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Welcome to a special edition of Walkopedia Magazine, on Japan's remarkable walking wealth. 

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In this edition


Japan’s Remarkable Walking

Hongu grand torii gate - © William Mackesy

An exceptional country, in its own and in others’ view, Japan has throughout history been isolated, an island nation out on the periphery of Asia. This has produced a unique and fascinating culture and an idiosyncratic and much-admired aesthetic: its temples and gardens, its ceramics and art, its poetry and its cuisine are loved and venerated around the world. (These can be hard to reconcile with its horrendous conduct during WW2, which is still remembered around Asia.)  After the gottedämmerung at the end of WW2, Japan picked itself up and raced forward to become the world’s second (now third) economy. Its economic dynamism, its vast bubble then late ‘80s crash and long deflation, and its weird urban sub-cultures, are all well known modern-era phenomena.

There is a huge contrast between Japan’s image of crowded megalopolis and the remote beauty of its mountains, its icon Mount Fuji the most famous (if not remote!) specimen of a violently shaped landscape. Japan’s Alps rival those of Europe and its islands and quiet backwaters are of a different world.  It extends for around 3,000km, from the sub-arctic north of Hokkaido to the sub-tropics of Okinawa, with a huge variety of biozones and vegetation and animal life as a result, from bear to various species of deer to the endemic serow to more than 500 species of bird.

Japan’s geology, and indeed its existence, result from its sitting astride the junctions between no less than four tectonic plates on the Pacific Ring of Fire, hence its earthquakes, tsunamis (a Japanese word of course), dramatic, rugged mountains and plethora of joke-perfect volcanoes.

Mt. Miyanoura-dake - © flickr user Indrik Myneur

All this makes Japan a fascinating country to walk in, with history and the beauties of a deep civilisation to investigate and superb landscape and scenery to delve into, although this is still surprisingly unknown outside the country. Hiking is now hugely popular with locals; the 100 Famous Peaks of Japan are a bigger draw than the Munros to the Scots.

For perfect alpine splendour, you shouldn’t miss the glories of its …er…Alps, which rise to over 3,000 metres and are riddled with gorgeous walks. It has great volcanoes to climb:  Mount Fuji is the famous one, but by no means the best of, so try a Hokkaido excrescence or one of the specimens in Nikko National Park. You can wind through the ancient sub-tropical cedar forests of Yakushima and traverse the birch forests, grasslands and tundra of Hokkaido.

Japan has some of the world’s best cultural walks, from its famous pilgrimage routes such as the Kumano Kodo or Shikoku Pilgrimage, to the old Nakasendo Highway linking Kyoto and Tokyo.

More information on walking in Japan

Our friends the excellent and pioneering Walk Japan have a superb selection of Japanese walking expeditions

Kaimondake from sea - © Wiki user PENTAX K10D

Deer on the Yakushima traverse - © flickr user Indrik Myneur


Icon: Mount Fuji

© Joe Jones

Enough said!

See more information… 


Walk Japan, a very special firm with very special walks

Walk Japan have to be one of the most impressive firms Walkopedia has met.

With their meticulously selected and researched routes and places to stay; an obsessive's attention to detail; excellent information on the routes and the ability to deploy guides who know a lot but wear it lightly, you are in inspired and inspiring hands - and safe hands, too! And, to our surprise (we like many still thought Japan is expensive) our walk with them was good value, given what we experienced – and ate!

We are proud that we have become partners.

Take a pleasurable journey around their... er.... journeys!


Japan’s great pilgrimage routes

Nakahechi Trail - Hongu Torii gate on classic misty day - © William Mackesy

With long and complicated religious traditions, Japan has seen pilgrimages to sacred sites from early times. Many of the routes are still followed, and make for delightful and fascinating walking for the non-believer as well as the believer.

