As foreigners, we are often asked what brought us to Japan. Most of the time, it’s pretty straightforward—work, school or family. However, I like to give a not-always-welcome long-winded answer about Japan’s hiking trails.
Unfortunately, due to the ongoing pandemic, travel has been interrupted and the magnificent hiking trails of Japan have become temporarily out of reach. However, there is one unavoidable silver lining in this unprecedented health crisis: our increased appetite for travel and heightened appreciation of the outdoors.
I try to get out every chance I get to discover the countless trails that rural Japan offers. Moreover, as an avid photographer, I’m repeatedly drawn to the less demanding courses of Japan, where I can focus on capturing the scenery rather than tackling the next challenging climb. It’s the best of both worlds. Mountains cover roughly 73% of Japan, and there are some epic climbs and multi-day pilgrimages you can traverse. It’s where you can see the perfect fusion between Japan’s culture and nature.
I’m yearning to get back to Japan’s mountains, and I know I’m not the only one. So to inspire your next hiking trip (or even your first) once the pandemic is over, here is a list of my favorite trails in Japan suitable for all levels of experience.
5. Susoaidaira Valley
Susoaidaira Valley is in the largest national park of Japan—Daizetsuzan National Park in Hokkaido. Although the famous weeklong grand traverse of Daisetsuzan and its numerous peaks will challenge even seasoned hikers, the Susoaidaira Valley trail allows you to experience some of the most beautiful scenery in the park without demanding much in return. The picture-perfect view of the valley so took me that I changed my travel plans during my last visit to Daisetsuzan to walk the trail a second time.
The scenery along the trail, which takes five to six hours as a round trip, is particularly mesmerizing in September when Hokkaido welcomes the autumn colors earlier than any other region in Japan. Given the size of the park and the relatively limited number of visitors compared to other hot spots in Japan, Susoaidaira Valley offers an excellent opportunity to enjoy koyo (autumn leaves viewing) in relative solitude.
July and early August are another great time to visit the valley when the alpine flowers bloom in scenery rivaling the Swiss Alps. You will often spot botanic enthusiasts on the trail with notebooks in hand.
On this trail, you’ll rarely feel lonely. Instead, there’s an unspoken understanding that all the hikers will be looking out for each other. The quickly formed trail friendships are one of the wonderful traits of hiking culture in Japan and my experience in the trails of Daisetsuzan is no exception.
4. Oirase Stream
Oirase Stream in Aomori is another trail that ranks high in scenic beauty while being very easy on legs. The course, particularly popular during koyo, goes through Oirase Gorge and connects Nenokuchi to Ishigedo. It’s very easy to follow and can be walked either way in about three hours.
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