Mountaineering in Japan: 8 of the perfect mountaineering trails


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A incontrovertible fact that surprises folks about Japan? Over 70% of the nation is roofed in mountains. And although mountaineering isn’t essentially the primary pastime that springs to thoughts for most individuals when planning a Japan vacation, between the dramatically various landscapes, distinctive Japanese twists (bear bells, merchandising machines in unlikely locations and sizzling spring baths), mountaineering in Japan is an unmissable deal with for anybody who likes to journey on their very own two ft. 

To have fun the launch of our brand-new Strolling the Nakasendo and Past small group tour – which is all about slowing down, savouring the second and seeing Japan’s spectacular surroundings up close on the likes of the Shin-Etsu Path and Nakasendo Manner – our workforce rounds up the perfect routes they’ve tried, and who/ what they’re nice for. 

For those who’re making an attempt to determine which of Japan’s well-known routes or spectacular landscapes to rove in your subsequent journey, that is for you! Seize a cup of tea and skim on for all eight of the highest hikes, or use the index under to leap to a particular hike that piques your curiosity…

Map of the best hiking trails in Japan

The Kumano Kodo
The Nakasendo and Kiso Valley
The Shin-Etsu Path
Mount Fuji
Mount Haguro
Choishi Michi

The Kumano Kodo  

The Nachi Taisha pagoda
The Nachi Taisha pagoda (Credit score: kazz zzak/PIXTA)

Overview: Observe within the footsteps of pilgrims who’ve been strolling the routes between sacred shrines for the reason that 10th century. 

Who’s it for? Individuals who wish to take within the non secular environment of a centuries-old pilgrimage route, and who wish to expertise the homely hospitality of small inns alongside the best way. 

Whilst you can go to the Three Grand Shrines by bus, the Kumano Kodo is finest skilled on foot. Most days you’ll hike round 13/14k m (6-8 hours) and a few sections are fairly steep, so a good commonplace of health is important. 

Key data: 

Minimal 3 nights, most 5 nights 

From Tokyo: 5 hours by prepare to Kii-Tanabe 

From Kyoto: 2 hours 40 minutes by prepare to Kii-Tanabe 

From Osaka: 2 hours 20 minutes by prepare to Kii-Tanabe 

“Again when I used to be dwelling in Japan in 2013, I noticed a photograph of the Nachi Taisha pagoda with the waterfall behind it. I used to be so struck with it that I made it my mission to go there at some point  and, after a number of years of eager about it, I lastly made it there on my Kumano Kodo hike in 2017.  

“I knew that I wouldn’t be upset once I lastly noticed the pagoda and waterfall with my very own two eyes, however what I wasn’t ready for was how a lot I’d love the whole lot main as much as it. Mountaineering by cool, sweet-smelling cedar forests; staying in a single day in an outdated, transformed college at Koguchi and consuming easy home-made meals with fellow hikers within the canteen; rolling into my futon at 8:30pm after soaking away the aches and pains introduced on by a day on my ft; glimpsing the ocean past the mountains from the viewpoints; plodding up the aptly named Dogiri-zaka (‘body-breaking hill’) on the ultimate day; treating myself to a beer and ice cream subsequent to the temple after I’d stumbled previous few steps to the end line. All of it mixed to make my eventual sighting of Nachi shrine, after all these years, 100% well worth the effort.” 

– Madeleine BromigeInsideJapan Bristol 

Hike the Kumano Kodo  

The Nakasendo and Kiso Valley 

The Nakasendo Way
Tsumago-Juku, a historic city on the Nakasendo Manner

Overview: Retrace the Edo interval shogun route, and keep at fantastically preserved historic postal cities alongside the best way. 

Who’s it for? Anybody wanting a style of what Japan was like when samurai roamed the land centuries in the past – and who take pleasure in strolling at a sluggish, unhurried tempo by lovely countryside (suppose: rice fields, small rural communities, forests, and historic villages).  

If you wish to embrace a hike in your first journey to Japan – however don’t wish to spend days and days on the trails – this is the one for you! 

Key data: 

Minimal 1 night time, most 2 nights (nevertheless it’s potential to do that hike as a day journey). 

From Tokyo: 4 hours by prepare and bus to Tsumago/Magome 

From Kyoto: 2 hours by prepare and bus to Tsumago/Magome 

For day-trippers: 50 minutes on the Restricted Categorical prepare and bus from Nagoya to Tsumago/Magome 

The Nakasendo is a superbly balanced mountaineering expertise. It’s not too lengthy, however not brief; not too onerous, however not simple; not too far, however far sufficient to expertise loads of gorgeous countryside. There’s historical past galore to discover in order for you – and lovely natural world alongside the size of the paths when you favor testing the nature and views.  

