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  • Fumiko Yoshida

The Charm of Japan's Mountains: Volcanoes, Culture, and Mountain Huts

Japan, a country of volcanoes. Mountains have been a part of Japanese life since ancient times. The mountaineering culture, originally thought to have come from Europe, is now cherished by many in Japan.

In this article, we interview Mr. Yukinori Uchida, an inbound project producer, and Mr. Yosuke Yuasa, a corporate sales producer from "Yama to Keikoku" magazine, to discuss Japan's mountains and their charming mountain huts.

Taketoshi Uchida, Yama-Kei Publishers Co., Ltd.

Joined the company in 1991, moving through the editorial departments of "YamaKei JOY" and others, to the advertising department in 2006 to handle PR for mountaineering manufacturers. In 2016, he launched a solutions business for government offices and local authorities, and in 2021, he moved to the corporate sales department to expand solutions for inbound and resettlement strategies.

Yosuke Yuasa, Yama-Kei Publishers Co., Ltd.

After joining in 1997, he contributed to the launch of "YamaKei Online" in 2010, after experiences in the advertising and new business development departments. He managed the site for 11 years and, since 2021, has worked in the corporate sales department, involved in PR for mountaineering equipment manufacturers, mountain huts, and local government tourism promotion.

Volcano Nation Japan

Fumiko Yoshida (Tricolage) : Japan is known as a country of volcanoes. Why are there so many volcanoes?

Uchida: The Japanese archipelago is formed on a complex crust that is rare in the world. It sits at the collision point of four plates: the Eurasian, North American, Pacific, and Philippine Sea plates, making it a region where magma easily accumulates and many eruptions occur, forming volcanoes. Traditionally, volcanoes were classified as "extinct," "dormant," or "active," but with advances in dating methods, we no longer use the classifications of "extinct" or "dormant."

Yoshida: How have erupted volcanoes affected the surrounding environment?

Yuasa: Crater lakes form in the craters of erupted volcanoes, and towns have developed where people have come to live. For example, the famous Fuji Five Lakes were formed by the merging of overflowed lake water and mountain stream water due to volcanic lava flows. On the outer side, there's Hakone, famous for its hot springs. The abundance of hot springs in Japan is because Japan is a country of volcanoes.

Mountains as Culture

Yoshida: Hot springs are an important part of Japanese culture. Can you tell us more about the connection between mountains and Japanese culture?

Yuasa: In Japan, there is something called mountain worship. Mountains have been revered as objects of faith since ancient times, a unique form of Japanese animism. When a mountain erupted, the Japanese thought it was "the anger of the gods" and prayed for peace.

Yoshida: Indeed, when climbing mountains, you often see shrines and torii gates.

Uchida: Mt. Fuji, Mt. Hakusan, and Mt. Tateyama are called the three great mountains of Japan's mountain worship. They were seen as mountains for ascetic monks to climb due to their high altitudes and difficulty. Though now many ordinary climbers climb them, the spirit of mountain worship remains in modern Japanese. The 2014 eruption of Mt. Ontake resulted in many victims, but followers of the Ontake mountain worship were praying, "Be placated, be placated."

The Charm of Japan's Mountains

Yoshida: Mountains, once revered as objects of faith, are now beloved as mountains for climbing. What is the charm of Japan's mountains?

Yuasa: There are thousands of mountains in Japan for climbing. The same mountain changes its expression with the seasons and even depending on one's mental state. The enjoyment is infinite, not just four seasons but twelve months.

Uchida: Japan has extreme climates. Unique to volcanoes, we have all four seasons. Just an hour away from Tokyo, where it rarely snows, you can enter a region with deep snow. Hokkaido has areas where it snows up to 60 cm in one night, which is rare worldwide. Recently, many people from overseas visit Japan to enjoy "Japow" (Japanese powder snow).

Japan's Mountain Huts

Yoshida: Mountain huts are now becoming a destination in themselves.

