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Hiking in Japan - info needed
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Christine Thuermer
(chgeth) - F

Locale: Germany
Hiking in Japan - info needed on 05/11/2008 07:06:06 MDT Print View

I am currently on a hiking/biking round the world trip that will eventually bring me to Japan in spring 2009.
I was planning on doing the sacred 88-temple pilgrimage by bike there.
Unfortunately I had to quit my European bike trip early because I developped a health problem (numb fingers) while long-distance cycling, so I am not sure I will be able to do any cycling in Japan. Therefore I am looking for long-distance hiking alternatives in Japan now. I will be there in spring and have to leave at the latest end of May, so I guess hiking in Hokkaido is out of question.
As a last resort I could still do the 88-temple pilgrimage on foot, but because 90% of the trail is on paved roads I am not too enthusiastic about it.
So now I am looking for any info, ideas, web resources on hiking in Japan. Maybe Miguel can help?
Any ideas welcome!
Thanks from Germany,
Christine

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Hiking in Japan - info needed on 05/11/2008 11:34:41 MDT Print View

Hi Christine,

Sorry it took so long to get back to you... I only just now noticed your post.

I've done a lot of long-distance bicycle travel and in the early days used to get numb fingers quite often. Are you using padded bicycle gloves? If not, that is one contributor to the effect of leaning the lower palms of your hands on handlebars for a long time. Your riding position may also be a little off, with the seat too high or too far back, or the length of the handlebar stem too short. Go to a good bicycle shop where they have a "Fit Kit" and see what might need to be adjusted on your touring bike. Usually it's just a little change in the handlebar stem or a tweaking of the saddle position. If the problem persists and you are using drop handlebars, you may want to try changing to mountain bike style straight handlebars with add-on bullhorn handles at the ends. You'll sit up straighter and put less pressure on your hands.

Your numb fingers should take about three weeks to a month to heal.

Hiking in Japan in the high mountains or northern regions, where you seem to prefer to go, before the end of May does not leave you a lot of options. Unless you are prepared for deep snow most trails are still inaccessible until the beginning of June, and many not until the middle of July. This last winter saw a lot of snow, so there is still a lot of snow even at 1500 meters. Hokkaido will still be way too cold to get up to the higher altitudes.

There are few long distance hiking trails in Japan. Most long distance walks are just a series of connected shorter trails with a lot of dipping down into the valleys and developed areas. A great walk is from the southern tip of the South Alps by the Pacific Ocean up to the northern tip of the North Alps on the Japan Sea, but you'd need to wait until July to do that.

There is a walk you can do year-round, that goes from the west side of Tokyo all the way to Osaka, called the Tokai Shizen Hodo (The Tokai Nature Trail), a distance of about 1,700 km. It was built in the 1950's and has since fallen out of popularity so that sections of it are now a little overgrown and hard to get through, but most of it is still a great walking trail. It connects lots of hiking in the mountains with passes through small towns and picturesque old temples and shrines. It is quite easily accessible from most points along the route, so you can start and end anywhere you like. There is not a lot of information of it in English, and even Japanese information is a little hard to come by. But maps are easy to buy at any book store.
http://chonta.web.infoseek.co.jp/k_henro/h15-08-04/h15-08-04.htm

You can also do a ten day walk from Utsukushigahara in Nagano over the Yatsugatake Range (which doesn't get much snow in the winter) across to Oku-Chichibu and take the ridge walk all the way to western Tokyo. If there is snow it will only be a few centimeters deep.

Or you can go down to Kyushu and walk in the mountains there, where it is warmer. Just there are no long distance trails there.

Let me know if you need any more help.

Richard DeLong
(Legkohod) - MLife

Locale: Eastern Europe / Caucasus
Re: Numb fingers on 05/11/2008 12:12:43 MDT Print View

Sorry to hear about the numb fingers. If you have done everything possible and still get 'em, you might consider recumbent bicycles, which put much less strain on the hands and arms.

Christine Thuermer
(chgeth) - F

Locale: Germany
Hiking in Japan on 05/11/2008 14:29:22 MDT Print View

Miguel,

thanks for the quick answer!

My numb fingers were diagnosed as carpal tunnel syndrome and the symptoms are only very slowly disappearing, so it is very reassuring to hear that it normally takes that long. Right now I am absolutely fed up with cycling, but I hope this will change during the rest of my round the world trip.

