A closer look at Hiking in Japan, 2nd edition

Lonely Planet’s latest update to the Hiking in Japan guidebook is now available in stores, so we’d like to give an inside look for those of you wondering what’s new.

LP cover

Changes: Despite the obvious aesthetic changes which I will cover a little later, I think it’s most prudent to start with the content changes. In line with other guidebook updates, the publishers have kept most of the existing print intact, so those of you looking for new hikes not mentioned in the first edition may be a bit disappointed. However, extra information has been added in the ‘extra hikes’ section (currently renamed as ‘more hikes’). For instance, there’s an alternate trail leading off from Yari-ga-take towards Otensho-dake that wasn’t mentioned in the first edition. This is a good chance to view the Hotaka range from a different perspective. On the Tsurugi-san hike in Shikoku there are a couple of alternative routes that weren’t mentioned before, including a descent down the northern face of Miune. Hokkaido dwellers will be happy to note that Shari-dake has been added to the list of extra hikes. The Kansai section has been completely reworked, and two of the most problematic hikes (Yura-gawa and Kunimi-dake) have been moved from the main section to the ‘more hikes’ section.

The ‘easy-medium-difficult’ rating system from the first edition has been renamed ‘easy-moderate-demanding.’ I’m not sure if it’ll be any easier for newcomers to grasp the physical exertion required for the hikes, but each multi-day hike listed in the new edition now includes expected hiking time, distance, and vertical elevation gains (hooray!). A new section in the front of the book has been added called ‘History and Culture of Hiking’, which includes information about the Hyakumeizan, pilgrimages, and the role of religion in the mountains. Most of this information was scattered through the first edition but has now been consolidated into one easy-to-reference section.

Now let’s move onto the appearance. The green color scheme of the first edition has been replaced by vibrant tones of red. The maps also reflect this new design, and are much easier to read and decipher than the original ones. Rumor has it you’ll be able to pore over your maps under a full moon without a torch!

Old Map

Old Map

New Map

New Map

All of the photographs have been relocated to a section at the very beginning of the guidebook. This is good news for those of you who had to tear out the pictures in the old book that were always placed in annoying locations. Most of the general stuff that appears in every Lonely Planet guidebook (Health and Safety, Getting Around, et al) has been pushed to the very back of the new edition. This is great news for those sharp souls who noticed that the very first hike in the 1st edition didn’t begin until page 112! The first hike now begins on page 61 (phew.)

The verdict: So, now that you’re familiar with what to expect, the million dollar question would have to be whether or not to purchase the new edition. Those of you who don’t have the first edition but are truly interested in getting into the outdoors should definitely consider purchasing the update. If you’ve got the first edition and have done over 90% of the hikes contained within, then I wouldn’t put it too high on your priority list. However, if you’ve been served well by the first edition and have yet to check out some of the hikes, then it might be worth your while to pick up the new book. If you’re not too keen on shelling out the 2700 yen for the book but are still interested in adding it to your collection, just remember that you could always ask one of your friends or family members to buy it for your as a birthday/graduation/holiday present. Or, if you want to get really creative as I did, then you can convince your private student to give it to you in lieu of a lesson payment.

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21 Comments on “A closer look at Hiking in Japan, 2nd edition”

  1. treblekickeresq Says:

    What is problematic with the Yuragawa and Kunimidake hikes? I remember when I lived in Kansai I had trouble figuring out a map for the Yuragawa hike.

    I’m planning on trying to steal some time away from a business trip this Oct. and do the Kunimidake trip. Though a google search shows a lot more info about the onsen at the end of the hike than the recommended start point.

  2. treblekickeresq Says:

    I think I found out the answer to my own question.

    In the 1st edition LP guide there are mistakes with the kanji and names of the bus stops.

    On p 240 Eigenji Shako should be 永源寺車庫

    Also instead of getting off at Nakahata the real stop is 杠葉尾
    Not sure how to read that kanji though.

