Japan

Asian holidays: Japan’s best hikes for New Zealand hikers

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Take advantage of Japan’s world-class hiking along these stunning trails.Photo/Getty Images

we are one nation fanatical wandererSo it makes sense to combine japanese holiday You’ve always dreamed of hiking the country’s delightful, unspoiled byways, writes Julian Ryall.

Japan stretches nearly 2,900 kilometers from the northernmost town of Wakkanai in Hokkaido to the southernmost island of Yonaguni near Taiwan. The more than 14,000 islands in between offer vastly different experiences – in culture, cuisine, history, architecture, geography and countless other aspects of this unique destination.

The best way to explore these differences is on foot.

Japan’s ancient rulers built a network of railroads across the country as they raised taxes and sent troops to quell occasional local rebellions. The samurai lords also had to regularly visit the feudal capital of Edo, now the metropolis of Tokyo.

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These routes may have long since been abandoned for their original purpose, but it is still possible to follow them through mountain passes and valleys that have become untouched backwaters.

It is still possible to follow Japanese hiking routes through mountain passes and valleys that have become untouched backwaters.Photo/Getty Images
It is still possible to follow Japanese hiking routes through mountain passes and valleys that have become untouched backwaters.Photo/Getty Images

Many other routes are religious pilgrimages created as spiritual and aesthetic exercises for monks. These also remain, including the 1,200km 88-ji temple pilgrimage in Shikoku and similar hikes on the sides of Mount Fuji, Japan’s most famous natural landmark, still considered sacred by many.

Paul Christie, founder of Walk Japan tour company, noted that these ancient streets are lined with traditional inns that have welcomed weary travelers for centuries and perfected the art of hospitality, and were appointed by the Japanese government as “Ambassadors” to promote tourism in the country.

“In short, Japan’s wide variety of geography and flora, combined with its unique four seasons, make it an excellent destination for hikers,” he said. “And, there’s the Japanese themselves, with their food, their wonderful culture and their hospitality and friendliness.”

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Nakasendo

Originally known as Tosando, which means “Highway Through the Eastern Mountains,” the route was originally built to help tax collectors in the then-capital Nara with their businesses, but was later abandoned.

Now known as the Nakasendo, the 534km route still originates in Nara and winds through mountain passes and deep valleys inland before reaching Tokyo. Originally, there were 69 stops on the route where weary travelers could change horses or rest overnight, and a number of traditional timber-framed inns have survived to this day offering similar resting places.

Hiking from Kyoto to Tokyo can be done in a comfortable 10 days or so, but many opt for a shorter three-day trek on some of the most attractive sections.

The trail follows off-the-beaten-track paths through isolated communities, detours to temples where farmers still come each spring to pray for a good harvest. Post towns are usually just one narrow street lined with wooden houses and shops selling snacks such as local sake, “sembe” rice crackers or wooden handicrafts.

Towns along the Nakasendo usually consist of only one narrow street lined with wooden houses and shops.Photo/Getty Images
Towns along the Nakasendo usually consist of only one narrow street lined with wooden houses and shops.Photo/Getty Images

Outside the towns and beyond the roads, closely linked stones laid hundreds of years ago still indicate the routes to be followed.

The trail cuts through thick bamboo groves that crackle in the breeze, and the overpass still bears the imprint of snow in the spring months. Steep valleys cast deep shadows, chilling mornings on the trail until the sun rises and encourages hikers to start stripping.

Inevitably, after days without neon lights, traffic and crowds, arriving in Tokyo was a shock to the senses.

start planning – japan.travel/zh/spot/1367

Visiting Shikokuji Temple

The Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage is one of the few sacred treks in the world that describes the complete route, covering 1200 kilometers across the stunning countryside of Shikoku.

As the name suggests, the pilgrimage includes 88 temples and countless other sites, and Kukai, also known as Kobo Daishi, is a revered figure in Japanese Buddhism who is believed to have trained or visited the sites in the 9th century.

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Today, pilgrims typically wear a white “hakui” vest representing purity and innocence – although in the past it also signified a death shroud, meaning the pilgrim was prepared to die at any point during the journey – and a “sugegasa” cone shaped hat.