But now to Japan: The Tokai Nature Trail sounds absolutely great, especially since I am flying into Osaka and out of Tokyo! But of course there are several questions:

A quick internet check brought up a lot of photos of the trail, and it doesn't seem to be a "wilderness" trail at all, but consisting of a lot of road walks. How much road walk is there really involved? Any idea of the percentage?

Also: Where would you camp on such a trail? Japan is about the safest country in the world (one of the reasons why I chose to go there), but how do you manage to camp there? I attended a Japanese language course in preparation for this trip and my teacher advised me on asking in temples for a place to camp. What are you doing?

And: What maps should I buy? Is there a certain map series you can recommend? Would the trail be marked there? And how would it be marked in nature?

My internet research revealed that there should be other nature trails in other prefectures, for example an Shikoko Nature Trail. Do these other trails exist only on paper or in reality, too?

And: Is the 88 temple pilgrimage worth considering to hike? I am very much deterred by the high percentage of road walk, but there is an English guide book about it.

Again, thanks a lot for the info and greetings from Germany,

Christine

ed hyatt
(edhyatt) - MLife

Locale: The North; UK
Japan walking on 05/13/2008 11:55:38 MDT Print View

Apologies for jumping into this thread from perhaps a slightly different direction.

We are thinking (decided really) of going to Japan to walk some multi-day trails in the Chubu and Kansai regions this summer (mid July until the end of August). The LP guide is fairly useful but (as ever) gives generalised advice on many things - sleeping bags requirements, tents etc etc...

I have noticed that a few people on the forum reside in Japan and wondered if they would be open to a tirade of questions from a staid and humourless Brit on all manner of things Japan-hiking wise...?

Temperatures in the hills...
Showers/sentos in refuges...
Food....
How to get around cheaply....
Best multi-day (hard) routes....
What clothes/bag/tent/gear to take....you get the idea ;-)

The basics are OK - we did a 6-week bike tour in Hokkaido a few years ago and so have some knowledge.....and will never eat sea slugs again..

ed

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Hiking in Japan on 05/13/2008 19:29:38 MDT Print View

Hi Christine. To answer some of your questions:

A quick internet check brought up a lot of photos of the trail, and it doesn't seem to be a "wilderness" trail at all, but consisting of a lot of road walks. How much road walk is there really involved? Any idea of the percentage?

The Tokai Shizen Hodo is not a wilderness trail, though some long sections of it are in the mountains, especially in Tanzawa (just east of Mt. Fuji), the southern foothills of the South Alps (just west of Mt. Fuji. Most of the trail stays on hiking trails and not on roads, though there are road sections. It is usually not far from roads and towns. Japan has few real "wilderness" areas, unless you go to the deep mountains, where slopes are so steep in most places that no one can walk there. I would say that hiking in the mountains in Japan is very similar to hiking in the Alps; there are just too many people in Japan to offer the huge, unpopulated expanses of America. In fact, I was surprised when I went to the Alps last year by how similar the trails and huts were. I would say that the mountains in Japan are wilder than those of Europe, though. And much less regulated.

Also: Where would you camp on such a trail? Japan is about the safest country in the world (one of the reasons why I chose to go there), but how do you manage to camp there? I attended a Japanese language course in preparation for this trip and my teacher advised me on asking in temples for a place to camp. What are you doing?

There are quite a few camping areas in Japan, especially at lower altitudes. All along the trail you will find campgrounds with baths and showers. Also, the Japanese are very tolerant of unusual occurrences. I have "wild-camped" ( nojuku ) throughout Japan in playgrounds, small neighborhood parks, temples, riversides, country train stations, beaches, once, even, in a public toilet, and never once had a problem. In fact, these were some of the best places to meet people throughout the country, and often I was invited to stay at people's homes and I made some great friends. Such travel has an ancient history here so people understand the desire to do it very well.

And: What maps should I buy? Is there a certain map series you can recommend? Would the trail be marked there? And how would it be marked in nature?

The "Yama to Kogen Chizu" ( 山と高原地図 ) series of maps ( 1:50,000 ) put out by Shobunsha ( http://yamachizu.net/ ) is probably the best general purpose maps out there for hiking. You can buy them at any bookstore and their maps cover all the hiking regions of the country. If you want more detailed/ accurate maps bigger bookstores will have special drawers in the map section of the store that contain 1:25,000 sized, very accurate contour maps of every section of the entire Japanese archipelago. I use these for when I am hiking off trail.

