Walking and trekking
It seems odd to think of Japan as a walking destination, given the amount of cultural lures the country offers the traveller. But in fact hiking is enormously popular here, and the country has produced some outstanding mountaineers (just take a look in the Everest log for Japanese names). It’s unsurprising given that some three quarters of the country is covered in mountains, either the forested gentle kind or the jagged, Andean kind. The relative lack of tourist interest in the walking trails of Japan (with one conular exception) make it one of the world’s most underrated destinations for the walker.
The best walking is to be had in the Central Alps, which stretch between northern Honshu and run down the middle of Hokkaido. The mountains of Japan are vastly less populated than much of the rest of the country, and as well as offering a glimpse into the seductive mountain culture of Japan, you’re unlikely to encounter a fraction of the tourists who make their way to here every year. The alps are split roughly into the ranges of the Hida Mountains the Kiso Mountains and the Akaishi Mountains, which include several peaks exceeding 3,000 m in height - the tallest in Japan after Mount Fuji. The highest are Hotakadake at 3,190 m (10,466 ft) in the Northern Alps and Kita-dake at 3,193 m in the Southern Alps (10,473 ft). Both are included in mountaineer Kyūya Fukada’s book 100 Famous Mountains in Japan, a work which has become essential reading for any aspirant mountaineer at large in Japan. Both can be climbed by competent mountaineers, Hotakadake from the base of Kurasawa, Kitadake from Hirogawara, which is a popular base for mountaineering and has a network of mountain huts nearby.
Without question the most famous mountain in Japan (and one of the most famous in the world) is the stunningly symmetrical Fuji, which is also the country’s highest. It is a very popular mountain to climb, of which 200,000 do every year. Sadly it isn’t what could be called a mountaineers mountain as it is somewhat developed, with eight routes to the top, many of them bus assisted for part of the way.
Nevertheless, the views are extraordinary, and the satisfaction of climbing such a weighty international icon (of significant height – 3,776m is considerably more than a pimple) makes a trip to its summit essential.
Elsewhere in Japan, there are walking areas considerably close to the apocalyptic urbanisations of Tokyo, which makes their tranquility all the more disarming. Nikko National Park is unspeakably gorgeous, located within mountainous landscapes coursed with lakes, waterfalls, hot springs, wild monkeys and walking trails. It is also home to Toshogu, Japan’s most famous shrine. Chichibu-Tama National Park is more overtly mountainous, located in the Chichibu range and home to Mt.
Mitsumine(1,103m), Okutama Gorge and Shosen-Kyo Gorge. The park is riddled with with forested peaks, ragged, sandstone mountains and lakes teeming with fish, and is readily accesible from Tokyo. Other areas of Japan which are ripe for exploration are the quiet, mountainous Gunma-Ken prefecture (region) and the prefectures of Kyoto, Shiga and Nara. As with much of Japan, the lower more verdant regions come alive with autumn colour – so for cooing walks through burning scenery, stay low at this time of year and enjoy Japan at it’s most vibrant.
As mentioned, most tourists don’t come to Japan for its walking, so when it comes to other diversions, you’re spoilt – something made all the more intoxicating by the relative peculiarities of Japanese culture. Cycling is very popular in Japan, and it is even possible to bike down Mount Fuji (though not recommended for amateurs as the mountain is superficially a pile of unstable ash). Walk in some of the more remote regions and you could end a walk with an onsen in one of the many hot springs in Japan (this is a ridiculously volcanic country, which means three things are a certainty: brilliant mountains, violent earthquakes and hot springs). For a list of onsen in Japan see links (below). Sticking with the watery theme, one of the most astonishing sights of Japan are the bathing snow monkeys – the macaques who don’t like the cold steaming in one of the onsen. This is one of the most iconic images of wildlife photography, and many people assume it is from somewhere arctic; but it isn’t, it’s from Japan. You can see them all over Japan, but your best bet is in Jigokudani, which worryingly means ‘Hell’s Valley’.
The Japanese culture is intoxicating to say the least, and essential experiences must be undertaken while you’re there. Temples, sumo tournaments, karaoke and sushi must all be experienced – as you never know when you might be coming this way again.
The pufferfish – or fugu, a famous Japanese delicacy – isn’t in fact poisonous. It was just a marketing ploy dreamed up by an over-zealous chef in Tokyo. FALSE. The pufferfish Takifugu rubripes is frightfully poisonous, containing lethal quantities of the poison tetrodotoxin, which paralyses the muscles and leads to conscious suffocation. Fugu can only be prepared by licenced chefs, and still people die every year. Probably not worth the risk.
Must see and do
- Visit the seafood markets of Tsukiji, in Chuo-ku, at dawn and eyeball a pufferfish. www.chuo-kanko.or.jp
- Check out a sumo wrestling match in Tokyo
- Climb mount Fuji. See a webcam of it here, though you will need a Japanese language pack installed via google. http://www.pref.shizuoka.jp/~live/
- Escape the madness of Tokyo with a trip to Chichibu-Tama National Park. http://www.jref.com/practical/chichibu_tama_kai_national_park.shtml
- See a snow monkey taking a bath in Jigokudani.
Good For (World) :