Japan Wanderlust: 6 Amazing Mountains to Climb Under 1,000 Meters

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On January 18, 2018
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Mt Misen Photo by Ashley Owen

As Japan’s tallest mountain, Fuji is definitely at the top of many a keen hiker’s bucket list. However, if you’re new to tramping, scaling a 3,776-meter peak may seem like an insurmountable challenge. But fear not — there’s a plethora of other mountains across the country that are more accessible for beginners but still offer interesting climbs and fantastic views. If that sounds good, here are six great peaks to get you started!

1. Mount Misen, Hiroshima Prefecture (535m)

Mt. MisenPhoto by Ashley Owen

Mt. Misen

Mt. Misen is located on the picturesque island of Miyajima, just south of Hiroshima city. At slightly over 500 meters in elevation, it’s a great hike for beginners. There are three routes up:  the Momijidani, the Daisho-in and the Omoto trails. The Daisho-in route is generally considered to have the best views, while the Momijidani one is the shortest but steepest of the three.

Whichever you choose, it should take you approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours to reach the summit — leaving you plenty of time to explore Miyajima’s other attractions during your visit. From the top, you get spectacular views out over the Seto Inland Sea and back to Hiroshima. As well as the panoramic backdrop, there are also several Buddhist temple structures you can visit before making your way back to the town. Misen is particularly beautiful to hike in the autumn, when you can enjoy the changing colors of the leaves as you climb.

2. Mount Takao, Tokyo (599m)

TakaoPhoto by Ashley Owen

Takao

If you’re looking for a beginners’ hike you can do on a day trip from Tokyo, Mt Takao is a fantastic choice. Less than an hour from Shinjuku, it offers fabulous views over the city — and on clear days you can even catch a glimpse of Fuji-san.

There are a number of different trails to choose from, as well as a cable car and chairlift that will take you halfway up. Trail number one is probably the best option for new hikers, as it’s wide and mostly paved. It will get you to the summit in about 90 minutes while taking you past Yakuo-in Temple and other major sites on the mountain.

At the summit, you can find a soba restaurant and plenty of vending machines, so you don’t need to worry about bringing too much food and drink with you. One thing to be aware of is that Takao is a popular getaway for Tokyoites and tourists, so it’s best to avoid weekends and holidays if you can.

3. Mount Maya, Kobe Prefecture (699m)

View of Kikuseidai from Mt. Maya, KobePhoto by 663highland

View of Kikuseidai from Mt. Maya, Kobe

Maya is probably the most convenient mountain on this list to hike, with the trailhead starting just a stone’s throw from Shin-Kobe station. It forms part of the Rokko mountain range just north of the city and is renowned as having one of the three great night views of Japan. Of course, if you’re planning to hike back down after summiting you might have to settle for the daytime view!

The trail first takes you past the impressive Nunobiki Falls, before continuing on through the forest and up to the Kikuseidai Observation Platform. The hike takes approximately 3 to 5 hours depending on the exact route you take and your level of fitness. The last part of the course runs along the ridge of the mountain range, so you’ll find yourself trekking up and down a bit before finally making it up to the summit.

There’s a spacious area at the top where you can stop for a picnic, and a café where you can grab some refreshments. As well as returning by the same trail, you have the option of taking the Maya Viewline ropeway and cable car back down to Kobe from here.

4. Mount Homan, Fukuoka Prefecture (829m)

HoumanzanPhoto by Miya.m

Houmanzan

Mt. Homan is tucked away in the peaceful town of Dazaifu, less than an hour from Fukuoka city. It’s one of the most popular mountains to hike in the area thanks to its well-marked trails and the spectacular views from the summit.

Beginning just behind Kamado Jinja shrine, the main route should get you to the top and back in about 4 to 5 hours. It largely consists of hundreds of stone steps stretching up to the peak. These can be tiring to climb, so inexperienced hikers should take care to pace themselves. There are benches and rest areas dotted along the path where you can take a break if you need to.

The effort is definitely worth it, because at the top you’ll be treated to a magnificent panorama of the surrounding area. There’s also a small but picturesque mountain top shrine, surrounded by a flat rocky area where you can have a picnic and relax before making your way back down.

5. Mount Hiei, Kyoto Prefecture (848m)

Mt Hiei, Takaragaike Park, KyotoPhoto by 663highland

Mt Hiei, Takaragaike Park, Kyoto

For a hike steeped in tradition and history, Mt. Hiei can’t be beat. Perched between Kyoto and Shiga prefectures, Hiei is home to both a UNESCO World Heritage Site (the beautiful Enryaku-ji Temple) and the famous “marathon monks.” These dedicated individuals attempt to reach enlightenment by completing 1,000 marathons on the mountain over seven years.

Enryakuji KonponchudoPhoto by 663highland

Enryakuji Konponchudo

If you fancy following in their footsteps, there are a variety of trails you can take to reach the summit. A popular route starts about a 15-minute walk from Shugakuin station in Kyoto city. It’s an interesting and reasonably challenging hike that should get you to the peak in about 2 ½ to 3 hours.

The first section is quite steep and narrow, running up through a dense forest where you might be able to spot some wildlife as you climb. After this it gets a little easier, as the path widens out a bit and the landscape changes to towering cedar trees. When you reach the summit, be sure to take some time out from admiring the view to explore some of Hiei’s sacred sites.

6. Mount Kaimon, Kagoshima Prefecture (924m)

Mt. KaimonPhoto by © Yasufumi Nishi / © JNTO

Mt. Kaimon

This perfectly conical dormant volcano is Kyushu’s answer to Mt. Fuji, and presents the most challenging climb on our list. It’s also one of the most interesting hikes, with a singular trail that wraps around the mountain with no switchbacks or tedious paved sections. Be prepared to scramble over roots and rocks, climb up and down ladders, and use ropes to assist you in the steepest places!

It’s about a 4- or 5-hour round trip to the peak and back depending on your level of fitness. The route is well marked, so you don’t need to worry about getting lost — just focus on the climb! The hard work is definitely worth it, as the panoramic view from Kaimon’s summit is breath-taking.

A few tips:

  • Bring plenty of food and water with you
  • Rest when you need to
  • Plan your journey to and from the mountain in advance if you’ll be using public transport — it’s a bit out of the way

Most importantly, though — enjoy yourself!

Hopefully these have inspired you to get out there and explore some of Japan’s many beautiful mountain hikes — whether you’re aiming for Fuji or not!

What other peaks would you recommend for new hikers? Let us know in the comments!

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Kansai-based British writer with a love of cats, Japan and all things "kawaii."

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