Take a Hike – in Japan

By Sergio Lombardi

A few weeks ago, a friend visited from the States on vacation, and I invited him to stay in my guest bedroom for a day or so before moving on to touring the country side. During dinner, I asked him what his itinerary for the week was. I expected the usual display of guidebooks and brochures concerning the scenic sites, the charming villages, rides on the bullet train, etc. Instead, my friend pulled out a stack of papers, consisting of satellite maps with highlighted trails and camping sites. My friend wasn’t merely touring the country side – he was hiking it.
Hiking is, admittedly, not the first thing we think of when we think of Japan, home of Tokyo, the world’s largest city in terms of metropolitan population. Don’t, however, let the towers of glass and steel belie the existence of some of the most beautiful places in the world to enjoy nature. I myself had the opportunity to hike in the foothills of Mt. Akagi in my first year here, but one hiking trip is nowhere near the amount of exploring that Japan’s great outdoors warrant.

Of course, it is one thing to say that Japan is a great place to go hiking – it’s quite another to figure out just where one ought to go. Not having some sort of guidance is like saying you’re going to Italy to sample the red wines but not asking where the best vineyards are. Before my friend left, I asked him if he’d used any websites or blogs to help him plan his way. Since he knows I write a blog that reviews such things, he guessed the motive behind my question and wrote down a URL on a sticky note. “I found them quite helpful,” he said, looking a bit strange as he boarded a bus in his hiking gear.

“Them” ended up being the blog Hiking in Japan. This blog is put together by hikers who have quite a bit of experience under their belt and wanted to share that experience with others, and their hiking know-how clearly shines through in all the articles. The home page features a picture of the week, news regarding hiking, new hiking guides, and recently updated guides. The most interesting and useful part of the homepage, however, is the “Hikes by region” list of links, which allows you to look for particular hikes in a certain area. If, for instance, you happen to be travelling in the Minami-Alps area, the website has ten different hike guides you can use for the mountains near the city.

The hiking guides are cohesive and well-written, providing you with a plentiful amount of relevant information, such as streams to refill your canteens/water bottles, places to use extra caution, what time of the year to go, etc. – all in addition to a trail simplistic trail guide. In addition, the writers also provide useful minor details, such as unmarked outlooks that they found particularly idyllic, places where you would be able to get cellphone reception, and so on. Each guide provides detailed information on how to get to the area you’re hiking, as well as providing a rating for the hike’s level of difficulty. There are also links to websites relevant to your hike, as well as maps of the area. Really, anything you might expect in a professional guidebook, you’ll find here.

Outside of the guides, the website features a host of other useful information such as weather conditions, hiking advice, and peak times for sightseers and tourists (i.e., times to avoid these trails – nothing ruins communing with nature than twenty other people communing with nature, too). It seems like the folks at Hiking in Japan have thought of just about everything when it comes to walking and climbing your way through the beautiful Japanese wilds.

There’s one more thing that makes this website top-notch – the pictures. On almost every page, a high-resolution picture is provided that is absolutely breath-taking. You’d be hard pressed to find better pictures elsewhere on the web of these mountains, I think – these photographs are taken by a veritable professional. I can almost guarantee that you’ll have a new desktop background for your computer by the time you’ve read through the website.

There were, however, two things I felt that the website could profit from having or changing, but nothing too extensive. When I first came across the website, I was a bit confused at the layout – while it became simple enough once I figured it out, it would have been helpful for the introductory paragraph to perhaps explain the layout of the page or where certain information could be found. The second thing is a problem with some of the links provided in the guides. There are some that no longer work and lead to error pages, and they ought to be changed.

That said, this is an excellent and unique website. To provide the level of guidance and detail that the writers on Hiking in Japan have would have taken quite a bit of research and writing (not to mention walking and climbing), and I commend them on their job well done. I was encouraged myself to perhaps take a weekend in the future and explore one of the hikes described on the website – the Monster (and its rider) is always up for good road trip, at any rate. Thumbs up to a website that, quite literally, goes the extra mile.

Ciao,

S. Lombardi

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~ by Japan Blog Review on December 13, 2010.

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