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Sports in Japan: Mountaineering and hiking



Until the turn of the century few Japanese would have considered climbing one of their often sacred mountains for anything other than religious reasons. These days, prime highland beauty spots such as Kamikochi are widely popular with day hikers and serious mountaineers, so much so that they run the risk of being overrun. In addition, there are 28 national parks and exploring them and other picturesque areas of the countryside on foot is one of the great pleasures of a trip to Japan. Nevertheless, it's as well to bear in mind that those areas close to cities can get very busy at weekends and holidays. If you can, go midweek and out of season when you'll find the trails less crowded.

Hiking trails, especially in the national parks, are well marked. Campsites and mountain huts open during the climbing season, which runs from June to the end of August. The efficient train network means that even from sprawling conurbations like Tokyo you can be in beautiful countryside in just over an hour. Top hiking destinations from the capital include the lakes, mountains and rugged coastline of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park to the southwest and Nikko to the north. Also west of the capital is the Chichibu-Tama National Park and the sacred mountain Takao-san, particularly lovely when the leaves change colour each autumn; for details of hiking in these areas and 31 others across Japan, pick up a copy of the excellent Hiking in Japan by Paul Hunt (¥2000; Kodansha).

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