Love nature? Want to climb a few mountains when you’re in Japan? You’ve come to the right place for everything you need to know about that. Japan has its bright neon lights and futuristic technology, but don’t forget about the nature aspect of this country. The Land of The Rising Sun has more than a few awesome mountains.
There are a couple of other tall mountains right after the great Mt. Fuji that deserves the same amount of love. Why follow the beaten track when you can venture elsewhere with a more authentic experience? Get your fill of historical and geographical knowledge about these towering volcanic peaks that hold great religious and cultural significance in the Japanese tradition.
Levels of Hiking and Climbing in Japan
You might be thinking, “there’s no way I’d climb a mountain!” Trust me, I’ve said that a million times. But then, when you’re in Japan, it’ll be a shame to not climb one.
About 73% of the island is mountainous; of course, it’s only natural that a vibrant climbing and hiking culture developed throughout the years. There’s no “norm” duration or distance when it comes to climbing or hiking in Japan — it can go anywhere from a day trip to a long, multi-day trek through various national parks. Everywhere from beginner to expert with various climate sets and challenges, there’s a mountain in Japan for you.
If you’re a beginner, tackling the easy ones is probably the best way to start your journey. There are tons of mountains that are best for casual day hikes that have been travelled by thousands and thousands of people. These mountains are more often easily accessible by public transport and there are probably accommodation options pretty close. No gear needed — even children can come along if they want to!
Want a bit of a challenge? Go for the intermediate-range where there are sections that are steep, long or both. If you consider yourself of average athletic ability, these mountains won’t be too difficult. You may want your hiking boots for this, but they’re not that necessary if you don’t want to add weight to your baggage.
The experts of mountain climbing — you have your fair pick of mountains in Japan to climb. The difficult ones are full of long and strenuous trails; some might even require navigation skills for you to go through them. These ones definitely require the right gear and attire, so if you’re into that, Japan has exciting challenging mountains for you.
Difference Between Hiking and Climbing
Sometimes, people confuse mountain hiking and mountain climbing. Fair enough, there is a small overlap between them, but there are quite a few differences.
Mountain hiking is more often than not leisurely. It is basically a long-distance walk along a trail that’s likely to cover a few different parts of the country. Most of the time, mountain hiking involves a steady, gentle slope so the pace of the hikes is just as balanced. Mountain hiking can be done in a day or even a few days, but the key point is that it’s more casual.
Mountain climbing, however, is a challenging sport that involves climbing steep and rocky slopes to get to the top. Sometimes, proper equipment is needed for this such as ice axes and rope. Unlike mountain hiking, mountain climbing does take a toll on one’s physical strength as it is not just walking up a slope but also using every muscle in the body to overcome obstacles.
Climbing Season in Japan
While you can climb the mountains in Japan at any time of the year, the country does announce the official climbing season. It’s usually the duration of time where the conditions are best for climbing — mountains are usually free of snow, the weather is milder, mountain huts and accommodation are operating and more public transportation is available.
Usually, the official climbing season is from early July to mid-September. During this time, which is the summer season, the mountains are the best for climbing. Those without much hiking or climbing experience are advised to tackle the mountains during this time. Watch out for the exact dates for the climbing season as each year is different from the previous one.
Japan’s Tallest Mountains
Okay, you’ve gotten the basics for the climbing and hiking down. Now, which mountain in Japan should you tackle first? Let’s have a look at a handful of the tallest mountains in Japan!
Of course, Mt. Fuji is at the top of the list. It is not only the most iconic but also the tallest mountain in all of Japan, after all. Most of us look at Mt. Fuji from afar; the best views of this tallest peak are from the Yamanaka Lake in Yamanashi Prefecture, but you can basically see it anywhere from the surroundings of 120 kilometers.
Also known as Fuji-san, this mountain is climbed by almost half a million people every year! At 3,776 meters in height, Japan’s most celebrated peak is also a World Cultural Heritage site since 2013 due to its major significance and artistic history of Japan. This mountain in Shizuoka Prefecture has thousands of tourists that travel up to the fifth station just for sightseeing and not even climb to the peak at all!
For those looking to climb the tallest mountain in Japan, there are four trails you can follow to reach the top of the peak — Yoshida Trail, Fujinomiya Trail, Subashiri Trail and Gotemba Trail. The Yoshida Trail is the most popular one, which means it’s the busiest and most crowded of them all. Fujinomiya Trail is the shortest route of only four and a half hours, but be prepared for the highest starting elevation of 2400m! Gotemba is the longest route of seven and a half hours with the lowest starting elevation of 1440m.
