Hiking in Japan
By Martha Hales
Japan has a wealth of natural beauty just begging to be explored, and what better way to see it up close than on foot. Travelling through fairy-tale glades, dense forests and ancient villages you get to see Japan in detail, pausing to absorb the lovely views or the microcosms of local life along the way. Many of Japan’s most celebrated hiking trails started out as trade routes or pilgrimages, so they are infused with centuries of history and packed with interesting things to see - shrines, timeworn villages, waterfalls, farms, tea houses...
Japan is blessed with some fantastic scenery, and our local experts know the best stretches of the finest trails to get you right in amongst those stunning landscapes. Here’s a sample of some of Japan’s most memorable hikes to inspire you.
The centrepiece of Japan’s heritage hiking network is the ancient and beautiful Nakasendo Trail, the original trade route joining Tokyo and Kyoto, which were the two most important cities during the era of the Shoguns. Staging posts were built to serve the samurai, aristocracy and merchants who travelled this region, and today these have expanded into the characterful towns and villages which punctuate the route today.
One of the most scenic stretches of the Nakasendo Trail is the central section which traverses the Kiso valley, weaving through charming old villages of clustered timber buildings overlooking quaint cobbled lanes. Between the villages you can expect the trail to lead you through woodland glades and verdant meadows, with lovely views opening up at various points along the way.
One of the great things about the Nakasendo Trail is that there are numerous joining and departing points so our experts can work with you to create a hike that suits you and fits with the rest of your itinerary. Highlights include the well preserved villages of Magome, Tsumago and Narai, authentic and charming ryokan accommodation, and plenty of ‘onsen’ hot springs for a soak at the end of a day’s hiking.
If you like the sound of this, take a look at our local expert's Nakasendo Trail itinerary.
The Kumano Kodo Trail
Deep in the forested hills of the Kii Peninsula, a clutch of important shrines are hidden among the folds of the hills. These grand shrines of Kumano have long been the objective of pilgrimages - in fact there is evidence that the earliest of the various pilgrimage routes in the area date back more than 1,000 years. Monks would arrive from far afield in search of enlightenment through the beauty and wonder of nature, and in time shrines were erected along the route leading to the Mount Koya temple which crowns the route. (See day 10 of our Shoguns and Samurai itinerary)
Major attractions of this route include the wonderful landscape, the engineering of the route itself which has endured for centuries, and the mystical small shrines which peek from the foliage giving the whole trail the air of a fairy-tale.
Traversing the wooded slopes of the Kii Peninsula isn’t a simple amble, there are undulations to tackle and some sections have steps to negotiate, but the enchanting surroundings include waterfalls, meadows, occasional ocean views and many local pilgrims - all of which can spur you on to your destination.
This treasured pocket of natural splendour is within easy reach of Tokyo so a visit is simple to include in many itineraries. The primary appeal of the national park is its beauty - at its heart lies the tranquil Lake Ashi, surrounded by dense woodlands that are a spectacular sight when the leaves are changing colour in autumn.
Many visitors also make the trip to Hakone because of the views. Picture the iconic snow capped cone of Mount Fuji reflected in the cool blue lake, or framed by autumn foliage or even cherry blossom: these are the defining images of Japan which grace a thousand brochures, and you can see them for real when you visit Hakone.
Hiking in Hakone is a joy, not least because of the well organised infrastructure - buses, trains, boats and ropeways are all included in the Hakone Pass so getting to and from trailheads is a breeze. One of the most popular hikes in the Hakone National Park is the Mount Kintoki trail. To tackle the 1,212 metre peak of Mount Kintoki there are a few different routes, mostly fairly steep but with plenty of interest along the way and well worth it when you reach the top, from where the views are incredible. Mornings during autumn and winter are most likely to be clear enough to see Mount Fuji and the sparkling Lake Ashi in the distance.
If you like the sound of Hakone National Park, take a look at our Beyond the Golden Route itinerary to see how it could be incorporated into a trip.
Make it happen
Imagine weaving your way through some of Japan’s most evocative landscapes and seeing some of its most iconic views first hand. Our local experts can create the perfect itinerary for you based on your priorities and pace. They can arrange long distance, multi-day hikes or incorporate some scenic day walks into a sightseeing itinerary as you wish. Local knowledge makes a world of difference, so get in touch with our partners in Japan to find out more. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.