The spirit-worship and reverence for nature and ancestors of Shinto emerged with the dawn of the Japanese people. Buddhism was first introduced to Japan in the sixth century AD. It remained a preserve of the elite for many years, but was gradually popularized.  Over the centuries, a tradition of mountain asceticism also developed, particularly the elusive Shugendō school, which elided elements of Shinto and shamanism with an ascetic form of Buddhism. In various areas, the mountains became special haunts of its adherents.

One of the fascinations of walking these trails is the view you get of rural Japan; rich remains of a tough but unique way of life are everywhere, even if the population is shrinking and rice terraces returning to forest. You can stay in remote villages yet eat like gods morning and evening.

(See our Kumano Kodo page for more information on Buddhism, Shinto and Shugendō in Japan.)

Koya-san temple complex - © William Mackesy

Kumano Kodo

The Kumano Kodo is a network of old pilgrimage routes on the Kii Peninsula, south of Kyoto and Osaka, which lead to an area which constitute the spiritual heart of Japan. They are associated with the introduction of Buddhism to Japan and centuries of pilgrimage by all levels of society, from emperors to merchants to peasants. It is not just these great sites that were sacred, though:  Kumano is a spiritual realm as well as a physical area. The routes are littered with oji (subsidiary shrines), statues, the remains of tea houses and other reminders of the routes’ rich past. The first major pilgrimage to Kumano was made in 907AD, when the retired emperor Uda made the long and arduous journey. Many retired emperors and aristocrats followed.

The ancient routes consisted of several alternatives: follow the coast and then turn inland at Tanabe to cross the interior mountains on the Nakahechi Trail, the most-used ancient trail, or continue on round the coast on the Ohechi Route to the coastal shrines; or go first to the great Buddhist temples at Koyasan in the north and then cross the rugged interior on the shorter but tougher Kohechi Trail.There were other ways which crossed the rugged and remote mountains of the interior, including via the central mountainous Omine-san area.

Various of these routes and sites are now a World Heritage Site: along with the Camino de Santiago, the only pilgrimage route that has this status.

This is fine walking on numinous routes which are often lined with oji, torii gates, stele inscribed with poems, all evidence of the area’s, and indeed Japan’s, ancient, rich and indeed unique spiritual history. “Cultural landscape” indeed.Most of your time will be in attractive, rugged forested landscape, although much of it is blanketed in planted conifers, which makes for limited variety.

See William Mackesy’s account of walking the Nakahechi Trail.

See Walk Japan’s Kumano Kodo page… 

Pass on Nakahechi Trail © William Mackesy


Shikoku Pilgrimage:
The Shikoku pilgrimage is arguably Japan’s best-known pilgrimage route, and certainly its biggest pilgrimage-challenge: a 1,150km or so, 1,200 year old pilgrimage linking 88 (a lucky number) temples in a sacred circuit in the footsteps of the monk-saint Kukai (or Kobo Daishi) into the heart of Japanese Shingon Buddhism.

The 88 temples are organized in four main clusters, which make a natural focus for shorter walks.The pilgrimage is steeped in tradition and ritual; the tranquility of this picturesque island in no way marred by the steady flow of pilgrim and tourists. You will of course be immured in Japanese culture throughout, staying in ryokans, temple guesthouses and simple family stays, but always eating deliciously.

A full circuit takes up to 60 days, and most walkers would start it in Spring. Many people tackle a few sections of the trail, in one or more days, to suit their time and appetite. It would be mad not to do so if in Shikoku, and many come here just to focus on the pilgrimage.

See also our Shikoku page See Nils Wetterlind’s account for a good insight into how a pilgrimage here can be.

See Walk Japan’s Shikoku page… 

Shikoku temple - © Nils Wetterlind                                             Yamabushi, Omine-san - © William Mackesy


Kunisaki Peninsula

The quiet, forgotten Kunisaki Peninsula is nestled into the western end of Japan’s Inland Sea on Kyushu. It was for many centuries an important centre of Shugendō. The peninsula once had 65 temples; there are now 33 remaining temples and shrines, and there is still a pilgrimage route between them. Mine-iri, a monk’s practice of traversing sacred mountain paths in prayer, has been part of the religious life of Kunisaki since the 9th Century. Although now rare, the practice still continues today in Kuniskai, one of only a few places in Japan where it still does so.The Rokugoman-zan, the local Shinto-Buddhist group, celebrates its 1,300th anniversary in 2018.

