On the Trail: Japan Hiking Guidebooks

5 Guidebooks to Help Inspire Your Next Hike

Hiking is one of the most popular pastimes in Japan and is accompanied by a near limitless array of Japanese-language guidebooks to savour the demand. Travel guides however catering to foreign hiking enthusiasts living in Japan as well as international visitors seeking independent and self-guided walks are uncommon. There are scant online hiking resources available in English and even fewer books, most of which are out of print. Having said that if you are able pick up a copy of any titles listed below, they still have plenty of valuable information making them a helpful resource for planning that next hike.

# 1. Hiking in Japan: An Adventurer’s Guide to the Mountain Trails

One guidebook I have referenced a great deal over the years is Paul Hunt’s seminal hiking guide to the Japanese Alps. Up until its release in the late 80’s there were slim pickings when it came to English-language guidebooks. The 33 hikes lead you to some of the most beautiful, unspoiled scenery in Japan stretching from Yakushima in Kyushu thru Rishiri-dake in Hokkaido. Though dated and out of print a lot of the background information still rings true especially Hunt’s passion for the earth sciences, meteorology and natural surroundings which he delves into in some detail.

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Paul Hunt (Published 1988; 7th Edition 1996)
205 pages. Kodansha International. ISBN: 4-7700-1393-0
Available for purchase here.

# 2. Hiking in Japan

Some 13 years after the release of Paul Hunt’s guidebook Lonely Planet published their own comprehensive guide to hiking in Japan. The book does a good job of covering most facets of hiking here and the 69 hikes crisscross the Japanese archipelago including far-flung Iriomote-jima one of the wildest places in Japan. Some criticisms levelled at the guide include down playing the level of difficulty, lack of day hikes and muddying routes descriptions (Oze / Tanigawa-dake). It would seem a general lack of demand has meant a 3rd edition print hasn’t been forthcoming.

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David Joll, Craig McLachlan and Richard Ryall (Published 2001; 2nd Edition 2009)
428 pages. Lonely Planet Publications. ISBN: 978-1-74104-072-2
Available for purchase here.

# 3. Day Walks Near Tokyo

For Tokyo based hikers two guidebooks worth tracking down are Day Walks Near Tokyo by Gary D’A. Walters and his unoriginally titled follow up More Day Walks Near Tokyo. Although both now long out of print and a tad outdated, they nonetheless include some worthwhile hiking suggestions. Each guide has 25 walks along with basic maps covering popular mountains within easy reach of downtown Tokyo. In this first volume he covers the Miura Peninsula, Tanzawa, Takao, Okutama, Hakone and Nikko amongst others.

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Gary D’A. Walters (Published 1988; 2nd Edition 1992)
156 pages. Kodansha International. ISBN: 4-7700-1620-4
Available for purchase here.

# 4. More Day Walks Near Tokyo

In this companion volume Gary D’A. Walters continues to introduce one-day treks of scenic beauty and cultural interest in the Greater Tokyo Area. It is somewhat beefed up compared to its forebear. Being an amateur naturalist at heart means Walters leaves no stone unturned when it comes to informing the reader of all manner of flora and fauna encountered along the way. The main areas included in this guidebook are Hakone, Fuji Five Lakes, Chichibu, Nikko as well as several hikes in Ibaraki and Chiba.

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Gary D’A. Walters (Published 1992)
208 pages. Kodansha International. ISBN: 4-7700-1592-5
Available for purchase here.

# 5. Hiking and Trekking: The Japan Alps and Mount Fuji

The hiatus of hiking books on Japan only recently came to an end with UK publisher Cicerone’s release of Tom Fay and Wes Lang’s Hiking and Trekking: The Japan Alps and Mount Fuji along with Japan’s Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage by Kat Davis. To say these well received guidebooks were greatly needed would be a vast understatement. We wait with bated breath to see if Cicerone decides to expand its coverage to some other regions namely Hokkaido / Tohoku, Greater Tokyo Area and West Japan which remain sorely neglected. Check here for a detailed book review from last year.

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Tom Fay and Wes Lang (Published 2019)
391 pages. Cicerone Press. ISBN: 978-1-85254-947-4
Available for purchase here.

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6 comments
  • I brought the book “Hiking and Trekking: The Japan Alps and Mount Fuji” last year when it came out. It’s a decent book, but it can be a little complicated to follow their multiday trip plans and add to that there is a lack of good maps in the book, but any English hiker in Japan already knows good maps are hard to come by. But English speakers in Japan are lucky to have anything so it’s hard to not own this book if you live near Tokyo.

    • The issue I had was trying to follow one the multiday trips in reverse which was tricky at times as it entailed reading the trail notes backwards. As the for maps they’re helpful as a guide especially as they have the English translations but for navigation I rely on my Garmin and Yama-to-Kogen map.

      • I’ve thought about getting the Yama to Kogen map, but wasn’t sure if it would be helpful, I’ve been here two years and don’t know much kanji. I’ve head there are semi-translated versions of the map out there. Which one do you use?

      • The Yama-to-Kogen maps are basically the golden standard and highly recommend carrying one as it means the signs and kanji you see on the trail can be easily reconciled – even if you can’t actually ‘read’ the kanji. More recently they include translations of most 100, 200 and 300 famous Japanese mountains. The problem I run into however is trying to figure out the detailed trail remarks they include.