Yuasa: Exactly. Spending time in tune with nature's timing, feeling the sounds, light, and scents of nature – this is a major attraction. Although places, where signals reach, have increased, mountain huts are originally great places for digital detox and retreats.

Uchida: Mountain huts originally functioned as work huts for forestry and hunting. Many huts have been privately operated since before the National Park Law was established, making Japan's mountain huts very unique. The owner's commitment is strongly reflected.

World-Class Service

Yoshida: I had the image that mountain huts were just for sleeping, but that's not the case, is it?

Yuasa: Mountain huts are different from general accommodations like hotels and ryokans, located in harsh mountainous environments. Many places do not have electricity or running water. Therefore, hut owners provide services with ingenuity under limited conditions.

Uchida: Mountain huts in the Northern Alps and Yatsugatake are said to be of world-class level. They are very clean and serve delicious food. Curry was the mainstream in mountain huts in the past, but recently, there has been a focus on ingredients, with an increase in places serving meals using local products.

Please see the end of this article for some mountain huts recommended by the two.

Sustainability of Mountains

Yoshida: We enjoy mountain climbing thanks to the blessings of nature. What do you think we can do to ensure these beautiful mountains continue into the future?

Yuasa: The basics are very important, such as not littering and never stepping off the designated hiking trails. It's obvious but very important.

Uchida: In the face of global climate change, it's questionable whether humans can resist. Adaptation may be necessary. Humans won't give up their desires. Rather than looking for alternatives, it's necessary to restrain those desires first. Even if we find alternatives, we're still impacting nature. With climate change, more mountains are becoming unclimbable due to landslides. If we don't control our desires, the nature we have now will continue to be lost.

Recommended Mountain Huts

Located in the Northern Alps, Enzanso requires about a 4-hour steep climb from Nakabusa Hot Springs trailhead. Known for its excellent service, it sits on Mt. Tsubakurodake, also known as the Queen of the Northern Alps. The current third-generation president aims to make it the world's best mountain hut, managing a very wonderful hut that embodies the beauty of the Northern Alps. This stylish building was designed by the same person who designed the Imperial Hotel.

Attracting many tourists from overseas, Tokusawaen is a unique facility operated under mountain hut-like rules, such as set lights-out times and the requirement to take your trash home, despite offering hotel-like meals and services. It's located in Kamikochi, one of Japan's leading mountain resorts, accessible by a nearly flat hiking path in about 2 hours on foot, of course unreachable by car.

This quaint, traditionally managed family-run hut is about a 2.5-hour hike from the Inagoyu trailhead. Using firewood for heating and lamps for lighting, it's a very rustic place where you can enjoy conversations with the owner couple and other climbers or just feel happy looking at the mountains.

Located in the deepest part of the Northern Alps, this hut has a very good hot spring. It takes two days to reach the hut from the Oritate trailhead and two days to return, housing what is said to be Japan's most remote open-air bath, a perfect retreat after a tiring climb.

About 2 hours from the Omagari trailhead, Hokkein Onsen Mountain Lodge is located in Kyushu's Kuju mountain range, the highest hot spring in Kyushu, and a power spot where you can heal your climbing fatigue while stargazing.

After speaking with Mr. Uchida and Mr. Yuasa, I was deeply reminded that Japan's mountains are more than just landscapes. They symbolize the unique fusion of nature and culture, shaped by volcanic activity, rooted in mountain worship, and changing with the seasons. My own experiences climbing mountains like Mt.Fuji last year brought fresh surprises in scenery, plants, culture, and customs. The retreat experience in mountain huts, achieved only by climbing and spending quiet time there, is precious. This year, I aim to stay in a mountain hut, taking time to climb and experience a different side of Japan's nature.

This beautiful nature we enjoy is a treasure that must be carefully preserved by our efforts and passed on to future generations. When you visit the mountains next time, why not take your time to climb and experience the different aspects of Japan's nature? For your next trip to Japan, Contact us for your travel plan,ning or Follow us on our Instagram and Linkedin!


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