See more information...

See Walk Japan’s Kunisaki page

Kunisaki - Nakayama-senkyo ridge - © Walk Japan

Other great pilgrimage routes include the 33 Temple Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimages and Mount Hiei near Tokyo.


 -link to Japan's pilgrimage routes page]


Got some pics or a story that are so good they must be shared?

Let us know – email us at info@walkopedia.net. They may get published!


Hokkaido – the great northern wilderness

Mt. Asahidake View from Kagame-ike pond - © Walk Japan

Japan’s northern main island, and its second largest, is an extraordinary mix of grasslands, mountains both forested and bare; and raw, cone-perfect volcanoes. And lakes and hot springs. The drama (and often sheer emptiness) of its landscapes cannot be exaggerated.

A joy of Hokkaido is its flora and fauna. There are many Alpine flowers peculiar to Hokkaido and some 500 different alpine flowers to be found. A huge range of vegetation reflects the varied climate of this diverse island. Wildlife is in abundance: foxes, deer, eagles and endless sea birds on the coast.

Hokkaido is underpopulated, so has vast empty spaces for walking. With mountains up to 2,100m, there is plenty of challenge.

Numa-no-daira, Daisetsuzan - © Walk Japan

There is a huge selection of remarkable walks in Hokkaido, from demanding mountain climbs and long treks to meanders through gorgeous but gentler scenery.  Here are some of them:

  • Daisetsu-zan NP: vast and gorgeous and Japan’s largest wilderness: a huge variety of landscape includes some of Hokkaido’s highest peaks, as well as other volcanoes, high empty mountains, plateaux, virgin forests, lakes and wetlands. A multitude of walking options, including a 5 day Grand Traverse of the area, one of Japan’s greatest walks, so a great place to base yourself.
  • Shikotsu Toya NP: near Sapporo. Sub-divides into areas by Lake Shikotsu in its huge collapsed volcanic caldera and Lake Toya. Magnificent volcanoes to climb with huge views and lake view forest walks.
  • Ludicrously conical volcanoes, such as Meakan-dake and Yotei-zan. Yoten-zan is a tough 10km, (around 9hr) slog up this perfect volcano, around the crater and back down. Meaken-dake is a relatively easy 8km (4-5 hr) circuit of classic volcanic scenery.
  • Shiretoko Peninsula in the far east, has a central spine of volcanoes,  where you can make a fine 2 day traverse. It is one of Japan’s most unspoilt areas. The site is globally important for threatened seabirds and migratory birds, for marine animals and for endemic species.

Hokkaido is mild from late Spring to early Autumn, making for pleasant walking conditions. Superb autumn colours. You can also walk here in Winter, when it is deep-feeze cold and snowily but often brightly magnificent.

Our friends and partners Walk Japan offer two different expeditions which between them cover a huge variety of what Hokkaido has to offer. Their Hokkaido Hike explores Daisetsu-zan National Park. Their East Hokkaido Walk explores the beautiful and gentle, seemingly empty lowlands of Hokkaido’s eastern extremity. and the Shiretoko Peninsula.

You can also walk here in winter, when it is deeply cold and snowily but often brightly magnificent. For adventurers, but always with warmth, comfort and delicious food at the end of a day. See Walk Japan's ideas

This can be tough walking in remote mountains, with uncertain weather. Come fully prepared. Beware bears in some areas, check out the position.

See more information… 

Daisetsuzan. View from Mt.Kuro-dake - © Walk Japan

View from Mt. Mokoto across east Hokkaido to Mt. Shari and Shiretoko - © Walk Japan


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