Hiking in the North Alps
In every sense, at its heart Japan is a mountainous country. Over seventy percent of the country is considered ‘mountainous’ with the largest concentration of high peaks occurring in Nagano and the surrounding prefectures that make-up Central Japan. Three main ranges – the Akaishi, Kiso and Hida Mountains – are more commonly referred to as the Southern, Central and Northern Alps respectively and collectively make-up the ‘Japanese Alps’.
Long considered the domain of the gods (along with demons and all manner of phantoms), mountains are revered in Japan’s native religion of Shintoism. For centuries, only monks, ascetics and the most hardened of people dared venture high into the mountains and never without strong reason to do so.
Today, the mountains of Japan retain their spiritual importance for many people while also enticing avid hikers from around the world. Numerous trails criss-cross the region providing fantastic walking opportunities suitable to all levels – from short, leisurely walks along raised walkways to multiday mountain trails only suited to experienced mountaineers and climbers.
Covered in deep snow from late-autumn until early-spring, the Japanese hiking and climbing season typically runs from June until October, with the July and September considered the best times to head high into the mountains.
The highest of the three ranges making-up the Japanese Alps, the Hida Mountains or Northern Alps is the highest mountain range in Japan – with multiple peaks rising to over 3,000 metres. For visitors wanting to explore the mountains on-foot, multiple trailheads are located in the Azumino area of Nagano and within easy reach of Matsumoto and Tokyo.
No matter which trail you choose to follow, ascending high into the mountains often called the ‘Roof of Japan’ is one of the country’s best outdoor experiences and one that will spirit you away from the world below and into the realms of the gods.