Japan is an island chain born of volcanic activity. Mountain ranges stretch the entire archipelago, and provide some of the most breathtaking experiences and views of Japan, in addition to being a classic setting for Japan’s old legends and stories. Mt. Fuji is, of course, the highest and most famous landmark in the center of the main island of Honshu, and is itself an active volcano. Even today, there are rumors of an oncoming eruption, although experts are not able to verify one in the immediate future.
The Suzuka mountain range spans the prefecture where I call home, Mie. On either side of it, you will find the prefectures of Shiga, Nara, Kyoto, Wakayama, Gifu and Aichi. The abundant rainfall provides the surrounding towns and their rich tradition of agriculture with plenty of water in the forms of rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and wetlands, as the water from the snow- and rainfall finds its way to the nearby sea, the Pacific on one side, the Sea of Japan on the other. In Shiga Prefecture, the mountain streams feed Japan’s largest lake, Lake Biwa, visible from Mt. Gozaisho (in Mie prefecture), the highest peak in the Suzuka mountain range.
The rivers carve through the mountain valleys feeding numerous hot springs that attract visitors from all over Japan, who soak in bathhouses in the winter and dip in the cool streams in the hot summer months. The mountain range also provides epic mountaineering opportunity, and Japan has experienced a boom in mountaineering culture in recent years. Thanks to the rainfall, the forests en route to the summits of these mountains are lush and verdant, rich with wildlife: deer, monkeys, bears, snakes, birds, many small mammals (such as the legendary foxes and raccoon-dogs) and a unique species of native mountain goat known as the kamoshika. An age-old tradition of hikers is to wear a bell in order to warn the local wildlife of your approach.
The winter months provide many opportunities for skiing and snowboarding adventures, although, as in any country, backcountry ventures are strongly cautioned against. The warmer months are the most ideal, especially during the summer, when the weather in lower elevations is hot and humid. The weather over this island chain changes very quickly, however, so it’s always best to begin your hike in the early morning, while the weather is calm and stable. Be sure to pack some layers in the event that the weather takes a turn for the worse.
In the best conditions, you will find breathtaking views high above and past Japan’s bustling cities, green tea fields, out to the deep, blue ocean. Happy hiking!