“The Nakasendo path is outlined by a sequence of picturesque ‘publish cities’ that span its size from Kyoto to Tokyo, and a few of these have been rigorously preserved – cobblestone streets, wood-fronted houses and all – permitting you to expertise Japan because it was. Stone paths lined with ferns wind between cedar tree trunks, waterfalls are surrounded by wild hydrangeas, and punctiliously pruned bushes rise from the entrance gardens of Japanese inns. It’s like nothing I’ve seen, besides in magazines like Nationwide Geographic.” 

– Van Milton, Insider Tour Chief 

Hike the Nakasendo and Kiso Valley 

The Shin-Etsu Path 

Incredible views along the Shin-Etsu Trail
Unimaginable views alongside the Shin-Etsu Path

Overview: The Shin-Etsu Path is without doubt one of the finest undiscovered long-distance mountaineering trails in Japan, stretching 70km alongside the mountainous border between Niigata and Nagano prefectures. It’s not simply in regards to the mountaineering, although – the spotlight of the Shin-Etsu path is staying in small sizzling spring cities alongside the best way, in little family-run inns the place a steaming sizzling spring tub, home-cooked kaiseki meal, and a snug futon await on the finish of the day. 

Who’s it for? For those who’re impartial and don’t wish to be surrounded by different hikers, you’ll love the Shin-Etsu Path, which doesn’t see the footfall of well-known routes just like the Kumano Kodo and the Nakasendo. For those who’re interested by studying in regards to the historical past, natural world of the world, then a information is a should!  

Return travellers to Japan who’ve hiked the Nakasendo and accomplished the Kumano Kodo will benefit from the distinction of the Shin-Etsu Path, however the route can also be nice for first-timers. 

Key data: 

Minimal 2 nights, most 5 nights 

From Tokyo: 1 hour 40 minutes by prepare to Iiyama 

From Kanazawa: 1 hour Quarter-hour by prepare to Iiyama 

“Once I walked the Shin-Etsu Path a number of years in the past, we kicked issues off with a hike up a dry ski run  and we had superior views from the get-go! Every part was actually diverse. Someday there have been rice paddies and marshlands, then we’d crest the hills and watch clouds financial institution by the forests under us; one other day we walked the forest flooring by dense beech with lush forest flooring development.  

“Part 5, the place the path goes alongside a ridgeline, was a private spotlight for me. I used to be struck by how wild and gnarly the trail is, dotted with tree stumps and fallen branches that make mountaineering (or scrambling) alongside the route a lot enjoyable. It was additionally essentially the most distant level on the hike, and a fantastic reminder that I used to be out in the midst of nature, utterly away from all of it.” 

– Dan Campbell, InsideJapan Brisbane 

Hike the Shin-Etsu Path 


View from top of Yarigatake
The view from the highest of Mount Yari

Overview: Kamikochi was nicknamed the ‘Alps of Japan’ by a British missionary within the mid-19th century – and while you go to, it’s simple to see why. With hovering 3,000-metre peaks surrounding the icy blue of the Azusa River, it’s a mountaineering paradise. 

Necessary to notice: Kamikochi is barely open from early Might to early November, because it will get lots of snow! The most effective time for autumn leaf viewing is between late September (at 2,000m altitude) and early October (at 1,500m, the altitude of the valley flooring). 

Who’s it for? These who crave dramatic surroundings! However you don’t need to climb up excessive to benefit from the views; even a pretty flat hike alongside the Azusa River is a nice strategy to benefit from the panorama. Extra adventurous hikers will benefit from the journey as much as Karasawa Cirque, the place you possibly can keep in a single day on the lodge earlier than both retracing your steps the subsequent day, or persevering with as much as the peaks of Mount Hotaka (the third-highest mountain in Japan). 

Key data: 

Minimal 1 night time, most 3 nights 

From Takayama: 1 hour half-hour by freeway bus 

From Matsumoto: 1 hour 40 minutes by prepare and bus

Each time I’m going again to Japan, I make time to go mountaineering in Kamikochi. There’s one thing in regards to the valley that feels nearly misplaced on this nation with a concrete fetish; one second you’re rubbing elbows with the crowds within the metropolis, and some hours later you’re strolling by your self amongst Kamikochi’s mild larch bushes.  

“There are effectively over 100 kilometres of mountaineering trails within the nationwide park, so regardless of how match you’re and the way lengthy you wish to keep, you’ll discover one thing to tickle your ft. At 3,180 metres, needle-like Mount Yari is the tallest child within the playpen. My favorite half? Sweeping views of the Alps round you. Mount Yari could be tackled in an bold two nights, or a snug three: put together to fall in love with the forest, azure river waters and dramatic ridge views from the highest of the mountain.” 

