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Bruce Tolley
(btolley)

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Japan Backpacking -Hokkaido on 10/13/2009 10:14:48 MDT Print View

I am looking for tips and sources of information to plan a 4 to 6 day backpacking trip in Hokkaido during summer 2010.

Shelter. From what I have read on the web and pictures I have seen, there is very limited space for shelters at backcountry camp sites and a tarp with guylines will not work. Will my pyramid fit or should I take a dome tent with small or no vestible?

Bears. The Japanese sources (in English) I have read recommend bells. Do bells really work as a bear deterrent? My experience in Glacier would lead me to conclude they are mostly worthless. Is USA bear spray legal in Japan? Should I take my bear cannister?

Water. What is the best place to go for up to date info on water availability once you have chosen your route?
Thanks

James Patsalides
(james@patsalides.com) - MLife

Locale: New England
Bear Bells in Japan? on 10/13/2009 10:37:15 MDT Print View

Bruce:
Hey! I haven't hiked in Japan, but on most of the Northeast USA the recommended bear deterant actually IS bear bells, even the SAR guys use bells versus pepper spray. I was surprised, having done bear safety training in the Rockies (thanks Mike C!). Here in Connecticut we have A LOT of black bear and bear bells work just fine. No grizzlies here, though.

I guess it all depends on what type of bear live in the areas you'll be hiking in Japan. Good luck!

Cheers, James.

Michael Skwarczek
(uberkatzen) - F

Locale: Sudamerica
bear bells and noise deterrent on 10/13/2009 11:33:33 MDT Print View

Funny, I was bringing a small Japanese wind chime with me on my 7-day trek (foiled, it looks). I was going to be deep out there and alone, so, part comfort and I realized it may also provide a subtle noise deterrent.

In Los Padres I've kept bears aware of my presence when they came into my area by clanging the pot handle of my snowpeak. It's a booming sound when held right. And the bear stayed a distance away, letting me know he/she was there with those low "whuff whuff whuff whuff" sounds they'll make. Eventually it was obvious the bear needed to go through my space, as we we're in a river valley with no room to circumnavigate, so we packed up and left.

I wouldn't expect a bear bell to do much with Yosemite bears. They seem so hyper-acclimated to humans, that nothing foreign fazes them in the quest for easy food.

I'm really curious what they use in Japan. Everything they make is well designed or attractive and simple.

cheers,
-Michael

UPDATE: oh, and regarding your concern for shelter with small footprints, I have enjoyed the really compact profile of my SMD Gatewood Cape. It breathes well enough, can be lifted higher or low/flush to the ground. Just need a hiking pole or their carbon fiber, three section tent pole (I've used that too).

Edited by uberkatzen on 10/13/2009 11:37:44 MDT.

Yohei Aoyagi
(zzz_bear) - MLife

Locale: Tokyo
Re: Japan Backpacking -Hokkaido on 10/14/2009 01:23:50 MDT Print View

Bruce,

Do you want to go to Daisetsuzan mountain range?

Camp site:
You must camp at specified camp site on the trail.

Bears:
Bears lives in Hokkaido are brown bear. But hikers don't use a canister.
Bell is needed.

Water:
There are parasites in water at nature of Hokkaido.
You should use a water treatment filter or boil water.


This site is good for you.
http://www.outdoorjapan.com/contents/current_issue/1178012507/1183008034/index_html?language=english

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Japan Backpacking -Hokkaido on 10/14/2009 06:42:01 MDT Print View

Hokkaido is a wonderful place to go for a backpacking trip, with wilder and more remote locales than most of the rest of the country. I take it, as Mr. Aoyagi surmised, that you want to go to Daisetsuzan, in the center of the island. It's probably the best area to go for multiday hikes, though if you really want to get remote and away from people you may want to try the Hidaka range in the south, where trails are not so well maintained and there is almost no logistical help.

Keep in mind that the mountains in Hokkaido are more akin to arctic or Scottish mountains than the warmer mountains in the south. The climate and temperatures are different. It can get very cold up there in the summer and some places, like Tomuraushi, are notorious for endless harsh, freezing rain. Last July a large group of people died there due to exposure (and leader incompetence). Make sure you are well prepared for the conditions up there (though summer is usually nice).

Brown bears are basically cousins of the grizzly. A bear bell is a good idea. Someone I saw the other day used a bicycle bell on his trekking pole.

One thing you need to watch out for is the "Echinococcosis Multilocular" disease from the red foxes that are prevalent up there. There's an epidemic and you have to be careful. With Ezo deer everywhere, too, you definitely, as Mr. Aoyagi states, need to treat your water.

As to sites not being big enough for your pyramid... I think that is something to worry about in the mountains in the south, not so much in Daisetsuzan. It should be okay to bring the pyramid. The only problem I foresee is that since you have to camp in designated campsites the trampled ground might be rock hard and hard to get stakes into. A free-standing tent might come in handy then. Though, that said, I've never had a problem finding a place for putting stakes in in most places.

Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Los Angeles, CA, USA
Re: Re: Japan Backpacking -Hokkaido on 10/14/2009 16:25:22 MDT Print View

Disclaimer: I have hiked in Japan, but I have not hiked in Hokkaido.

Probably the last two previous posters could tell you more than I, but in many places in Japan (at least further south), there are Coya. Coya are mountain huts. They are called -goya when combined with a proper name (e.g. Tsuchigoya). Some are pretty simple with few amenities, some are pretty deluxe (by my West Coast USA standards), offering beds (futon), meals, and showers.

I found it really helpful to use the huts if for no other reason than I didn't have to take so much gear on my trip to Japan of which only 30% was backpacking. (no tent, no bag, no pad)

Bruce Tolley
(btolley)

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Backpacking Japan-Hokkaido on 10/16/2009 21:42:40 MDT Print View

Thanks everyone for the tips.

Hokkaido was chosen by my son who spent 8 weeks last summer in the south, near the city of Nara on a high school exchange program.

And yes, I am looking at Daisetsuzan if only because it is the only 5 day trip described in Hiking in Japan by the Lonely Planet. We will also need to meet up with my non backpacking wife and daughter at the beginning and end of the 5 days to have a 10 day total sojourn.

And thanks for the comparison to Scotland. I have been on the summit Ben Nevis and experienced the temperature drop to 20 degrees F and visibility diminish to 50 feet in July. It was quite amazing. I turned around and descended but 100s of folks were still going up.

Edited by btolley on 10/16/2009 21:47:44 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Backpacking Japan-Hokkaido on 10/16/2009 22:32:52 MDT Print View

> I have been on the summit Ben Nevis and experienced the temperature drop to 20 degrees F
> and visibility diminish to 50 feet in July. It was quite amazing. I turned around and
> descended but 100s of folks were still going up.

Of course they were going up. The weather was pretty ordinary ...

Cheers

Arapiles .
(Arapiles) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Re: Japan Backpacking -Hokkaido on 10/17/2009 07:04:56 MDT Print View

"Shelter. From what I have read on the web and pictures I have seen, there is very limited space for shelters at backcountry camp sites and a tarp with guylines will not work. Will my pyramid fit or should I take a dome tent with small or no vestible?"

The camp sites in Honshu are often pretty tight but Daisetsuzan is much flatter so it probably won't be such an issue. That said, small domes are the tent of choice in Japan.

One of the other posters mentioned private huts, but I suspect that there aren't any in Daisetsuzan. I'll check my guidebooks and post again if there are.

UPDATE: this English link mentions a number of privately run huts: the huts listed as free are unwardened and at least one of them is noted as being an emergency shelter only:

http://www.idioimagers.org/Daisetsuzan-guide.htm

"Bears. The Japanese sources (in English) I have read recommend bells. Do bells really work as a bear deterrent? My experience in Glacier would lead me to conclude they are mostly worthless. Is USA bear spray legal in Japan? Should I take my bear cannister?"

Hokkaido has grizzlies. Pepper spray is legal in Japan and can be purchased in Tokyo and (I would expect) Sapporo. I used to carry it as the black bears in Honshu are quite aggressive (a man collecting wild vegetables near my father-in-law's farm was killed by a black bear). I did carry bells for a while but the tinkling was worse than the bears, so instead I yelled out "hey bear" periodically. As to canisters it would be worth checking what is required in Daisetsuzan.

Water: I expect the campsites in Daisetsuzan would have water but check with the rangers. The driest walk I have ever done was in Hokkaido in fog and rain.

Edited by Arapiles on 10/17/2009 07:52:27 MDT.

Arapiles .
(Arapiles) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Re: Backpacking Japan-Hokkaido on 10/17/2009 07:20:29 MDT Print View

"And yes, I am looking at Daisetsuzan if only because it is the only 5 day trip described in Hiking in Japan by the Lonely Planet. We will also need to meet up with my non backpacking wife and daughter at the beginning and end of the 5 days to have a 10 day total sojourn."

If your son does have his mind set on Hokkaido then the Japanese members of these forums could probably suggest some other 5 day walks in Hokkaido.

Hokkaido is beautiful but it's a lot like being in Alaska. If your son is not wedded to the idea of Hokkaido then there are plenty of 5 day walks in Honshu where top and tailing to meet up with other family members would be easy. Personally I'd suggest Kamikochi or Senjogahara. Kamikochi has the advantage that the non-hiking family members can stay in a lodge in the valley base with plenty to see and do (and it's stunningly beautiful) or even stay at Todoroki, a couple of hours walk up the valley.

