Global Adventures | Exploring History and Alpine Peaks in Japan

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, travel along on a Global Adventures scrambling trip to Japan's Northern Alps.
Atsuko Yamaguchi Atsuko Yamaguchi
Global Adventures Leader
May 17, 2022

It was 2019 and I had just arrived in Tokyo. Looking for the hotel where I was to meet our group of Mountaineers, I felt like a lost child. Maneuvering to avoid people with my big suitcase, my senses were in overload as I paused to take a picture of the tight flow of humanity passing me in every direction. A visit to Japan combines modern life with ancient traditions and incredible outdoor opportunities. The juxtaposition was jarring and thrilling.

Early the next day, when we disembarked from our train in Kanagawa Prefecture, modern technology met ancient tradition head-on. The historic Kamakura area is home to 22 historic sites, all clustered in a fairly small area. We visited the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, built in 1063 and surrounded by nature (we saw a traditional wedding ceremony while there!); the Hase Dera Temple, built in 686 and famous for its statue of the eleven-headed Kannon, the goddess of mercy, surrounded by beautiful gardens, ponds, and views of the ocean; and the Kamakura Buddha, a 44-foot-tall bronze statue dating to 1252, an icon in Japan. A lunch of regional cuisine topped off the experience.

Our mountain adventure started the next morning. We boarded our bus with multi-day packs and scrambling gear, taking a 5-hour ride into the spectacular mountains of Kamikochi, located in the country’s Northern Alps. We spent the next 5 days scrambling rugged peaks. Though a popular tourist area, within a few hours we were mostly hiking by ourselves. We followed the beautiful Azusa River to the rustic Tokusawa Lodge, its warm light welcoming us through the thick forest. A traditional dinner, a Japanese bath, and a pre-dawn departure with a packed breakfast and lunch set the perfect tone for our next hiking day. We had views of Mount Yari in the distance and wild monkeys watching from the trees. Fog moved in and out, creating a dream-like atmosphere. The hike to the Yari Mountain Hut was long, and still we took advantage of the nice evening to scramble to the summit of Mount Yari, a jagged spear-shaped mountain with fixed chains and vertical ladders to the top. A miniature wooden shrine at the summit encouraged prayers of thanks.

Back at the hut, we cozied up and slept our first night in the mountains, rising early in the chilly morning to see the sunrise. The traverse from Yari Mountain Hut to Hotaka Lodge was mentally and physically challenging as we navigated steep climbs and drops on exposed terrain often without the help of fixed chains and ladders, taking us eight hours to complete. But the scenery gave us new energy and, after organizing our packs, our group scrambled up Mount Okuho, Japan’s thirdhighest peak at 10,470 ft. Finally, back at the hut, another hearty meal and good conversation prepared us for sleep in a shared room on comfy futons. We all appreciated a good night’s rest.

On our last day, we descended and exited our rigorous route in the Northern Alps, sad to leave the peaks but excited for a relaxing soak in a traditional hot spring before the long ride back to civilization. We began planning our return on the bus ride back to Shinjuku – looking for something even more ambitious for our next visit!

JOIN US IN JAPAN - JULY 2023

Join us for our upcoming scrambling trip to Japan. Trips may be cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19. Learn more at mountaineers.org/globaladventures.com.


This article originally appeared in our Spring 2022 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive

Lead image of Global Adventure participants travel from Yari Hut to Hotaka Lodge. Photo courtesy of Atsuko Yamaguchi.


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