Hiking in Japan

Top of Mt. Bandai, Fukushima

Spring is coming. I feel myself starting to maybe almost begin to sort of thaw out and now I’m anxiously awaiting the beginning of hiking season!

I started hiking in college–I was in a really beautiful area full of super outdoorsy people and I caught the bug. There’s just something about challenging yourself in the serenity of the great outdoors that appeals to my adventurous side!

While most of my hiking experience in the States was in California, I have noticed some pretty big differences in the hikes I took back at home and all the ones I’ve done here. Here’s hoping these tips will prepare you for some of your own adventures!

Dress For The Occasion

Top of Mt. Fuji! August 2015
Top of Mt. Fuji, August 2015

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about Japan in general it’s a tendency to dress for any occasion, no holds barred. When it comes to hiking this means brightly colored trekking gear abounds–pants and shirts and shoes and backpacks and hats (usually each one in a different neon color) no matter the difficulty level or length of the hike.

I’ve watched people fully outfitted for multi-day backpacking on a hill to a shrine in Kyoto! In my tank top and exercise shorts, my Kumamon backpack and muddy trail runners, I’m often a source of amazement and wonder. Yes, I can really hike like this. No, I’m most definitely not cold.

On the flip-side, in America, baggy t-shirts, leggings, tennis shoes and just a bottle of water are pretty normal for a lot of day hikes. Being the over-packer I am I usually have my old school backpack with water, snacks, sunscreen and band-aids but I am in the minority.

Know the name of the mountain and trail head in kanji

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You’re supposed to know the names of locations in English right? When in Japan, you should probably go for the Japanese. Almost no signs on hiking trails other than Mt. Fuji have English anywhere. You can stare at those crossroads signs pointing in every direction all you want, but unless someone comes by that you can ask (if you know the names of the places), you’re gonna have to guess. Grab your phone (in my case a post-it) and make note of your mountain in kanji and your parking lot or train station in kanji. At the very least you can show it to someone and they can point.

Bring some cash

Saddle between the two peaks of Mt. Tsukuba, Ibaraki
In the saddle between the two peaks of Mt. Tsukuba, Ibaraki

The Japan Vending Machine World Domination Association (is this a thing? I feel like it should be a thing) hasn’t excluded mountaintops from their sights. Yes Japan is crowded and yes, people have been here for thousands of years, so even “remote” areas aren’t completely untouched by mankind. And it’s a cash country, so don’t expect them to take your plastic.

I know of a few mountains with restaurants on top, some have vending machines at major trail connections, and almost all at least have a shack somewhere that sells basic food, drinks, and souvenirs. The few without any of the above take some research to find and you will probably run across an emergency shelter or two.

I get a pin from every mountain I climb to stick on my “Japan 100 Famous Mountains” flag and I know a few people who buy their water on the mountain instead of hauling it up (do at your own risk).  Or maybe you’re just buying a round of Pocari Sweat for the group of hikers who are tickled pink to have a foreigner on the mountain and insisted on buying you lunch (people are just so cool!).

Be patient

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Waiting for the sunrise on Mt Fuji

Especially in May and June, the months leading up to the Fuji climbing season and the beginning of the warmer months, there can be a lot of people climbing certain mountains. A few, like Mt. Bandai in Fukushima, are known as good for preparing for Fuji and so you get a lot of very large groups. More than once in several areas we’ve run into groups of maybe 40-50 retirees climbing up a mountain for fun and some social time. And people wonder why the Japanese live so long!

Getting to mountains takes some of this virtue as well. Public transportation can be limited in some of the more remote areas or you can choose to go to the easily accessible places that proportionately have more crowds. Have I told you enough on this blog that I am obsessed with my car and recommend renting one for a jaunt in the countryside? Because I really really recommend getting a car and seeing some of the non-touristy countryside! That would also mean you can climb anywhere you want, huzzah! Is there a downside to this?

Fantastic views on Mt. Nokogiri, Chiba

the basic preparation and safety rules still apply

Know where you’re going (don’t be me!), let someone know where you’ll be, take a map, have adequate water and food and first aid, leave no trace, etc. etc. If you want a post specifically on hiking and what I always take with me I’d love to know and make that for you so let me know in the comments below!

Smile, practice your “konnichiwa,” and enjoy the atmosphere of a group of people coming together to revel in the wonders and peace of nature. Do you hike? What’s it like where you live? Let me know below, I’m curious!

Thanks for reading! Dream big, work hard, live well. ❤

WHERE I’VE HIKED (the Incomplete List from the Top of my Head!)

Mt. Tsukuba, Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture (It’s all stairs!) x3

Mt. Nasu, Tochigi Prefecture x2

Mt. Bandai, Fukushima Prefecture x2

Go-shiki-numa, Fukushima Prefecture (More of a really pretty walk! Autumn is gorgeous)

Mt. Nantai, Daigo Town, Ibaraki Prefecture

Mt. Inari, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture (Fushimi-Inari Torii Gate Path)

Unryu Keikoku Ice Falls, Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture (Went with Kanto Adventures group, can’t recommend enough!)

Mt. Oku-Shirane, Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture

Mt. Fuji x3

Mt. Nokogiri, Chiba Prefecture

Fukuroda Falls & Mt. Tsukiore, Daigo Town, Ibaraki Prefecture x…a lot, I did this hike a lot

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