Japan might be most known for it’s mega cities like Tokyo or Osaka but Japan also has stunning nature and the Japanese are also eager to get out there, probably because they are crammed into small houses and flats for the rest of the time.
During our almost three week trip we wanted to see both- the urban sights and nature beauty, so we made several day trips. I am not a big hiker and did not want to become one during this trip. Day tours with an easy to moderate difficulty was what we opted for, equipped with our Hiking in Japan Lonely Planet and trainers, no big boots.
I was worried: would we be able to find the routes we were looking for once leaving the beaten tracks in the more touristy areas? Would we be able to communicate, read signs etc.?
Day trip one: Mitake-San to Oku-Tama (as described in the Lonely Planet)
Taking several local trains, a shuttle bus and finally a cable car we arrived at Mitake-San and a small village leading up to the shrine on the peak of the mountain. Initially surprised that this walk was on paved road with lots of signs, traffic mirrors, restaurants and other (Japanese) tourists I soon stopped laughing as I had to concentrate on not loosing my breath when the tracks towards the peak of Odake-San became steeper and steeper. No more paved road!
And we were in a hurry! The guide in the visitor centre shook his head vigorously when we told him our plan to hike all the way to Oku-tama to take the train back for there. “Aaah, so so so, will be dark before you get there. Better take shorter route!” Being a bit angry with ourselves for underestimating the time it would take to actually get here from Tokyo, one of us decided that the mountain guide probably just was a slow hiker himself and that we would easily make it before sundown.
The view from the peak of mount Odake was stunning. The big Fuji in the distance, for once not hiding in the clouds- we felt honored. But the we had to hurry on. The next hours the trails went up and down, all the time walking on a ridge. Lots of roots, lots of big rocks. Boots would have been nice here but it was good training for my ankles.
Just as I started having difficulties seeing the trail in front of me as the sun was setting, we luckily got out on the other end. A paved road again! We met a young, well equipped Japanese couple that looked just as relieved to have made it in time and we all made our way to the train station.
This was a great hike but next time I would definitely allow more time to complete it. Also the ride from Tokyo is rather long.
Day trip two: Miya-Jima (from close-by Hiroshima)
The red shrine gateway at Miya-Jima was on the top of my lists of things I wanted to see in Japan. And so it is for many other tourists, Japanese and foreign. The small village at the foot of the mountain was over crowded with day visitors and so it was great to escape a little and climb to the top of Mount Misen lying right behind.
Suddenly we had it all to our selves.
On the peak of mount Komagabayashi we paused for eating the lunch we had packed and we were now surrounded by big groups of (again) well equipped elderly Japanese hikers who all were beaming at us and greeting with a warm konnichiwa when we sat down on the granit taking in the view.
Walking on to mount Misen we were again joined by the hordes as even those in high heels can get to the top if they just take the cable car on the back of the mountain.
When we came down again the shrine gate was accessible as the tide was low. We joined the crowd again and walked right up to the gate before taking the ferry back to the main land.
This trip was a wonderful experience: the sea and the mountains on one hand and temples, shops and restaurants on the other hand. Deer are running around everywhere and they will eat everything you give or do not give them.
Day trip three: parts of the Amagi-San traverse as described in the Lonely Planet (Izu peninsula)
The day we wanted to climb the Amagi traverse was one of the first really warm and sunny days so we were really dissappointed to reach the peak and find ourselves in the clouds. The hike was up and down, crossing a stream here and there and climbing rocks and roots. Every now and then we would meet some Japanese hikers and stop for a short “konnichiwa, where are you from?”-conversation. I think most of them were surprised to see foreigners here, all of them were ever so friendly!
We shortened the traverse because of the fog and went back to the Amagi golf course where we had started. On our way back we then jumped of the bus at Mount Omuro, an extinct vulcano that was easy to climb, actually a chairlift brings you to the top… But hey, the second mountain in one day.
Once on the top you can walk around the crater rim (15 minutes) or go down into the crater where they have put up an archery range. The views are beautiful with the ocean on one side and Mt. Fuji in the far distance.
All in all I can only recommend you to leave the beaten track and get out there. The Japanese you will meet on your way are endlessly helpful and the very effective public transport makes it so easy to get around. And no communication problems if you can read the map you have brought. Enjoy!
Credit for most of these pictures, and also for bringing me safely back from every mountain top, goes to my boyfriend.