Hiking in Japan

November has been an ideal month for us to travel around Japan; the mild Autumn temperatures and scenic “changing of the leaves” have made for ideal hiking conditions. We’ve tried to get outside and enjoy this beautiful country as much as possible, which was made particularly easy in Kobe and Kyoto which both have fantastic terrain on the doorstep. Here are a few of our favourite hikes:
Hakuba – Happo Ike Pond
This is the iconic hike in Hakuba. We started from outside the Evergreen Outdoors office (our soon to be employers). Most take the lift system to reach the designated trail to the pond, we opted to hike. The footpaths therefore were limited but we made our way uphill on a range of paths, roads and on pistes! The trek up to the top of the ski runs (where the trail actually starts) was made memorable by seeing a pack of wild snow monkeys up close. Once on the official trail we found it to be very scenic with full autumn foliage on show. The trail itself comprised of an interesting mix of rocky terrain and board walks. Happo Ike pond is a particularly lovely spot and you can see why it is so popular! With more time we would have loved to push on into the higher mountains, however daylight was running short and we had already done ~1,200m of ascent so we thought it best to head back down for a well earned beer.
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Kyoto – Mt Hiei
This was a must for me as I had read about the marathon monks of Mount Hiei in the book Eat and Run by Scott Durek. However, as we started the day on the Eizan cable car, it’s a push to call this a proper hike! The cable car took us to the mid station on the mountain and from there we hiked the well sign posted footpath to the main temple complex. We visited one of the main temples; Konpon Chudo. It had quite a unique atmosphere compared to temples in the centre of Kyoto. After absorbing this atmosphere and enjoying a delicious lunch we decided to hike all the way down.
We had struggled to obtain a decent map of the path down but had a rough map and a fairly solid sense of direction. The path down is wonderful, you feel a million miles away from the city in one instant and have amazing panoramic views of it the next. We were fortunate to cross paths with Miki (a local trail runner) as we were debating the correct path at a crossroads; she extremely kindly agreed to accompany us the rest of the way down. So we jogged for an hour  or so with Miki, down the remainder of the trail. It was an absolute blast and we were humbled that Miki would go out of her way to ensure we took the correct trail and accompany us down!
Myjama Island – Mt Misen
We spent a day visiting the island of Myjama whilst staying in Hiroshima – a popular excursion for the majority of tourists it seems! However it didn’t take us long to break away from the pack and find a little peace of tranquility on this spiritual little island.
Like a lot walks in or around the cities there was the option to take the ropeway to the top, which we ignored. The alternative was to walk and there were three very well marked routes to choose from. We followed the scenic valley gorge, climbing alongside the river whilst looking out for the cheeky deer who appeared out of the bushes at regular intervals. The 2.5km trail wasn’t technically challenging but was very steep so required plenty of stops to admire the view.
The view from the top was superb – a 360 panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean, the ports along the Japanese coastline and tree covered islands popping up all over the place.
Kobe – Mt Maya
After stumbling across the trail head after a short walk from the closest metro station we quickly found ourselves in heavily forested hills and felt completely isolated from the city. We followed the main path from the bottom of Mount Maya (close to the ropeway) all the way to the top. The route up has many spots with epic panoramic views over Kobe and beyond. About three quarters of the way up there are interesting remains of old temples and shrines and from there on shrines dot the way up to the summit. The summit itself offers incredible views and is a famous nighttime spot to overlook the city lights. On the summit there was a chill in the air so we decided to warm ourselves by running back into the city. It was a great run down, following the same path as we climbed but the steep more technical sections were much more fun running down than hiking up. We both finished with big smiles on our faces after making the descent in just 30 mins.
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