I did two trips to Japan. And I will definitely be back. It was the first destination ever in my life that I wanted to return to as soon as I was back home. My first trip was in 2016 as part of a two week trip to Japan, which included visits to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe as well as hiking a large part of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail. The second time was in 2019, when I visited Osaka again, redid a part of the Kumano Kodo trail (the Nakahechi part) and added the Kohechi part to Koyasan. So here are the best tips for Japan – according to me.
Wow. Just wow. If there’s one country that will surprise and amaze you, it will be Japan.
The Japanese habit of omakase (お任せ) when you’re ordering at a restaurant pretty much means, “I’ll leave it up to you”, inviting the chef to be innovative and surprising in the selection of dishes. I try to do it in every city I visit, and apply the idea behind to everything between how I pick my runs, how I pick my food, how I plan activities with my kids, how I explore cities and how I travel in general. So, I obviously tried this in the home of omakase, Japan.
- The Kumano Kodo (also read my packing list and preparations) was my single best experience in Japan. Having the opportunity to experience the old pilgrimage trail as well as meeting locals and seeing some of the most stunning views in Japan was truly memorable.
- The New Japan capsule hotel in Osaka, a men’s club meets capsule hotel meets spa is a great base for your Osaka explorations.
- The Hōnen-in temple in Kyoto but maybe even more the day trip to the Kurama-dera Mountain Temple and the nearby onsen.
Japan might not have the remoteness of hiking the Jordan Trail in Jordan or the Arctic Circle Trail in Greenland or the wide variety of the Laugavegur trail in Iceland, but it might very well one of the best places in the world for hiking.
Several things that make Japan such a perfect country for hiking:
- It is easy to get there. Public transport in Japan is very reliable and widely available, making it very easy to get to trail heads.
- A very good network of accommodations. Especially on the big trails like the Kumano Kodo and Shikoku (or Mt Fuji), there is a wide and professional network of accommodations; minshuku’s and ryokan’s, amazing bed and breakfasts. This makes that you don’t have to carry your tent and usually that you only have to carry limited amounts of food as you can have breakfast, dinner and often even take-away lunch.
- Amazing food. Yeah, the Japanese food is just divine. Although you’ll often won’t have a clue what they’ll be serving you in your ryokan or minshuku, it tastes amazing.
- Great ways to relax. When you’re a bit lucky, you’ll be hiking in an area with the famous Japanese onsen, warm water springs. Nothing better to relax after a long hike than in an onsen.
- Good hospitals and health care system if the shit hits the fan. Japanese health care is really good, which makes it also a really safe country to travel.
- Gear dropping and other services. There is a great network of tourism services and tourism agencies that can help with everything you need, including gear drops.
My favorite hikes in Japan:
- The Kumano Kodo (also read my packing list and preparations) was my single best experience in Japan and might be my favorite hike in the whole world. Having the opportunity to experience the old pilgrimage trail as well as meeting locals and seeing some of the most stunning views in Japan was truly memorable. I did prefer the Kohechi part over the Nakahechi part eventually.
- The Shikoku Henro Trail has been on my travel bucket list for quite a while now.
I guess it is difficult *not* to have a good time in Japan.
- Off the beaten path. I enjoyed pretty much every second of my Japan trips, but looking back, I enjoyed the time outside of the big cities like Osaka, Tokyo and Kyoto the most. Spending time in Koyasan, hiking the popular Nakahechi part of Kumano Kodo but most of all, hiking the more remote part of the Kumano Kodo, the Kohechi part.
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