of the mighty Mount Fuji in the distance.
2. Mount Fuji, Shizuoka
Dominating the skyline, and just 60 miles from Tokyo, is the country’s iconic Mount Fuji. Mount Fuji is one of the country’s most sacred mountains and has been an important pilgrimage site for centuries. It’s not a hike for the faint-hearted, as it’s the country’s highest peak at 2.3 miles high and is a challenging hike that you’ll have to be well prepared for. The best time to tackle the hike is from July to September when summertime weather conditions mean it’s the safest time to scale the mountain. On average, it takes between five and seven hours to climb Mount Fuji, starting at the Subaru Fifth Station, and then three to five hours to descend.
3. Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route, Kii Hanto
The Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route takes between four to five days and runs across the Kii Hanto Peninsula, southwest of Kyoto. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage listed site and has been a pilgrim route for thousands of years. It was once a route that was reserved for emperors and samurai, however, today us mere mortals are permitted to pass. The route crosses almost two hundred miles and there are plenty of places to stay along the way. The scenery is spectacular and along the way, you’ll pass ancient bamboo forests, grand shrines, and traditional Japanese inns, or ryokans, where often you’ll often be provided with a traditional Japanese feast and can bathe in a communal hot spring after your meal.
Interested in ancient Japanese architecture? Check out Japan’s Top Castles and incorporate a few into your trip.
4. Shikoku Henro Pilgrimage, Shikoku Island
The epic Shikoku Henro Pilgrimage in Shikoku Island takes up to six weeks to complete — yes really! It crosses 685 miles (although you can just do a segment of the hike if you prefer) and you’ll pass almost one hundred temples along the way. If you can’t hack six weeks on the road, many people opt for a day hike or a week of walking, using buses and taxis to get to certain parts of the trail. You’ll pass through ancient forests and mountains on one of Japan’s most culturally important routes. The island is known to draw hikers looking for a spiritual journey.
5. Japan Alps, Honshu
The Japan Alps are one of the most breathtaking places to visit in the country. You can choose different peaks to hike, each of which has their own route to their summits. The Kamikochi Valley has the easiest hikes and some people also use the valley to stagger their trip to the higher ascents, such as Yarigatake or Hotakadake, both of which stand at almost 2 miles high. The best time to go hiking in the Japanese Alps is in fall when the leaves turn to orange and red and are a truly spectacular sight.
1. Bring a Bear Bell
Nearly every hiker in Japan will tell you to bring a bear bell. Black Asian bears and brown bears roam the country’s ancient woodlands and locals will tell you plenty of horror stories that will have you running to the nearest shop to buy a bell.
2. Stay in Lodges
If you’re doing overnight hikes, you’ll be happy to know that along most of the popular hiking trails there are plenty of lodges where you can stay, meaning you won’t have to pitch a tent. If you’re looking for a comfortable bed and a shower, these are the places for you. Some even have WiFi and offer hot meals.
3. Watch Out for the Japanese Giant Hornet
As with the bears, you have to keep your eyes peeled for the Japanese Giant Hornet, which, as its name describes, is an enormous, quite terrifying hornet. They are very protective of their nests, so be careful where you put your hands. Around 40 deaths per year in Japan are attributed to stings by these winged beasts.
4. Kanji Signs
Most of the main hikes are very well signposted, and often these signs are in kanji, which are Japanese written characters. If you can, learn a few of the symbols, or save some of the basics on your phone, so you can help decipher the signposts.
5. Pink Ribbons
Along some routes, helpful hikers have left bright pink ribbon tied to the trees to guide you on your way. The ribbon is mostly pink but sometimes you’ll see blue or white ribbons. It’s incredibly helpful when you’re walking through a dense forest.
6. Hay Fever Tablets
If you suffer from hay fever, be sure to bring a supply of tablets. Some of Japan’s trees and fauna are known to omit potent pollen particles that will leave you with streaming eyes.