Japan has a reputation as a bustling urban sprawl, however, this is far from the truth. Although Japan is home to the most populated city in the world, Tokyo, it is 70% mountainous. Hiking has had a real surge in popularity over the past few years in Japan from young people of high school age to the retired all tackling the mountain trails. This means that it is now much easier to hike through Japan. There are now trains and buses to take you to the start of trails and mountain huts along many popular routes to break up the journey. If you aren’t sure about routes then go to the tourist information centre available at most train stations, they will probably have leaflets or can give you information on hiking. The best time of the year to tackle hiking is usually from August to November. Before August many trails will either be covered in snow or you will be washed out by the summer rains. As Japan has so many mountains it can be tricky to choose one, here are some of the best to climb.
The iconic peak is synonymous with Japan and has captured the hearts of many worldwide. Mount Fuji is the tallest peak in Japan standing at 3,776 metres tall. Mount Fuji is only officially opened for climbing for two months of the year, July and August, this is because the conditions on the top can be rather dangerous at other times of the year. Due to this season the mountain huts available along the way are only open during these months and into September. However the 5th station shops and hotels do open at other times, so you can make it half way up and still have a hot drink. The most popular way to climb Fuji is to hike up to one of the higher huts, sleep for a few hours and then finish hiking in the early hours of the morning in order to see the sun rise from the peak, which is truly stunning. Of course, you can climb however you want, but make sure to book a hut in advance as Fuji is climbing by thousands of people during each climbing season. Mount Fuji can be a difficult climb, due to the altitude and slope on the path, so please make sure you have suitable gear with you when you attempt this climb.
For an easy climb just outside Tokyo, Mount Takao is a perfect break from city life. From Shinjuku Mount Takao is only a 50-minute train ride, setting you back only 390 Y. Mount Takao offers stunning views from the top, if you are lucky you may even spot Mount Fuji. There are also shrines and temples on the trails to enjoy. If you aren’t confident in your hiking skills or tire easily, you can get a chair lift or cable car halfway up the mountain. There are a number of trail options to choose from, the most popular is trail one which takes 90 minutes and goes past the main attractions. Trail one is paved so is a gentle trek but can be rather crowded, especially on the weekends. The temple on Mount Takao is to the tengu for good fortune. There is also a monkey park on trail number 1 which is home to some Japanese macaques. This trail is good for all of the seasons, although check how the snow is in winter before attempting to climb. You can also catch the sakura season a little after the trees in Tokyo have lost their petals.
Mount Tanigawa lies on the border between Gunma and Niigata Prefectures. During the winter the peak of Tanigawa lies under snow, whilst in Autumn the mountain comes alive in autumn colours. Tanigawa offers trails for both the experienced or novice hiker, so there is something for everyone. The season here runs from July to November, depending on when the snow melts and then starts to fall again. Much like Takao there is a ropeway which can save you 2.5 hours of hiking, leaving just a two-hour hike to the summit. When the mountain is not open for hiking it offers one of the longest ski seasons in mainland Japan from November to May. The view from the summit is breathtaking, showing the rugged peaks of the Japanese Alps. Do be careful on this mountain, if you are unsure about your ability or safety is it best to choose an easier mountain to climb, or simply utilise the ropeway and still get the views.