Trail blazing and signs are in general very well marked and there are sign posts and things like painted markers or strips of bright colored cloth all along all the trails everywhere. It is hard to get lost in the mountains here if you keep an eye on the map. However, do remember that in the mountains, unlike the trains, all the signs will be in Japanese, sometimes with indecipherable readings that even the Japanese often cannot read.


My internet research revealed that there should be other nature trails in other prefectures, for example an Shikoko Nature Trail. Do these other trails exist only on paper or in reality, too?

Japan has trails all over the place! LIterally thousands and thousands of them. Many of them are only locally known and no book will show them. I've never been to Shikoku so I don't know what mountains there are there, except for Ishizuchi Yama, which is supposed to be sublime. The mountains in Shikoku are very rugged and steep and so there aren't a lot of longer trails. BUt to answer your questions, there are lots of nature trails in Japan, perhaps too many to help you in one simple post.

And: Is the 88 temple pilgrimage worth considering to hike? I am very much deterred by the high percentage of road walk, but there is an English guide book about it.

Certainly it is worth it. But you have to consider that it is a religious walk, not a wilderness walk. It is similar to the Camino de Santiago, and stays along the roads and temples and towns that strung all these points together from hundreds of years ago. One thing though... there will be hordes of people! Most people no longer walk the route, but take buses... buses packed to the gills! Beware of any tourist routes anywhere in the country. Japanese love doing things en masse. (for instance stay away from Oze. You will literally be waiting on line behind hundreds of walkers as you follow the trail)

Hi Ed. Now on to your questions:

Temperatures in the hills...

In July and August? Well, expect to be drenched in sweat and constant humidity. If you go high up, say over 2,000 meters, it will be cooler, but be prepared for either lots of sunburn, or, if the weather doesn't improve this year, lots of cold nights with heavy rains. I'd say think of the Alps in Italy in August, but without the snow.

Showers/sentos in refuges...

Most of the bigger refuges in the North and South Alps have their own ofuros (sentos are public town baths), especially in the North Alps. For any walk in the Chubu region you shouldn't go for more than two days without a bath. There are also many open air hot springs here and there, too.

Food....

Well, sea slugs are not a common item on any menu, let me tell you! You should be fine. Most places offer hot meals, usually things like curry rice, ramen, or home-style dinner sets. Usually there is a choice. You can also buy food for the trail, including (limited) raw items for cooking. Beer can be found everywhere.

How to get around cheaply....

There are a number of special "hiking passes" for trains and buses, but putting together the information is a nightmare. There is little information in English. Definitely get the Japan Railpass. It will save you hundreds of Euros as you travel about on trains and even buses.

Best multi-day (hard) routes....

My favorite multiday, high mountain routes are:

Three or four day traverse of the Shirane Three Peaks, South Alps.

Four day traverse of the northern section of Hakuba, North Alps.

And my favorite walk in Japan, the five day crossing of Kurobe Goro, North Alps.

All are stunning and unforgettable.

What clothes/bag/tent/gear to take....you get the idea ;-)

I would say think the same way you think about the Alps in Europe, though not quite a cold, nor as high. And if you're going to camp on the ridges make sure you have a tent which doesn't have too large a footprint. Space is a premium in the mountain in Japan because everything is so steep.

I have to go to work. I'll write more later.

Edited by butuki on 05/14/2008 07:46:35 MDT.

Arapiles .
(Arapiles) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Re: Japan walking on 05/13/2008 23:13:38 MDT Print View

"I have noticed that a few people on the forum reside in Japan and wondered if they would be open to a tirade of questions from a staid and humourless Brit on all manner of things Japan-hiking wise...?"

You might like to check out the trip reports and photos of my walk to Yarigatake last August as an example of a sort of walk you might choose to do and I think that Brett also posted his trip report too.

http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/xdpy/forum_thread/9140/index.html

I have some real issues with the LP, particularly the Kanto section. It's useful for getting a broad idea of what's out there, but having used it on some of the walks I seriously wonder if the authors actually ever did the walks. Either that or they didn't think it worth mentioning, for example, major huts, track intersections or alternative routes. I did a lot of walks in Japan organised by a Japanese friend who owns a mountaineering shop and the usual thing that would happen is that I'd pull out the LP and explain the route they suggested and get an astonished stare. They'd then point out a more logical alternative or starting point etc etc.

