Photo: iStock/ Yagi-Studio

What not to do when hiking in Japan

By Alexandra Ziminski

I am no seasoned hiker by any means, but on my recent trip to NikkoTochigi Prefecture, I wanted to avoid the temples, brave the wilds and imitate adventurous outdoorsy types. So I mapped out a route and prepared for Japan’s great outdoors. Unfortunately, I failed to notice that my trek ended with impenetrable mountains and was only accessible by road.

I had also neglected another essential thing—bus times. Thus, by sunset, my partner and I were stranded on one side of Lake Chuzenji. It didn’t help that this was in bear territory. Thankfully, a shining slither of phone signal was enough to call a rescue speedboat to whisk us back to civilization and our hotel.

So that no other would-be adventurers end up like me; here is a list of all my missteps with extra tips on how not to be a complete dummy like me. Do as I say, not as I do.

Plan your route

You do not want to get lost here. Photo: Yagi-Studio

This was where everything went downhill (or uphill, to be apt). I can’t stress the importance of planning, especially in rural Japan. Buses can run once an hour or day and stop early. Signs aren’t always in English. Apart from popular trails, there aren’t too many people.

I used AllTrails and Google Maps, but I should have asked the locals before trekking into unknown territory. This was especially true of the masses walking in the opposite direction (a bad sign). All it would have taken was a quick, “Tadashii michi desuka? (Is this the right way?)” tagged onto the obligatory, “Konnichiwa (Hello).”

Another error was that I, as a beginner, didn’t realize the importance of elevation gain. The constant up and down added time and contributed to missing the last bus. Experienced hikers tend to start earlier in the day.


  • Go to the tourist center, get a map and some advice—that’s why it’s there.
  • Use an app such as AllTrailsYamareco (Japanese) or Komoot to plan your route.
  • Inform someone of your route and plans, like your hotel, or use a tozan posuto (hiking trail itinerary box) for longer journeys.
  • Know your limits: don’t aim for high peaks if you’re new to hiking or out of practice.

 Come prepared

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Best to always hike with a buddy and let other’s you trust know your plans. (From personal experience, it has saved a life.) Post an itinerary with your friends & family and leave a copy in your car’s glovebox for rangers if they’ve noted your car in the parking space past scheduled hours.

Now, many smartwatches can detect a catastrophic fall, reduced heart rate and other biometric data, all tied to GPS tracking uplinked and immediately reported to authorities/first responders.

A study, walking stick gives extra stability, and can also put a temporary yet critical, ‘last second’ distance between yourself and a bear or boar. Many are foraging at this time of year with their young.

Best Wishes and Safe Journeys to ALL here venturing out to the great outdoors in this beautiful time of year!

10 ( +12 / -2 )

I completely agree with everything snowymountainhell says, and add another small tip; he sure to call it "mountain climbing" not "hiking".

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Ignore the weather forecast has to be number one thing to avoid. Especially in the flank seasons of spring and autumn.

If you don't speak or read Japanese to get info that way, get the books or read the blogs in English and use their (easiest) routes until you know what you are doing. Or go with Japanese people who know the route. Whatever you do should be planned.

9 ( +10 / -1 )


A lot of good advice.

But about this point...

Now, many smartwatches can detect a catastrophic fall, reduced heart rate and other biometric data, all tied to GPS tracking uplinked and immediately reported to authorities/first responders.

While smart watches may be able to receive data from GPS satellites, I don't think they can transmit that way. You will still need a phone signal to transmit. (But please correct me if I'm wrong about that. I'm not fully up-to-date on these things.)

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Yes, @albaleo 4:40pm your iWatch needs to be synched with your nearby iPhone and cellular service has to be available within a reasonable range (Forget climbing Everest ; ) According to Apple’s literature, it will try to get you to acknowledge if you fallen. If no response, it will automatically dial emergency services and your personal emergency contact.

If I recall a previous discussion, you described from somewhere in “Northern Europe” but a liking for ‘Scotch whisky’? Not sure fall detection is available specifically where you are presently but it’s advertised as a feature in the U.S. and Japan. Have even read one account from man at home in Norway and another of a man hiking in remote New Jersey (U.S.)

Here’s some spec’s and a review:

*- “Emergency SOS Apple Watch Series 7 (GPS + Cellular) and Apple Watch SE (GPS + Cellular) can use a cellular connection for Emergency SOS. To use Emergency SOS on an Apple Watch without cellular, your iPhone needs to be nearby.” *

Plus, an account of a fall in Norway at home:

And an account of a fall in a remote location in the U.S. while hiking:

Let us all know what you learn about availability elsewhere

Safe Journeys, friend.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Thanks, snowymountainhell,

While I live in Scotch Whisky country, I'm more of a red wine person. (But either way, my falling down accidents are usually reported by my wife directly to me in an Osaka dialect.)

But by coincidence, my wife has recently got an iWatch, and it gives out all kinds of info about her walking behavior. We're still trying to fathom how it all works.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

The writer warns about bears but around Chuzenjiko giant hornets are a bigger threat - the area is full of them. If you disturb them they will attack. Only place I got stung by one during my first 6 months in Japan (in 1992) when I stood on a fallen tree trunk on the lake shore for a view. I was very lucky to get only one sting as many others were emerging when I got out of the way. Leg calf swollen double size for 5 days. Not something you would want on your neck. After that (25 years) I was worried about anaphylactic shock from a second sting. Almost every time I went to wilder places around Nikko I saw them. I did a lot of bushwalking in Japan but there are risks. For most people it is better to follow the Japanese standard advice - stay on the path. Many Japanese hikers wear full length trousers and often long sleeved shirts, even in summer.

As it happened I did walk into a bear the next morning on a trail to Ashio from the lake. We were less than 3 feet apart with a bush between us. The bear looked just as shocked as I was and ran up a steep incline and into a hole. A dog could not run that fast up such a steep slope... wouldn't like to try and out run one. While bear bells are good advice you rarely see any wildlife if you carry one but you can see the advantages of using one.

Outdoor Club Japan

4 ( +4 / -0 )

The writer's advice:

If you find yourself lost or in danger:

Call emergency rescue by dialing 119.

Stop, think and stay calm.

If there is no immediate danger, stay put.

As a last resort, follow a stream downhill.

You would be better retracing your steps and following the path back. One thing you should never do is follow a stream downhill if you do not know the terrain. In Japan the mountains are relatively geologically young, so they are steep and prone to landslides. Many stream valleys have waterfalls and big vertical drops. Unless you have local knowledge of the area, or a map and experience to judge the terrain, you should not go down a stream valley. In general, you would be safer staying on the ridge.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

This is why I just don't go where I don't belong and know that I could potentially end up as a snack for some animal, I am not the chance-taking guy when it comes to "Mother Nature."

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I am a hiker in Japan. And I still make so many mistakes. The most common is to be unprepared. Anything can happen in the mountains.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

You'll also want a map app that allows you to download maps before you get to an area that may have no cell signal. A blue dot on a totally white background is not helpful.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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