The first name that pops in a person's mind when they hear the phrase 'mountains in Japan' is Mount Fuji, aka Fuji-san. The lofty, sky-high Mount Fuji is unquestionably an awe-inspiring natural wonder that is now a national symbol for the Land of the Rising Sun, and rightly so!
Fuji-san's widespread popularity is acknowledged across the world, making it a globally recognized icon of the Japanese nation. Considering Mount Fuji's unmistakable eminence and jaw-dropping natural beauty, it's no surprise that it is a wildly popular tourist destination that draws endless crowds each year towards Japan. Suffice to say that Mount Fuji is the most popular and notable mountain in Japan. However, it's surely not the only one.
Japan is packed with mighty mountains throughout its topography. From majestic peaks with soaring elevations to magnificent hills and captivating cliffs, there is a never-ending assortment of mountains in Japan, making the island nation an absolute delight for nature enthusiasts.
The multitude of mountains in Japan allow every traveler to scale hilly elevations while offering them mesmerizing vistas to enjoy all along the way. Whether someone is a seasoned hiker or a novice trekker, they can certainly go about gallivanting on any of the numerous mountains in Japan without trouble.
If you want to explore the mountains in Japan outside of iconic Mount Fuji, here is an in-depth guide on some of the less-popular, though equally enthralling, mountains in Japan.
Resting in Japan’s Nara Prefecture, Mount Yoshino is a magnificent natural feature that encompasses unmatched scenic beauty and awe-inspiring religiosity together. Even though many mountains in Japan offer a combination of captivating sceneries and stirring spirituality, Mount Yoshino is particularly recognized for that because it is a particularly sacred spot for the Shugendo sect.
The Shugendo faith is a syncretic religion that combines elements of Shinto, Buddhism, and folk practices into a uniquely Japanese combination. Mount Yoshino holds much significance for the people of Shugendo because their mountain monks, or yamabushi, would acquire spiritual purification. They would undergo severe physical and spiritual challenges on Mount Yoshino to gain spiritual enlightenment. At present, mountaineers can witness the ascetic training of monks, primarily during the religious festivals held in the temples on-site: Kinpu, Kinpusenji, and Yoshimizu. Out of the three sacred sites on Mount Yoshino, Kipusenji is considered the holiest for the Shugendo community. Many sacred celebrations are held on Mount Yoshino; if you happen to attend one, you could witness fascinating religious practices, such as monks walking through flames.
Seasonal changes occur everywhere throughout Japan’s topography. Be it any of the isolated islands or one of the towering mountains in Japan, every landscape in the country has gorgeous changes from season to season. Likewise, Mount Yoshino channels the quintessential Japanese seasonality in the most remarkable fashion.
The warm summer season on the mountain brings a pleasant breeze stealing floral scents from hydrangea shrubs, which open under bright blue skies shaded by green trees. The winter season shrouds the scenery in thick blankets of white snow, making the location look like a frosty dreamland. Fall turns the cherry blossom-covered greenery crimson, channeling autumn perfectly. The spring cherry blossoming season is, without doubt, the best time to visit Mount Yoshino!
Mount Yoshino is recognized as one of Japan’s top spots to see cherry blossoms, or Sakura. Sakura viewing is a celebrated cultural practice of Japan. Mount Yoshino is a prominent destination to do that because the splendid mountain is home to 30000+ cherry blossoms. The pastel pink and white flowers covering the mountain range are divided into four sections; the upper, lower, middle, and inner.
Each pocket of cherry blossoms flourishes at different times, and because of this you can see the pretty flowers on Mount Yoshino for longer than most other cherry blossom spots in Japan. If you want to see the delicate flowers in all their glory on Mount Yoshino, you should ride the Yoshino Ropeway, which is believed to be the oldest ropeway in Japan. The aerial journey offers the most majestic scenes underneath, with thick cherry blossom plants covering the scenery appearing as fluffy clouds of pastel pink flowers. Riding the airborne gondola is your best bet to take in and appreciate the beauty of Mount Yoshino the right way. However, that doesn’t mean climbing the mountain is any less rewarding. If you choose to hike the 350m high mountain, you will pass by dense vegetation covered in splendid sakura, offering the best spots for a picnic under the sky.
Getting to Mount Yoshino is pretty convenient, thanks to Japan’s vast network of trains. Board a JR train to Yoshino-guchi station from any of the popular metropolitan cities. Once you arrive at the station, get off and take another train to Yoshino Station. Thirty minutes later, you'll be at the station that lies at the foot of Mount Yoshino. From here, you can start your journey to the top of the mountain on foot or ride Yoshino Ropeway.
Another exceptional mountain in Japan, Mount Omine, also called Mount Sanjo, is better known for being a sacred site. However, it is not just a holy spot; the landscapes of Mount Omine are gorgeous, making it a favorite tourist spot, especially for nature enthusiasts.
People who wish to witness, or even take part in, the age-old Japanese religious practices of the Shugendo sect should make their way towards Mount Sanjo. However, it must be noted that Mount Omine’s consecrated homes and the religious rituals practiced there are accessible only to men. It may come as a surprise to many that in this day and age, a place exists that doesn't allow women to enter, but this practice has been a part of the culture of this particular religion for centuries.
In Japan, some native religious groups, particularly the Shugendo mountain worshippers, have considered women impure for centuries, hence keeping them away from sacred sites. This is why some of these holy destinations in the country have been off-limits for women for the better part of history. Although the rule barring women from going on sacred mountains is not valid in most places in Japan, Mount Omine remains the exception.