    This person figured it out.
    http://apoapoaporo.seesaa.net/article/121612199.html

    I had a quick look at the Shobunsha map No. 44 in the bookstore and from what I remember there is no half way campsite marked at Hirosawa either. I’m not sure if these were fixed in the new edition or not.

  3. wesu Says:

    Cheers for the updated info. In all my haste I forgot to reply to your original comment.

    The new guidebook simply states that the hike begins in Nakahata and Yunoyama hot spring and to buy map #44. That’s it. The map and other information has been deleted from the 2nd edition.

    Please let me know how the Kunimidake trip turns out.
    It looks like you’ve found some good on-line information in Japanese regarding the route.

  4. Julie Says:

    Any suggestions on what might be some good and safe hiking spots in Japan during Mid-March?
    Thank you!

    • wes Says:

      Julie,

      What is the purpose of your visit to Japan and where will you be visiting? That will determine a lot about where to hike. I’m based in Osaka, and most of the hikes around here can be done year round. The Japan Alps are in full winter mode, as are the peaks of Tohoku and Hokkaido.

      Kyushu is a good place to go, since the cherry blossoms will likely be in bloom. Mt. Aso is impressive if you want to see an active volcano, and the scenery at Mt. Kuju is also great. Most of the snow should be melted by mid-March.

      Recently the weather has been getting a bit warmer with no new snow storms on the Pacific Ocean side of Japan. That usually changes when the seasonal snow front starts breaking up over the Sea of Japan and moves across the country. Actually, March is when Tokyo experiences most of its snowfall (only a few inches, but still more than we get in Osaka which is none). I did Mt. Kumotori in late March a few years ago. There was about a meter of snow, and the trail was a bit slushy and wet.

      Let me know if you have any other questions.

      Wes


  5. Any idea on the situation in the Tohoku region since Fukushima with regard to Hiking? Are a lot of trails now off limits due to radiation?

    Thanks, Jon.

    • wes Says:

      Jon,

      The trails are not off limits. You can pretty much go anywhere in Tohoku except for the 20-km off limits zone.

      Would I recommend hiking in Tohoku? Yes and No. I most definitely would NOT hike Mt. Bandai, Mt. Adatara, and Mt. Azuma because they are uncomfortably close to the stricken Fukushima reactor. That being said, the ski resort at Adatara is still open, without any specific warnings about radiation on their website.

      There’s an interesting article in the January issue of Yama-to-keikoku magazine about how to minimize your exposure to radiation when you go hiking in Japan. I’m in the process of translating it for this site.

      If you want to go hiking in Tokoku, stick to the peaks on the Sea of Japan (Mt. Chokai, Mt. Asahi, Gassan, Mt. Shirakami)

      Let me know if you have any other questions

      Wes

  6. Paul Says:

    I’m looking for some suggestions for half or full day hikes around central Honshu that would be accessible from 24 to 28 April.

    With Kamikochi not open until 20 April, I gather most of the walks up into the mountains will still be well under snow?

    Any suggestions appreciated.

    • wes Says:

      Paul,

      Yes, all of the Alps will still be buried under a thick blanket of snow in late April.

      Do you have any experience hiking in snow? One option would be to do a traverse through Oze National Park. If you stayed in the valley and didn’t climb the higher peaks then it’d be a lovely hike through relatively flat scenery. The huts will also be open around this time. You’d need some light crampons and gaiters.

      If you’re not comfortable with trudging in the snow, then stick with the lower elevations closer to Tokyo such as Mt. Tanzawa, Mt. Kumotori, or Mt. Ryuu (near Mt. Fuji). Unfortunately pretty much all of the peaks in Nagano and Niigata prefectures will still be covered in snow due to the record amounts of snowfall the country is currently receiving.

      Mt. Asama could be another option, though there may still be a bit of snow on the crater in late April.

      The peaks of Kansai and Kyushu will be snow-free, however, if you’d like to head there. I think a lot of it will depend on how long you’ll be here and what kind of scenery you want to see (views of snow-capped peaks vs. hiking through volcanic scenery).

      Please let me know if you have any other questions.

      Wes


  7. What about pitching a tent along the trail in Japan. Can I do that along the Kirishima traverse for example? Or on Mt kuju?

