Japan: The Unexpected Hikers Paradise

By: Vincent Stokes

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Hiking is one of life's great pleasures. It's a wonderful form of exercise that puts your mind at ease. Hiking in Japan can be an especially fulfilling experience. The country's Haiku evoking geography offers hikers a special serenity. "The Land of the Rising Sun" is known for its capital, Tokyo, a city travelers associate with ultra-modern neons, but Japan's haunting rural vistas also make it a hiker's dream come true.


Begin your adventure at the great Mount Fuji, one of the natural wonders of the world. It's visited by thousands annually but is only open for hiking between July and September, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. During these months, Fuji is safe and snow-free. The weather's not extreme. It's good to keep in mind that crowds of local vacationers frequent Fuji during the month of August, so this may not be the best time to visit if you want to feel like the trails you're exploring belong all to you. Fuji is sometimes described as a rigorous climb. Hikers who want to reach its summit, will have to take a break midway. Many insist that it's most possible to behold Mount Fuji's magnificence when observing it from a distance, however.

Mount Chokai, an active volcano known to delight and mesmerize hikers who visit it from around the world annually, is another area that's ideal to explore on foot. It too has a certain unique tranquility to it. There are huts that provide shelter, tables where you can eat as you wander through its uniquely beautiful landscape. Of course, about 70 percent of Japan is made up of mountains, so it's truly a paradise for seasoned hikers who don't easily run out of steam.

Shikoku Henro

Shikoku is a small island between the Pacific and Seto Inland Sea. Organized tours are available to hikers interested in exploring its sacred spaces. Nothing complements the simplicity of walking like the Shikoku pilgrimage, a journey that takes you through wild lotus fields, 150-foot cedars and gnarled junipers that have been thriving in solitude for as long as a thousand years. Visit all 88 sacred temples where great Buddhist monks have trained. Revel in its sublime aura. You can even buy straw sandals and garments worn by those who walked the same trails in former centuries, in some of the small shops here. It's no surprise that the The New York Times included Shikoku Henro on a list of best places to go in 2015.


If you rent a car you can drive to Kumano, which is situated about 62 miles south of Osaka and is described as a place "that conveys a deep sense of mystery and awe.” It's the home of the Kumano Sanzan, Hongu Taisha, Nachi Taisha and Hayatama Taisha, which gives it its magic. There's more to hiking Kumano, however, than seeing these three shrines. Walking the trails that lead to them, in fact, is a form of worship. Hiking through this historic region is an epic undertaking. Kumano's landscape consists of sudden steep hills and stone steps that veer off the beaten path and require stamina to climb. Nakahechi, one of the most well-known of the Kumano trails commonly crossed by hikers, however, is considered the most easy terrain to travel wearing binoculars and a backpack. You have a choice of traditional style inns and guesthouses to stay in once you arrive here. Kumano travel is a division of the local Tourism Board is the best of source of information on how to plan a hiking trek to this UNESCO designated area. Be sure to obtain rental auto insurance before going, because driving to Kumano can take a bit of time.

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.