Some photos of Kamikochi:

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

The biggest problem with hiking in Japan for foreigners is the lack of English language information. Unfortunately the Lonely Planet book is unreliable - I used to seriously wonder if the authors had actually done some of the walks: I'd often bounce their routes off my Japanese friend who runs a hiking shop and his jaw would drop.

Edited by Arapiles on 10/17/2009 08:04:34 MDT.

Bruce Tolley
(btolley)

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Japan Backpacking- Hokkaido on 10/17/2009 16:26:01 MDT Print View

RE: Ben Nevis
"Of course they were going up. The weather was pretty ordinary ..."

I had already summitted and already eaten my cheese and crackers and was getting cold, imagining a much warmer seat in the pub and a pint of bitter. As to "ordinary," the cold weather and fog on Ben Nevis was better than the gale force winds that blew me off the approach to Scafel Pike 8 weeks later.

Edited by btolley on 10/17/2009 16:27:13 MDT.

Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Los Angeles, CA, USA
Lonely Planet -- Japan Hiking Guide on 10/18/2009 20:37:54 MDT Print View

Unfortunately the Lonely Planet book is unreliable - I used to seriously wonder if the authors had actually done some of the walks: I'd often bounce their routes off my Japanese friend who runs a hiking shop and his jaw would drop.
I also used the Lonely Planet Book. I didn't quite have "jaw dropping" experiences, but I did find a lot of the information to be out of date. I believe the current edition is now almost 10 years old. It's in serious need of updating. We got some good ideas from the book but it is important to confirm the information and to be flexible -- we had to modify our plans greatly when we found some of the trails that we had intended to take were overgrown and difficult to follow.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Lonely Planet -- Japan Hiking Guide on 10/18/2009 23:02:28 MDT Print View

I concur about the Lonely Planet book... unreliable, seriously limited in the choice of places to walk, and, one thing I hate about the whole Lonely Planet series, so cynical and negative about all the places to visit that you'd think that everything in Japan was boring or unremarkable.

There are almost no books in English on hiking in Japan. All the available books are at least 10 years old, the other two about 25 years old...WAY out of date! I have no idea why Japanese publishers don't publish books for tourists on the mountains in Japan... a serious omission to one of the very best parts of Japan and Japanese people. Try these sites:

Hiking In Japan

Outdoor Japan

My favorite 5-day walk in Japan is in the North Alps, from Kamikochi through Kurobe Goro (or Kumo no Daira) to Oritate. It's one of the remotest locations in Japan and absolutely stunning.

Kurobe Goro on Flickr

Edited by butuki on 10/18/2009 23:10:25 MDT.

Arapiles .
(Arapiles) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Re: Lonely Planet -- Japan Hiking Guide on 10/19/2009 07:01:10 MDT Print View

"I believe the current edition is now almost 10 years old. It's in serious need of updating."

It's not quite that old, but it was pretty poor to start with. Kitadake is Japan's second highest mountain and LP managed to not mention - at all - a very large hut at the confluence of all the trails to the summit. That's why I suspect they never walked it.

Also, like Miguel says, it was written by people who flew in and obviously didn't have much knowledge or liking for Japan - their general guidebook in the early 90s was borderline racist.

The only guidebook that was around when I moved to Japan was the Paul Hunt one, and if you read it carefully you could work out that he did the walks in the late 70s and early 80's: I was using it in the early 90s and it was out of date then. In one part about Takao he refers to a youth hostel - which closed about 25 years ago from what I can work out! His website now notes that "the Takao Youth Hostel has been demolished". He also has a walk which refers to "Ontake-san". Ontake-san is one of Japan's most famous mountains and is/was a pilgrimage site: only problem is that he's referring to the wrong mountain because he misread the kanji! I went to (the real) Ontake-san on an organised walk with my friend's shop and thought I would read up on it first: so, I'm there with Paul Hunt's book and it's just not gelling with what they're talking about in the briefing - I showed them the book and after a second or two of bewilderment the penny dropped: similar kanji, wrong mountain.

Ironically, the Japanese guidebooks are the best I've ever seen - they're literally fantastic: detailed maps updated yearly, elevation profiles, info on the flora and fauna along the way, notes about history, pretty accurate time estimates for each part of the walk .... I think it would be great if one of the Japanese publishers simply translated one of their guides into English. And it's not just in Japan either: we went to Europe in the early 90s and my wife's Japanese guide book was so much more informative, knowledgeable and accurate than my English ones it wasn't funny.

Bruce Tolley
(btolley)

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Japan Backpacking - Hokkaido on 10/22/2009 19:00:20 MDT Print View

Thanks everyone for the tips and references. I found a copy of Paul Hunt's book on Amazon and his web site which is itself dated.

As to the unreliability of the LP books, I am not sure this is unique to Hiking in Japan. I once made a day trip to the Singapore Zoo just to see the Komodo Dragons described in the guide book. No dragons. No dragons ever according to the Zoo lguides and printed material although they had lots of other big lizards....