Best walks, hikes and treks in Japan

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. Heavily influenced by China for centuries, it withdrew from the world from the 16th to the mid 19th Centuries, its ports closed to (almost all) foreigners.

This isolation 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 the aggressive militarism of the early C20 and its horrendous conduct during WW2, which is still remembered around Asia.

With a population of 126m crammed into the coastal strips of what is a mainly mountainous landscape, there is a huge contrast between Japan’s image of crowded megalopolis, with the often dreary monotony of its suburbs, and the remote beauty of its mountains, its icon Mount Fuji the most famous 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 volcanoes.

What isn’t widely known is that Japan has some of the world’s best walks, hikes and treks. Walking, hiking and trekking options are so varied that everyone’s taste and energy levels can be met.

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