Pilgrims visiting Shikokuji usually wear white
Pilgrims visiting Shikokuji usually wear white “thin clothes” vests.Photo/Getty Images

Modern-day pilgrims may choose the route for religious reasons, though others use it to pray for health or safety, or to honor deceased loved ones. Others use it only for reflection or to get away from everyday life.

Hikers can also carry a rosary, a small bell (to ring after each verse) and a “zudabukuro” bag to hold candles, incense and a pilgrim’s book, which will be read after prayers at each site Put a stamp on it. Another important object is the “kongozue” staff, which is believed to be the personification of Kobo Daishi as he guides pilgrims – but in past centuries it has also served as a gravestone for those who died on the arduous path.

Reishanji Temple in Tokushima prefecture is considered the traditional starting point for the journey, which takes about six weeks for someone who can walk 30 kilometers a day. For those with less time, the trek can be broken up into more convenient, shorter segments.

start planning – shikoku-tourism.com/en/shikoku-henro/shikoku-henro

Pilgrims visiting Shikoku-ji Temple.Photo/Getty Images
Pilgrims visiting Shikoku-ji Temple.Photo/Getty Images

Mutsu Coastal Trail

From ancient times to modern times: The Michinoku Coastal Trail is Japan’s newest long-distance hiking route, stretching 1,025 kilometers along the coasts of Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures in northeastern Japan.

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The trail features rugged scenery, with towering cliffs that drop into the Pacific Ocean. The region is relatively remote, and few foreign tourists venture this far north. It takes about 44 days to complete the trail, but one- and two-day tours are most popular.

Unfortunately, the region is also synonymous with the March 2011 magnitude 9 earthquake and a series of towering tsunamis it unleashed. The walking tour will traverse coastal communities forever changed by the event; those who have rebuilt and returned to normalcy and others still scarred by the tragedy.

A symbol of recovery, designed to attract tourists to an often overlooked part of Japan, the trail weaves through now peaceful villages and towns, home to Pacific fishing fleets on one side, rice fields and steep, forested valleys in the another.

The Tohoku region is revered as a land of ancient and unique traditions, legends and dialects that are often difficult for even other Japanese to understand. But foreign tourists need not worry in this regard, as the locals are very welcoming.

The route is dotted with accommodation options, ranging from fairly basic hotels to some very comfortable ones, while the location of the local area means visitors are never far from the boiling hot “hot springs” hot springs, ideal for weary hikers Choose the legs.

start planning – michinokutrail.com

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The Michinoku Coastal Trail is Japan's newest long-distance hiking trail, stretching 1,025 kilometers along the coast.Photo/Getty Images
The Michinoku Coastal Trail is Japan’s newest long-distance hiking trail, stretching 1,025 kilometers along the coast.Photo/Getty Images

Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage

Buddhism in Japan can be traced back to the stunning Kii Peninsula, southeast of second-largest city Osaka, and the hilltop town of Koyasan, where towering cedar trees dot temples and shrines dating back more than 1,000 years.

Pilgrims wishing to pay their respects at Mount Koya will need to take the network of routes now known as the Kumano Kodo route, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2024.

As Buddhism developed in Japan more than 10 centuries ago, it was believed that monks who had undergone rigorous religious training were the most effective in spreading the religion. The remote and inhospitable interior of the Kii Peninsula is where this mountain asceticism originated, and the monks who emerged after the practice were believed to have supernatural powers.

Temples and shrines dating back more than 1,000 years add luster to Kumano Kodo pilgrimage.Photo/Getty Images
Temples and shrines dating back more than 1,000 years add luster to Kumano Kodo pilgrimage.Photo/Getty Images

The rugged peninsula is criss-crossed by trails, most starting in picturesque coastal towns and heading uphill.

The most popular route in modern day trekking is the Nakahechi Imperial Route, the route most used by the imperial family, which begins at Tanabe on the east coast of the peninsula and climbs up to Kumano Shrine. Traditional accommodation is provided along the way.

The most challenging trail is the Kohechi Mountain Route, which straddles the center of the peninsula and includes 72 kilometers of steep trails along some high passes. Local authorities recommend this to experienced hikers.

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start planning – tb-kumano.jp/en/kumano-kodo

A mother and daughter stroll along the Kumano Kodo.Photo/Getty Images
A mother and daughter stroll along the Kumano Kodo.Photo/Getty Images

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