Japan walking routes
OUR TOP TRAILS IN JAPAN
When it comes to hiking in Japan, most people immediately think Mount Fuji. But a bit like the exquisitely wrapped gifts that Japanese love to offer, there are layers and layers of beauty just waiting to be unwrapped. In fact, mountains, forests and national parks cover 70 percent of the country, many of them bedecked with ancient trails. Follow in the footsteps of Samurai on the Nakasendo Trail or pilgrims on the more southern and spiritual, shrine-bedecked Kumano Kodo Trail. The former a 17th century historic byway from Kyoto to Edo, now Tokyo, and the latter an ancient pilgrimage route through the richly forested Kii Mountains. They both feel uniquely unchanged by time.
The Japanese have a long history of mountain worship, and the three sacred peaks of Mt. Gassan, Mt. Haguro and Mt. Yudono, are collectively known as the Dewa Sanzan. Located in central Yamagata, try and come in summer when all three are accessible. Haguro has a stunning pagoda at the top, and the other two have obligatory shrines. But all are special places.
Kumano Kodo Trail
Located on the Kii-peninsula, this 258km route covers the Heian period (794-1185) pilgrimage trail linking three Kumano shrines. At this time emperors and aristocrats sought spiritual solace in nature and mountains, as pilgrims still do today. With temples and omnipresent Oji-shrines tucked into bamboo forests, mountain valleys and villages en route, it’s both ethereal and exquisite no matter which section you explore.
A symmetrical volcanic cone, dusted with snow, it lies at the heart of Fuji-Hakone-Izu NP, easily accessible from Tokyo. Believed to be a sacred place, Japanese flock to its heights, and the 1000 year old Murayama Sengen Jinja temple, just before the 5th level of the climb. Although the Fuji Gen temple in the foothills is enough elevation for many. Summiting at sunrise from Honhachigome is the thing to do.
Mount Yarigatake (Yari)
Sometimes called the Matterhorn of Japan, this iconic 3,180m peak is in the Hida Mountains. Located in the Ch?bu-Sangaku National Park, the name means spear, due to its sharp pointed shape – you’ll make the final ascent using ladders attached to the mountain. Hikers usually spend a night in Yarigatake Mountain Hut, with hot springs waiting at the end of the trek at Kamikochi.
Nakasendo Walking Trail
Over 500km long, it was established in 8th century to link Kyoto and Edo (now Tokyo) so that feudal lords could journey through mountainous terrain, building an empire in the process. There are still 69 ‘post towns’ en route, where you can stay in traditional ryokan inns, bathe in thermal springs, and bask in mountain magnificence. Most vacations cover small, easy sections, linking them with train journeys.
Nikko National Park
Just 125 km from Tokyo, it is very popular for escaping cosmopolitan crowds. The gateway town is World Heritage site Nikko, a must visit en route to the mountains. It is a sacred place for Japanese because of the Tosho-gu shrines - resting place of the Tokugawa shoguns. Hikes up to the Senjogahara Plateau, around Lake Chuzenji, across the Oze Marshlands or to the summit of Mt. Nakimushi are all highlights.
Japan walking vacations travel advice
TIPS FROM OUR FRIENDS IN JAPAN
Jeremy Spencer from, Oku Japan, our leading supplier in walking vacations in Japan shares his travel advice:
“Take cash, as the Japanese banking system is actually a little behind. The post office ATM’s do work with overseas cards, which is great. I got cash out from a remote spot on the Kumano Kodo trail, which is bonkers!”
“Bring earplugs. Because if you are staying in a traditional Japanese accommodation, it could be that your room is only separated from the neighbouring room by sliding screens”.
“Japanese society is based on very rigid codes of behaviour which deliver huge advantages to visitors. So, no one is going to pick your pockets, no taxi driver is going to take advantage of you. So it is a fine line between visitors appreciating the orderliness of everything, but also tolerating this when it goes overboard.”
Japan walking vacations travel advice
TIPS FROM OUR TRAVELLERS
At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travelers are often... other travelers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.
We have selected some of the most useful Japan travel tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your vacation - and the space inside your suitcase.
“The most memorable part of the vacation was walking through remote woods and forests on the Nakasendo trail and coming across ancient shrines and stonework commemorating centuries old samurai battles”
– Liz Bashford
“The welcome, onsen bath surroundings were great and the cuisine though vegetarian was superb”.
- Gill Berry on our Self-guided Walking Vacation, Nakasendo Trail
“Make sure you take every opportunity to walk. The two long walks are both, for different reasons, outstanding experiences. They're not talked up in the notes nearly as well as they should be.“
- David McRae on our Self-guided Walking Vacation, Nakasendo Trail