Japan is often known by travelers for its city destinations, but there are plenty of chances to explore the country’s natural side too. With mountains, forests and waterfalls to explore, hiking is a surprisingly popular pastime across the islands of Japan.
What’s great is that you don’t necessarily have to be in the middle of nowhere to find excellent Japan hiking trails. Even with a day trip from major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, you can enjoy some terrific hikes and take a break from the urban jungles.
This quick guide we’ve put together takes you through hikes close to these big cities as well as highlighting a few more remote ones. Best of all, each of these hikes are easily accessible when taking the train with your Japan Rail Pass.
Great Hikes Around Tokyo
When it comes to Japan hikes, there should be little doubt that Mount Fuji is going to come into the conversation. One of Japan’s most iconic landmarks and the nation’s tallest mountain, Mount Fuji is a natural candidate for trekking.
Climbing Mt. Fuji is only possible during the official climbing season, with each trail having its own dates, that change one year from the next. Typically, the season runs from mid-July to mid-September, which are the summer months when there is minimal snow. With such a small window to climb, it’s no surprise then that the trails that cross this Japanese icon are very busy.
Depending on which station you start at, climbing to the summit of Mount Fuji can take from 4 to 10 hours and take another 3 to 6 hours to get back down. With such a long climb, many people spend 2 days hiking and plan their time at the summit for around sunrise. As for difficulty, the main challenge to hiking Mount Fuji is the change in altitude, and maybe occasionally the steepness.
Considerable closer than Mount Fuji and with trails for every level of ability, Mount Takao is an ideal hiking destination. That it also happens to be home to some ancient temples and be a popular tourist destination kind of seals it. Worth knowing is that Mount Takao can get quite busy during autumn as locals and tourists alike flock to see the leaves change colour.
With multiple trails to choose from, you can spend as much or as little time as you like hiking at Mount Takao. Paths like the Omotesando Trail and the Biwa Waterfall Trail are either paved or well maintained and are perfect for a gentle stroll. Then there are the tougher ones that take you right up the mountain to the observation deck at the mountain summit. Even if you’re puffed at the top, you’re bound to appreciate the views up there.
For detailed information on how to get to Mount Takao from Tokyo, make sure to take a look here.
Various Hikes Around Kyoto
Overlooking one of Kyoto’s most famous attractions, the torii gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha, lies Mount Inari. Lying just outside the centre of Kyoto, you’ll find gentle hiking trails that take you to the top of Mount Inari, otherwise known as Inariyama. The good news is that, if you love the look of the torii gates, they can be found right the way up the hike.
To hike Mount Inari, first walk into the Fushimi Inari Taisha park from Inari station. It’s then just a matter of heading west along the Fushimi Inari Trail to the summit. There and back only takes an hour or maybe 90 minutes depending on how gentle you take it. For a longer hike, you can include the pilgrimage circle between the shrines around the mountain’s summit as well.
Of the mountains that surround Kyoto, the highest is Mount Atago, which just so happens to be another great place to hike. With an elevation of 942 metres, Mount Atago also happens to be home to wildlife and an important religious site. This is because at the top of the mountain lies Atago Shrine, which dates from the 8th century.
To start this Kyoto hike, catch the train to Saga-Arashiyama Station and once there, make your way for the village of Kiyotaki. By the river you’ll find the Kiyotaki-Hozukyō Trailhead and you’re on your way for a walk lasting between 3-5 hours up to the top of Mount Atago and back. Along the way you’ll pass several shrines and gates, and maybe even some small deer.
Hikes Around Osaka and Kansai
Already a popular day trip from Osaka or Kyoto, you can also go for a nice hike when you visit Nara Park. Situated in the ancient capital of Nara, tourists flock to this park for its shrines and the deer that wander between them. Up above this all though lies Mt Wakakusa, a grassy mountain at 342 metres high.
From the Mizuya Shrine in the main part of Nara Park, the Kasuga Mountain Trail makes its way up through the forest for 4.5km to the top of Mt. Wakakusa. Rest assured, the path is well signposted and properly looked after so that you can have a comfortable, stress-free walk to the top. Along the way, you’ll be taken through verdant, ancient forest before reaching the grassy summit. At the top expect plenty more deer as you admire the great views over Nara.
Not all hikes around Osaka are a walk in the park though. A great example of a challenging hike is the climb up Mount Rokko. Lying roughly half way to the city of Kobe, the hike to the ridge summit of Mount Rokko can take between 4 and 5 hours, one way. At times you’ll be relying on chains and ropes to help you pass rocky sections, but in the end, you’ll be able to say you did it.
To start your hike, get the train to Ashiya Station and follow the river upstream past Ashiyagawa Station. After a kilometre you’ll reach a temple where the real trail begins. As you head up the terrain will continue to change, from rocks to forest to open rolling hills. The good thing is that there’s plenty to look at with views of Kobe and even a chance to spot wild hogs and mountain cats along the way. To get back down to civilization, it may be worth taking the Rokko Cable Car down from the Tenran Observatory if you’re tired or short on time.
Other Hikes Around Japan
Of course, there’s much more to Japan that just Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Throughout the Japanese countryside you have your pick of rural and mountainous destinations for this eco-friendly activity, such as:
Well before cars came to Japan, there were ancient roads that crossed the country. One such road is the Nakasendo Way that linked up old post towns between Kyoto and Tokyo. Today the way is a popular hiking route that gives travellers the opportunity to see yet another side of Japan.
Along the way there are lots of delightful traditional towns such as Magome and Tsumago, with the trail between the two one of the most popular stretches to hike. For hiking the Nakasendo Way, it’s best to stay in a post town like these two and go out hiking along trails during the day. Following stone paths through fields, bamboo forest and historic towns, this is one beautiful corner of Japan.
Deep in the mountains above the city of Nikko lies the beautifully wild mountain country of Okunikko. As part of the Nikko National Park, this area is home to many hiking trails that weave their way through the mountainous terrain. Hiking these trails, you’ll be treated to sights like Lake Chuzenji, waterfalls and in autumn, bold fall foliage.
One of the more popular parts of Okunikko to hike through is Senjogahara Marshland. Along its raised walkways, you get to admire the surrounding mountainous scenery and hopefully some local wildlife. There are also trails up to Mount Nantai and Mount Hangetsuyama where you’ll find unparalleled views.
Now, while visiting the city of Nikko as a day trip from Tokyo is a long day but doable, the same can’t be said for Okunikko.
Before Stepping onto Japan Hiking Trails
No matter where in the world you’re hiking it pays to be prepared before you set out. Being ready for hiking in Japan will include some general steps but also a couple that are specific to Japan, like:
-Always ensure you’re wearing the right gear for the terrain and climate that you’re hiking in. Whether that means jackets for cold weather or hiking boots for rough terrain, dress for your environment.
-Know train timetables in advance so that you don’t miss the last JR train home and find yourself forced to shell out more money to get home.
-Write down the characters of the destinations you plan on visiting so that you can decipher trail signs if need be.