8 Hiking in Japan
We call it bush walking in Australia and they call it mountain walking. By any
name, it's a popular recreation in Japan and well organised.
Japan has an extensive system of National Parks with trails to suit all tastes from
the casual walker to the hiking enthusiast. Parking, toilet and other facilities are
provided and there's no shortage of maps and helpful signs for those who can read
Hiking in Japan is much the same as in other countries but there are notable
differences. One is the virtual absence of campsites. My wife and I have hunted for
them and occasionally found one, only to discover that it is reserved for youth groups.
We've spoken to hikers about this and have received a mixed reaction. Some are
amazed that anyone over the age of twenty would want to sleep in a cabin or tent.
Others say there is no law to stop you sleeping on a mountainside and that's what they
Another notable difference is wildlife . In Australia, where I live, it is important to
keep an eye out for snakes and crocodiles. In Japan it's bears, boars and monkeys .
The Japanese National Parks people are highly protective of the furry creatures in their
care and some of them venture surprisingly close to cities.
I recently photographed the warning sign (above) about bears. I came upon it in a
park about 100 km from Tokyo and showed it to friends who live nearby. The wife
refused to believe there were bears in the park, claiming that the wildlife service puts
the signs up to attract tourists. Her husband assured me that the bears are real and
have to be taken seriously.
We wear bear bells when we go hiking in Japan. They jingle and let the bears know
we are coming. That way they don't get taken by surprise, which can be bad for their
nerves and lead to dangerous defensive behaviour. I stomp around when I go bush
walking at home in Australia. That way the snakes know I'm coming and get out of my
Japanese hiking gear is much the same as elsewhere but you will occasionally see
people dressed in a far older style . They are pilgrims making their way between
mountain shrines. The traditional gear is white tunic, straw hat and straw sandals. A