5. Nakasendo Trail
A route with serious heritage, which has been walked since the eighth century, this ancient highway from Kyoto through what are now Shiga, Gifu and Nagano Prefectures culminates in Tokyo’s predecessor, Edo.
Venture on it today and you are following in the footsteps of the Tokugawa Shoguns (Japanese military chiefs), who used it to travel through the mountains on their military campaigns. It would take them around three weeks to cover the 533km distance, which was split into 67 stages.
Today you can take on the various stretches of it that survive, using public transport to link sections. En route you, stop at charmingly-preserved old towns, where weary travellers could rest up and enjoy a bed for the night before moving on, such as Tsumago and Narai.
20120829-DSC_0031 by inefekt69 on Flickr (license)
6. Daibutsu Hiking Course
This popular three kilometre hiking trail opens up a short, but scenic landscape of temples and mountains and can be tackled in between one and two hours. To really get the most out of the area, extend this walk with a detour to the cave-shrine dedicated to the goddess Zeniarai Benten, known as the ‘Money-Washing Benten’. This goddess was said to be associated with good fortune, music and water.
The UNESCO World Heritage listed island of Yakushima is worth visiting whether you are a hiker or not. Its beaches are lovely, as are its onsen, which are ideal after a tough hike.
The biggest challenge is taking on the towering 1935m high mountain of Miyanoura-dake, which is southern Japan's highest peak. The island actually boasts six mountain peaks over 1800m. Make sure to fill in a form with your route on it before heading out; this safety system has saved many lives on the island over the years.
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