    Thanks

    • wes Says:

      Peter,

      Generally speaking you should only camp at designated campsites. The mountains of Kyushu are volcanic in nature, so there really aren’t very many flat places without rocks outside of the campsites. If you’ve got a bivy bag then you can camp on the summit of just about any peak (or anywhere that’s flat enough for your own body to fit)

      The other concern about camping is being near water sources, which makes the designated campsites good. A lot of mountains will also have unmanned mountain huts which you can use for free (just bring a sleeping bag and mat). They’ll be marked on Japanese maps as 避難小屋

      Also, the Kirishima traverse is not possible at this time, due to the recent eruption of Mt. Shinmoe.
      Let me know if you have any other questions.


  8. Hi Wes, Great website!!!

    We are planning a trip Tokyo-Nagano-Takayama-Kyoto-Osaka during February. Is it still useful to buy the book or are the tips for beautiful summer weather? Are there still lot’s of mountain refugi’s open during winter?
    What could be interesting too is your packing list, when do you hike in Japan with crampons, snow rackets or when you bring your cooking system. Probably we won’t try (alone) to reach for snow covered high mountains but we will definitely won’t stay within the city borders to much.

    Last question; do you also give tours? (for instance to a snowy high mountain top)

    thnx!

    • wes Says:

      Sorry for the late reply Koenhezemans. It’s been a hectic couple of weeks.

      I think the book is still useful to get because it has the usual Lonely Planet info about getting around and places to stay.

      Most of the hikes in the book are designed for the summer (the Japan Alps, Tohoku, and Hokkaido sections for instance). Most of the hikes in the Kansai section are ok to do in February if you’ve got crampons (though I’d probably avoid the Yatsubuchi hike because of the ice)

      In winter, the Japan Alps are pretty much off limits with the exception of Yatsu-ga-take (a popular place for ice climbing and snowshoeing) and Nishi-hotaka (accessible by ropeway from Shin-hotaka hot spring). The peaks near Tokyo do have some snow, but I’ve done both Tanzawa and Kumotori in the winter without too much trouble (again, light crampons are essential).

      As far as gear goes, I always bring a compass and map, a pair of crampons (usually just 6-pointers), a pair of gaiters, warm layers (base, mid, and waterproof outer plus a down jacket for when I take breaks). In winter I always carry a thermos filled with hot water (you can ask the reception desk where you are staying to fill up your thermos before you set off). I also bring a couple of pairs of gloves, and a hat that covers my ears.

      Unfortunately I don’t do tours. Too busy with other things.

      Let me know if you have other questions

      Wes


  9. I do not know much about Japan, let alone the hiking areas, but you seem very knowledgeable so maybe you can answer this.

    In the U.S. there is a single trail you can take called the Pacific Crest Trail which goes from Mexico to Canada. Is there a trail like this is in Japan that will take you from the top of Japan to the most southern part of it?

    • wes Says:

      Thanks for checking out the blog.

      To answer your question, no there is no single length of Japan long distance trail, but that doesn’t stop people from walking the length of the country. 90% of the walk is on asphalt though.

      There are long distance trekking routes in the Japan Alps though that can take a week or more


  10. I used this guidebook to hike from Murodo/Tateyama to Kamikochi two years ago. It worked very well and I can recommend it.

    I’ve documented my experiences in this blog:
    https://furbearmurodotokamikochi.wordpress.com/

    //Björn

    P.S. Thanks for a great page

  11. mtg Says:

    Hej!

    I will travel Japan from May to June (North to South) and as it seems that you have good knowledge about hiking, I wanted to ask you for special recommendations. I’m owning the Lonely Planet hiking-guide, but it would be nice to get some advice from somebody who did a lot of wandering in Japan.
    I will carry a tent.

    Thank you,
    mtg

    • wes Says:

      Mtg,

      Thanks for checking out my blog. The month of May is a great time for hiking, with relatively stable weather before the summer rains arrive in June.

      As far as hikes go, it really depends on your comfort level with hiking in the snow, as there will still be a lot of it in Hokkaido and also in the Japan Alps.

