Last week I provided a selection of resources for where you can find outdoor gear in Japan (easier than you thought, right?) Now that you're all geared out, with some sparkly new shoes (please break them in first) you wonder: now, where do I go?
Of course, it would be ridiculous for me to know every possible hiking location in the country - Japan might not be THAT big but still, there's lots of mountains... Trails of all types can be found rather easily almost anywhere, for anyone, both traveler and resident, beginner and experienced - both on and off the beaten path. Though I suppose it wouldn't be a trail if it wasn't a beaten path? Ok ok, I hear the groans... *wink*
The one thing to keep in mind when looking for hiking trails, is that many maps and/or trail descriptions will be in Japanese only. Granted, most of the names will be in kanji, which you'll want to know anyway when looking for signs, though may be a problem if they designate unmarked landmarks. Though, it's quite common to see signs, at least on commonly-used trails.
Some trail descriptions may designate difficulty level, in which case you will probably want to know these terms: beginner (初級, しょきゅう, shokyuu), intermediate (中級, ちゅうきゅう, chuukyuu) and advanced (上級, じょうきゅう, joukyuu). Good to know in case you think something is going to be easy because the map says it's short and relatively flat, but then find yourself crawling up the side of a mountain contemplating your very existence at that moment in time.
Other useful terms:
地図 - ちず, chizu, map
ハイキング - haikingu, hiking
コース - cousu, course
標高 - ひょうこう, hyoukou, elevation/height (anything with 高 will most likely refer to height of some kind, and most likely measured in meters).
山 - やま, yama, mountain (most likely seen in the names of mountains and trails/courses)
時間 - じかん, jikan, time/hours (will denote approximate time the hike takes if listed)
距離 - きょり, kyori, distance/length (some may only list a number+km (kilometer) instead - anything with "km" will usually refer to length... )
Now, how do we find said trails?
1. Google it. Or, use whatever search engine you prefer. Type in ハイキング and the location of choice. For example, if you live in Shizuoka, as I do, you could type in ハイキング 静岡. (The last two kanji are for Shizuoka). You could type in 県 (ken), if you'd like, but it's not necessary. Remember to use Rikaichan and/or have a translator handy if you find all of the Japanese overwhelming. Though, this usually produces many results for me, and I've found various maps online for local trails as well. You could also type コース (course) with ハイキング to see if it helps your results at all.
This site lists courses in all prefectures in Japan, though the information is all in Japanese and not so in-depth. However, you can copy/paste the course name into your search box and find more specific info that way.
2. Visit the local city hall. Most likely, they will have maps or a list of hiking courses for that particular city. Some places may even have information in English. You could say something like ハイキングコースの地図はありませんか？ (haikingu coosu no chizu wa arimasen ka?; Do you have any hiking course maps? )
3. Talk to the locals - ask around. Ask co-workers or friends, see if they like outdoor activities and find out where they go. Or even fellow foreigners, if they are into outdoor sports. It's likely someone around does and knows of some good places.4. Find an outdoor club - such as Outdoor Club Japan, International Outdoor Club Kansai, International Adventure Club Tokyo, or some of the other associations listed here. (*Note: I don't have any personal recommendations as I'm not involved in any of these, so, if you are involved or know of others, feel free to share your experience/knowledge.) Or, why not join a local club, group or outing? Practice Japanese and get to know your community.
5. Search Japan travel sites in English - Perhaps an obvious one. Granted, these will be the more heavily traveled trails, but no doubt a few will appeal, such as the infamous Mt. Fuji climb. Japan Travel Info and Japan Guide might be good places to start (other than good ol' Google). Some prefectures or prefecture travel guides may have hiking info on the English version of their sites.
6. Check out books - I added the Hiking in Japan (Lonely Planet) book to my Amazon list in the right sidebar. Definitely worth buying if you plan on doing a lot of traveling, hiking and trekking throughout Japan. However, this book does not include local hikes (for obvious reason perhaps), but more common trails or trekking routes (similar to what you might find on the internet but may with some more detailed information).
Other resources (in English):
Chris' Hiking Blog - one mountaineer's personal blog and (excellent) photos of his outdoor adventures in Japan.
Fitness Japan - info and resources for athletic activities, including outdoor recreation, throughout Japan
Hiking in Japan - a blog of various routes throughout Japan.
Hiking in Southern Japan - information about outdoor recreation (including hiking), in Kyushu and Shikoku.
Outdoor Japan - portal for all things outdoor in Japan - includes events, community forums and resources.
For those of you experienced outdoor enthusiasts, or anyone who knows of some more possible resources that just absolutely must be on this list, please leave them in the comments!
*This is my submission for the August Japan Blog Matsuri, hosted by Through Eyes From Afar. The theme is Nature and Japan.