– Bruno Carrillo, InsideJapan Brisbane 

Hike Kamikochi 

  • See the mountain plateau of Kamikochi in peak autumn leaf viewing season on the Autumn Splendour self-guided journey. 

Mount Fuji 

Sunrise at the top of Mount Fuji
Dawn on the prime of Mount Fuji

Overview: There may be certainly no mountain in Japan extra iconic than towering Mount Fuji, which has been beloved, admired, and even worshipped by the Japanese folks for hundreds of years.   

Necessary to notice: Mount Fuji is barely open from early July to early September. The most effective time to go to is in late July, earlier than the summer time peak in August. From late August to early September, Mount Fuji could be affected by typhoons. 

Who’s it for? Those that need the satisfaction of getting climbed a world-famous mountain. The Mount Fuji climb gained’t win awards for scenic mountaineering – it’s a dormant volcano, in spite of everything – however the sense of accomplishment that comes from ascending to the very best level in Japan can’t be crushed! 

Key data:  

Minimal 1 night time. For those who climb Mount Fuji with InsideJapan, you’ll hike for six hours to the 8th station (80% of the best way up), keep in a single day, then rise up early for the ultimate ascent (one hour) to the summit to see the dawn. The hike again down takes round three hours. 

Mount Fuji has 4 trails, and we favor to make use of two of them: the simpler however fashionable Yoshida path that goes up the north aspect from Kawaguchiko, and the quieter however barely longer Subashiri path which is located on the east aspect and hyperlinks up with Hakone. 

The beginning of the Yoshida path is a 2-hour freeway bus experience from Tokyo, or a 55-minute bus experience from Kawaguchiko (which is a good base – get up within the morning, take within the good reflection of Mount Fuji within the lake, then head out to start out climbing it!).

The beginning of the Subashiri path requires two buses from Hakone, with a straightforward change at Gotemba Station. 

On my very first climb of Mount Fuji in 2015, the begin of the hike lulled me right into a false sense of safety. ‘This might be a breeze!’, I assumed as I walked the mild incline among the many bushes, with birdsong echoing across the forest. Inside an hour or so, nevertheless, each vegetation and the sound of wildlife had fallen away, leaving simply the naked volcanic panorama and the sound of my very own heavy respiration.   

“I stayed in a mountain hut on the 8th station to assist acclimatise my physique to the altitude. After a number of hours of sleep, I set out within the gloom of the early morning to achieve the summit earlier than dawn. Though the temperatures again at sea stage had been sometimes sizzling and steamy for summer time in Japan, once I arrived on the summit, the temperature was hovering simply above freezing. 

“As the primary rays of solar broke the horizon, a refrain of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ arose from my fellow intrepid climbers. Watching the golden gentle flood steadily throughout the panorama under was actually breathtaking  and made the jelly-like trembling of my legs seem to be a small value to pay for such a valuable second.”    

– Richard Farmer, Insider Tour Chief 

Hike Mount Fuji 

  • Be a part of our Basic Japan small group tour on one in all our July-early September departures, and also you’ll have the choice to climb Mount Fuji together with your Insider tour chief. 
  • Due to its proximity to Tokyo and Hakone, we will add a Mount Fuji hike to many tailormade journeys depart from July to early September. Get in contact to search out out extra. 


The view from the top of Tachudake
The view from the highest of Tachudake

Overview: For such a compact island, Yakushima has a startlingly extensive ecosystem, with thousand-year-old cedar bushes, a mountain vary, seashores, ocean sizzling springs, and luxurious waterfalls. Followers of Studio Ghibli will acknowledge Shiratani Unsuikyo forest on Yakushima because the inspiration behind the movie Princess Mononoke 

Who’s it for? If you wish to hike by primeval moss-covered forests, Yakushima is the place for you. Seasoned hikers would possibly wish to problem themselves to the 10-hour roundtrip hike to Japan’s oldest tree, Jomon Sugi, stated to be between 2,500 and seven,500 years outdated. 

Key data: 

Shiratani Unsuikyo (moss forest) hike: 4 hours spherical journey 

Jomon Sugi (Japan’s oldest tree) hike: 10 hours spherical journey 

It’s also possible to do shorter routes (1 hour-3 hours), relying in your health stage. 

From Kagoshima: 2 hours-2 hours 40 minutes by ferry/ 35 minutes by aircraft

“The hike to the height of Tachudake didn’t get off to the perfect begin – it was pouring with rain as we set off alongside concrete paths, steps and boardwalks by Yakusugi Land. Whereas Yakusugi Land is residence to a few of Yakushima’s oldest and most spectacular cedar bushes, the mild route didn’t actually seem to be the adventurous hike we had been searching for.  