      Are you starting in Hokkaido? or Tohoku? Going all the way to Kyushu?

      You have to think about what kind of scenery you want (alpine views vs. lush forests, cultural temples vs. pristine wilderness) Also, are you comfortable with hiking in the snow (and have the experience/equipment to do so)?

      I have lots of recommendations depending on what you’re interesting in seeing.

      Cheers,

      Wes

      • mtg Says:

        Hej Wes,

        thank you for your fast answer :-)

        I’ll be starting in Hokkaido (arrival in Sapporo) and want to get down South as far as possible. But as always, you never know what happens on a trip, so I can’t tell if I’ll definitely make it to Kyushu.

        I’m generally ok with snow but will be equipped comfortably only for temperatures ~ 5°C+. Also I just have medium experience with mountain hiking in winter and would prefer a bit warmer hikes and green sceneries. I am interested in wilderness as well as in cultural experience (but a bit more in wilderness ;-). For me advantages of a route are if it is easy to follow and/or good maps available (as I lack a sense of orientation) and if it is not too crowded.
        Furthermore I am mostly interested in multi-day hikes – if possible with the interim-possibility to stock up food (and of course water).

        I haven’t checked out too much of Japan in advance, but I thought of spending at least one or two weeks on Shikoku. Can you recommend this?

        I’m also travelling with rain-shielding (trousers, jacket, shoes, backpack-cover) – do you think it is comfortably possible to hike during Tsuyu or will it be pouring too hard?

        Btw. Amazon just texted me that the “LP Hiking in Japan” is out of stock. Do you have any advice for other literature or ebooks I should take with me? Or is it possible to get the needed information just in the area, one is visiting?

        Many questions. I hope I do not bother you too much with this. If you don’t have time to answer all of them, you have my full understandings.

        Regards,
        mtg

  12. mtg Says:

    Hej Wes,

    thank you for your fast answer :-)

    I’ll be starting in Hokkaido (arrival in Sapporo) and want to get down South as far as possible. But as always, you never know what happens on a trip, so I can’t tell if I’ll definitely make it to Kyushu.

    I’m generally ok with snow but will be equipped comfortably only for temperatures ~ 5°C+. Also I just have medium experience with mountain hiking in winter and would prefer a bit warmer hikes and green sceneries. I am interested in wilderness as well as in cultural experience (but a bit more in wilderness ;-). For me advantages of a route are if it is easy to follow and/or good maps available (as I lack a sense of orientation) and if it is not too crowded.
    Furthermore I am mostly interested in multi-day hikes – if possible with the interim-possibility to stock up food (and of course water).

    I haven’t checked out too much of Japan in advance, but I thought of spending at least one or two weeks on Shikoku. Can you recommend this?

    I’m also travelling with rain-shielding (trousers, jacket, shoes, backpack-cover) – do you think it is comfortably possible to hike during Tsuyu or will it be pouring too hard?

    Btw. Amazon just texted me that the “LP Hiking in Japan” is out of stock. Do you have any advice for other literature or ebooks I should take with me? Or is it possible to get the needed information just in the area, one is visiting?

    Many questions. I hope I do not bother you too much with this. If you don’t have time to answer all of them, you have my full understandings.

    Regards,
    mtg

    • wes Says:

      Mtg,

      Sorry for the late reply.

      Shikoku is a great option, as the traverse of Tsurugi-san is great. The trail between Tsurugi and Miune can get quite overgrown, so you need to be careful (it’s not a popular route)

      Ishizuchi is the more popular of the two hikes.

      Tsuyu is unpredictable, and usually doesn’t start in full until mid-June. The rain isn’t the problem as much as the unbearable humidity, which will make hiking quite unpleasant and also means that your clothes will never fully dry.

      You should be able to pick up a copy of the LP Hiking in Japan at any major bookstore in Japan (Kinokuniya or Junkudo, for instance). Unfortunately, there isn’t any other information out there aside from this site. I am working on a guidebook at the moment, but it won’t be released until 2018.


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