There’s an old Japanese proverb that was specially modified for foreigners which go, “if you come to Japan and don’t climb Mt. Fuji, you’re a fool; if you climb it more than once, you’re an even bigger fool!”
Image Credit: Issey Niwa
At 3,193 meters is Mt. Kita in Yamanashi Prefecture. It’s the tallest non-volcanic mountain in all of Japan, located in Southern Alps city, and is the second-tallest mountain in the country. Unlike Mt. Fuji where there are a few trails that don’t cross each others’ paths, Mt. Kita only has two trails that go in a loop — so you can do one going up and the other going down.
One thing to note is that the mountain huts are on the right-hand trail, so if you’re looking to stay the night, be sure to start off on the left side so that you can reach the huts before you head back down.
Mt. Kita is part of the Japanese Alps, and the mountains in this region are already prepared with built-in ladders, chains, ropes and stairs to help you with your climbing journey. That’s a great point to know so you won’t need to overpack if you’re planning on climbing this peak.
You can easily climb Mt. Kita in just a weekend without any trouble — you’ll roughly need 6-8 hours for the climb up and about 3-5 hours for the journey down.
Image Credit: annintofu
The third on the list is Nagano Prefecture’s very own Mt. Oku-Hotaka. At 3,190 meters, this mountain would have been the second tallest one in Japan if it had just two average women’s height more — but alas it didn’t. It is the tallest mountain in the Northern Japan Alps, though. Nonetheless, it does have the reputation of being one of the rockiest mountains in Japan, hence it’s not recommended for those who aren’t advanced climbers.
People who climb Mt. Oku-Hotaka often climb it alongside climbing Mt. Yari (which is the fifth mountain on this list) as it has two loop routes that cover both mountains. The routes do start off leisurely before it gets drastically steeper. There are a few stops along the way for lunch and some mountain huts for an overnight rest.
Some say that the summit of Mt. Oku-Hotaka is not that interesting, but stay overnight for the sunrise and you’ll get an amazing view of it rising above a layer of clouds. What’s more, the panoramic views from the top is one of the most magnificent views of the Northern Japan Alps.
The descent down the mountain is one of the hardest parts — you’d have to go down the Daikiretto, which translates to “Big Cut” in Japanese. While there are ropes, chains and ladders at this section, don’t waver for a second. This bit involved a 300-meter drop that’s essentially vertical and followed by another 300m climb back up. It is considered dangerous and there have been lives lost of those attempting to scale Mt. Oku-Hotaka, hence it’s definitely inadvisable for inexperienced climbers.
Image Credit: Wikimedia
Just a meter behind Mt. Oku-Hotaka for its third place title, Mt. Aino stands at 1,189 meters. Located in Shizuoka Prefecture, this mountain has a peak that’s extremely wide — some even got lost there! The peak is also known as the Aino Dome.
The view is one to look forward to; you’ll get to see the upper half of the tallest mountain in Japan, sticking out of the sea of clouds, just about 50km away from Mt. Aino’s peak.
Those who climb Mt. Aino also climb Mt. Shiomi on the same day — this is a popular climbing journey taken by tons of climbers throughout the years. More advanced climbers combine a few other mountains nearby this one and go on a three or four-day journey, tackling all of them at once. If you’re confident in your ability, it’s definitely a journey worth experiencing.
Image Credit: Kirill Skorobogatov
Last but definitely not least, Nagano Prefecture’s Mt. Yari takes the position of the fifth tallest mountain in Japan. The mountain got its name for being sharp like a spear — “yari” in Japanese means spear. It’s also known as the Matterhorn of Japan as it resembles the famous peak in the Swiss Alps.
Most of the climb up this mountain won’t be as straining as some others, but the last 100 meters or so will give the less experienced climbers a bit of an adrenaline rush; it is pretty steep and can get quite congested — so much that there’s an up and down route to separate the crowd. Rest assured the summit of Mt. Yari is worth the tiny bit of hassle.
It’s best to take a break before going down as it can be too much hiking for one day. The way down is long and quite strenuous; even the most experienced climbers have a night’s rest before continuing their journey.
Now that you have an overview of the tallest mountains in Japan, you can decide and take your pick on what you think is best for your level of skill and stamina. In this field, it’s better to underestimate yourself than overestimate; you’re better off starting with a leisurely mountain than take on one that’s way out of your comfort zone. With all that in mind, regardless of what mountain you choose to go on for your climbing or hiking adventure, trust that at every peak, a breathtaking view awaits you!