When I took my first trip to Japan in 2013, I hopped on the plane with my mind conjuring images of big metropolises like Tokyo - the flashing lights of Shinjuku, the crowded streets of Shibuya, conveyor belt sushi and packed subway rides. What I was shocked to find out after a few weeks of backpacking around the country was that while it was home to all of these quintessential elements of urban Japan, it was also home to world-class hiking and outdoor activities!
I was blown away when I first experienced the nature that Japan has to offer, and I want you to be too. Read on for our top 5 favorite hiking locations in Japan, then make sure to check out our Japan Walking and Hiking Tour, where we hike these trails and many more.
5) Mount Asama
There are plentiful hikes on and around Mount Asama, or as the locals call it, Asamayama. Mount Asama is Honshu’s most active volcano, overlooking the beautiful and historic resort town of Karuizawa. As you’re hiking, take in the lush meadows and keep your eyes peeled for Japanese serows and Asian black bears. Depending on the trail you’ll take, you’ll also get scenic views of the Japanese Alps.
Kamikōchi, a portion of the Chūbu-Sangaku National Park, is home to some of the best hiking in all of Japan. Tucked away in the Northern Alps, many of the hikes through Kamikōchi work their way through dense birch and larch forests, which are home to antelope, deer, monkeys and bears. Hiking these trails, you’ll see spectacular views of Mount Yake, a series of mountain ponds, and traverse classically crafted Japanese wooden suspension bridges.
3) Utsueshijuhatsu Falls Trail (48 Falls Trail)
Getting its name from the 48 falls that you’ll see hiking along this scenic trail, Utsueshijuhatsu Falls Trail is a beautiful hiking trail located in the Gifu Prefecture of Japan. Each waterfall you’ll pass along this route is unique - whether short, tall, thin or wide, they’re all a sight to behold. After the hike, make sure to stop in to Hida to try their world-famous beef (which I argue is better than Kobe).
2) Philosopher’s Walk (Tetsugaku No Michi)
While this won’t be the most strenuous hike that you’ll ever embark on, it might be one of the most beautiful. Named “Philosopher’s Walk” because it is the alleged walking path for two well-known Kyoto University philosophy professors, this trail is lined with cherry trees and follows the Lake Biwa Canal. Should you find yourself in Kyoto during the Cherry blossom bloom (late March to early May), you need to make your way to this trail. It’s the perfect place to participate in hanami or, quite literally, flower viewing.
My first time visiting Philosopher's Walk was in June - way past Cherry blossom season, but I did not leave disappointed. This trail passes numerous historic temples, such as Hōnen-in and Zenrin-ji, and I had the time of my life walking through and reading about these important locations.
1) Fushimi Inari-Taisha
Perhaps one of the most famous trails in all of Japan is the Fushimi Inari-Taisha. Lined with thousands of vermilion torii gates, hikers will make their way to the entrance of a Shinto shrine dedicated to the kami (spirit or god) of Inari. Inari typically is represented by foxes and rice (of which you will see many depictions of on this hike) in physical image but represents wellbeing, prosperity, fertility and many other concepts in metaphor. With breathtaking views of Tokyo, beautifully manicured trails and a look into traditional Japanese religion, this hike has everything an active traveler is looking for in Japan!