“Nonetheless, after a short time there was an possibility to interrupt off from the crowds on the usual path and climb Tachudake. Regardless of my preliminary grumblings in regards to the climate, the rain ended up including slightly magic to proceedings, because it gave the traditional woodland a misty environment as we ascended. At instances the trail wasn’t clear – a whole distinction to Yakusugi Land under – however there have been occasional orange ribbons tied to branches to reassure us we had been going the correct means. After two and a half hours navigating the large forest, we reached the highest and had been rewarded with clear blue skies and among the best views I’ve ever seen in Japan. We had been surrounded by bushes, lakes, mountains and sea. There was nobody else round, making it the proper spot for my boyfriend to get on one knee and suggest! I stated sure.”  

– Matt Spiller, InsideJapan Bristol 

Hike Yakushima 

Mount Haguro 

The Goju-to pagoda at Mount Haguro
The Goju-to pagoda at Mount Haguro (Credit score: denkei/PIXTA)

Overview: Mount Haguro is without doubt one of the three Dewa Sanzan mountains, together with Mount Gassan and Mount Yudono. Collectively, they symbolize the cycle of life: beginning at Haguro, loss of life at Gassan, and rebirth at Yudono.  

Who’s it for? Those that wish to discover crucial web site of Shugendo, an ascetic faith of mountain worship. As you hike the two,446 stone steps to the summit, you would possibly move white-robed Yamabushi mountain clergymen on a pilgrimage. The fantastic thing about the hike is that you would be able to really feel the tranquil, non secular environment of the mountain. 

Key data: 

Stay in a single day at one of many shukubo pilgrim lodges on Mount Haguro.

From Tokyo: 4 hours by prepare 

The journey up Haguro-san is without doubt one of the most magical hikes I’ve ever accomplished. Although 2,250 stone steps run up the spine of this stroll within the woods, you’ll by no means discover the heaviness in your legs as you are taking within the misty environment of this mystical place.  

“Image this: historical, dense forest surrounds as you make your means up the mountain, previous raging waterfalls and extant shrines. You attain a clearing and there stands earlier than you the magnificent Goju-to, the area’s oldest five-storey wood pagoda, courting again to the yr 937. That is simply one of many wonderful sights ready for you at Haguro-san, essentially the most accessible of the Three Sacred Peaks.  

“The ascetic monks and pilgrims use their hike up Haguro-san as a strategy to expertise rebirth; you’ll perceive why when you’ve reached the highest.” 

– Brett Plotz, Insider Tour Chief 

Hike Mount Haguro 

Choishi Michi 

Mount Koya in autumn
Mount Koya in autumn (Credit score: prof255960/PIXTA)

Overview: For hundreds of years, the Choishi Michi was the principle method utilized by pilgrims to achieve Mount Koya. All the route is marked by historical stone signposts (choishi) each few hundred metres, counting all the way down to no 1 on the entrance to the temple. The hike is round 23 kilometres lengthy, however you don’t need to do the complete route; due to the trainline that leads much less adventurous people as much as Mount Koya, you will get off at one in all three stations to shorten the hike. 

Who’s it for? Individuals who love to do issues correctly! If you wish to get the complete Mount Koya expertise, hop off the prepare and hike as a substitute. For those who’re going onwards from Mount Koya to do the Kumano Kodo’ Kohechi Route, the Choishi Michi is a good warm-up for the multi-day hike awaiting you; and when you’re not persevering with to the Kumano Kodo, this hike provides you with a tantalising style of what it could be like to finish it in your subsequent journey to Japan. 

Key data: 

Full this hike en-route from Kyoto or Osaka to Mount Koya, the place we advisable staying in a single day in one of many shukubo temple lodges.

From Osaka: 1 hour Quarter-hour-1 hour half-hour by prepare 

From Kyoto: 2 hours 

The funniest factor about mountaineering the Choishi Michi is the gentle panic that spreads amongst your fellow travellers while you get off the prepare at tiny Kii-Hosokawa station. Everybody on that prepare goes to Mt Koya  however you’re disembarking? Ought to they be disembarking?! 

“The reply is a convincing sure. I felt like a correct adventurer because the happy (if shocked) station workers waved me off and I skipped by a small mountain village on the clearly marked, however completely empty, starting of the path. I spent the subsequent three hours mountaineering previous stone pilgrim markers by gorgeous forest in sensible autumnal sunshine, encountering solely two different hikers. They had been admiring the view and remarking, ‘Honto no nihon desu ne?’ (‘That is the true Japan, proper?’). It definitely was.” 

– Claire Brothers, InsideJapan Bristol 

Hike the Choishi Michi 

Bought the urge to select up your strolling poles and head out into the Japanese countryside on a visit within the not-too-distant futureGet in contact with one in all our Japan consultants to talk about your concepts. 

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