If there's somewhere you're thinking of - Kitadake, Fuji, Yatsugatake let us know and I'm sure one of us will have been there and can provide advice.

And as Miguel says, the Japan Rail pass is extraordinary value. And having just spent a year in the UK I can promise you that the trains in Japan are quite different to those in the UK ...

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Japan walking on 05/14/2008 01:29:17 MDT Print View

Please take a look at my trip report on my blog about the Kurobe-Goro Walk (there are other reports, too).

Also take a look at Tom Redmond's (from Ireland) accounts of the seven day walk from Tateyama to Kamikochi (a walk I'd love to do!)

http://www.raglanroad.org/weblog/archives/001504.html

http://www.raglanroad.org/weblog/archives/001506.html

I wholeheartedly agree with Arapiles about Lost Planet. When you read it you'd think that there wasn't anything nice about Japan, which is total nonsense. Also I don't think their selection of walks are necessarily the best. They hardly mention the Iide Range in Fukushima, which is one of the best in Japan (a hard four day walk), or the three-day traverse of the Asahi Range in Yamagata, which misses being my first choice because you are not allowed to camp there. Sometimes I wonder why they even bothered writing the book if they could never find anything good about any of the mountains they visited (or didn't visit). I've found walking the mountains of Japan some of the most rewarding experiences in my life, a place where you see Japanese let down their guard and show themselves. The book should have reflected that.

If you don't have a lot of time and need easy access without a car, the Yatsugatake Range that Arapiles mentions is superb all year around. There are many trains and buses that can get your there from all sides, something that is becoming less certain in other rural areas where buses are being phased out.

I wanted to write a little more about the clothing I wear in summer in the alpine regions of Japan. For most of my walks I've found that a short-sleeved merino wool base layer, a windshirt, a pair of zip-off nylon trousers (I usually walk with the legs zipped off, it is just to warm otherwise), Smartwool Adrenaline socks, and running shoes is all I needed most of the time. At night a MontBell Thermawrap Jacket to keep me warm, and as a sleep layer for my #5 MontBell UL DownHugger sleeping bag. For rain I've used a Montane Superfly jacket, but have found that to be too cold on cold days in the rain, and so always use a Paramo Casacada jacket. Yes, it's heavy, but nothing else works as well in the very heavy rains of Japan. When it's very warm and I've been hiking hard it is warm enough in Japan that I often stash away my jacket and just let myself get soaked and let my body heat dry me off. I've never had a problem, like I did in the Alps last summer, of chilling in these conditions. For tents, I would always make sure that it can handle strong wind, as typhoons often roll through Japan in August and the winds can be crazy on the peaks. You also want to make sure it has a small footprint; though the Akto that I have works wonderfully in Japan, very often I found the guylines caused problems in being able to find a camping space because of the huge footprint.

One thing the Japanese do which I think works wonderfully for the high humidity here is carry a "hiking towel" around their necks, which works as a bandana to protect the neck from the sun, but also helps to wipe away all the sweat you cascade as you walk, especially in areas protected from the wind. The towel also doubles as a privates screen when using public baths.

Edited by butuki on 05/14/2008 01:33:29 MDT.

Anthony Weston
(anthonyweston) - MLife

Locale: Southern CA
My Favorite Mountains in Japan website photo's on 05/14/2008 11:15:14 MDT Print View

A picture is worth quite a bit, many pictures of favorite mountains in Japan may be worth even more.

http://www.chiba3.com/mt100/mt100-e.htm

ed hyatt
(edhyatt) - MLife

Locale: The North; UK
food for thought on 05/14/2008 14:13:46 MDT Print View

Miguel, Arapiles, Anthony

I really appreciate you taking the time to come back to me - especially with such a wealth of information; I need to get reading.

The central thing I have taken from your posts is a sense of excitement about going.

Again many thanks - I might be back with some further questions but before that I am about to decamp to Dartmoor for a few days of walking - about as far away from Japanese trails as you could get.

ed

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: food for thought on 03/05/2010 05:50:57 MST Print View

Ed, if you are around, did you ever end up coming to Japan? If so, where did you go and how was it?