Women can stroll around on the mountain, but they are not to enter Omine-senji, the iconic Shugendo temple on the cliff. This means they cannot witness or participate in the spiritual training which includes the demanding three tests of courage.
However, the ban on women is not as stringently applied to tourists as they are to the local community. There have been reports of female travelers breaching the ban and entering the premises of the scared temple, yet no official complaint has even been registered. If you want to take your chances and explore the Ominesanji temple, you should consult local experts before making any impulsive decisions.
As mentioned earlier, the natural scenes on Mount Omine are no less alluring than most mesmerizing sceneries in Japan. If you tread along the trails up the elevation, you will see some of the most enchanting vistas. But bear in mind, not all hiking tracks are open for women. They can scale the mountain through just one particular trail that is designated for women only-Nyoin Omine.
Located in Yoshino Kumano National Park, Mount Sanjo offers delightful green landscapes to those who take on the challenge to hike the mountain. When trekking up, travelers go through thick forests surrounded by a woody scent, with birds cooing in the background in their nesting season. Simply put, climbing Mount Omine can transport a person to a mystical land where sky-high trees line paths and thick mist makes the atmosphere.
If you don’t want to trek up the sacred mountain, you can swap the journey to the top with a laidback adventure at Ryusenji temple at the foot of the hill.
This Ryusenji temple in Nara Prefecture enshrines a dragon-headed gargoyle, which is believed to be a holy man that was captured in the vicinity. The place is unbelievably serene and offers crystal clear fresh spring water maintained at 10-degree Celsius throughout the year. Legend has it that this water can cure illnesses, which is why travelers from far and wide visit the sacred spot and drink the healing water. The vermilion-colored temple stands against the sacred Sanjo Mountain that displays its seasonal changes remarkably.
Spend time at the Ominesan Ryusenji temple and take in the enthralling beauty around it. And when you are completely charmed by the surrounding vibrant foliage, head to the nearby town of Dorogwa onsen. There you can enjoy the small-town charm and the peace it offers by staying at one of the inns in the area for the night.
Get to Shimoichiguchi Station from Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, or Tokyo. Once you arrive at the station, get off and hire a cab to reach the base of the 1719m-high elevation.
Word of Caution: If you plan to hike up to the summit, keep in mind that the trails lining Mount Omine are not the easiest. If you are a beginner, you might want to consider a different trail.
The last name on our list of lesser-known mountains in Japan is Mount Takao or Takaosan. A relatively smaller mountain, Mount Takao is a popular tourist spot among the locals due to its incredibly easy accessibility.
Resting less than an hour away from Central Tokyo, Takaosan offers a 599m high summit with lots of fun activities and beautiful sceneries. True to its Japanese roots, the mountain showcases regional seasonality beautifully, offering varying sights through the four seasons. The spring season brings swaying cherry blossoms, while fall offers colorful foliage. In the summer, the pleasantly warm wind caresses the lush greenery washed in bright yellow sunlight. Wintertime is undoubtedly the most favored season to visit Mount Takao because of the breathtaking, uninterrupted views of Mount Fuji visible to the travelers.
The sceneries a person gets to enjoy while exploring Takaosan are nothing short of stunning. Besides, they offer a break from the constant bustling energy of neighboring Tokyo. A quick trip to Mount Takao, perhaps on the weekend, can recharge your body and mind without you having to take a long holiday.
If you are interested in learning about Japanese Macaques, you will love a visit to the National Zoo on Mount Takao. The area exclusively to the monkeys is called the Monkey Park, where you can see monkeys in their natural habitat. The park authorities also put up shows where monkeys perform and entertain visitors. From uni-cycling to walking on ropes, there are quite a few activities that resident macaques do during their performances. After enjoying your time at the monkey park, you can go towards the Botanical Garden.
The Botanical Garden on Takaosan has more than 300 species of native grasses and impressive wildflowers. If you are a plants person, you will love to spend time with the countless rows of flowers and shrubbery present.
599 Takao Museum
A museum called the 599 Takao Museum also lies at the base of Mount Takao, where you can learn all about the natural resources and habitats in the area.
The Yakuoin Temple
One of the most interesting features of Takaosan is the temple close to the summit, Yakuoin Temple. A sacred house for Shugendo and other ascetic practices, Yakuoin temple is a unique travel destination because of the many statues placed inside. Carrying long noses and wings, the monuments at Yakaoin temple depict tengus- mythical beings that were messengers to mountain deities. Legend has it that these mythical guardians protect good people and punish evil. The temple also has two paths leading to the main complex; one dedicated for men and the other for women. The stairway for men has 108 steps, each of which represents a worldly desire. So as a person climbs up the steps, they supposedly leave behind their material wishes. In contrast to the draining pathway for men, the route constructed for women is much easier, and ascending it doesn't symbolize any particular resolutions, such as leaving behind worldly desires.
Board a train from Tokyo’s Shinjuku station on Keio Line to reach Takao-sanguchi station. From here, you can start your hiking journey or use chair lifts to get up the mountain.
While the Land of the Rising Sun is brimming with mountains, and you can visit any of those, the three mentioned in our guide are pretty good for a start. Begin your mountaineering experience with any of these three less-popular-than-Mount-Fuji mountains in Japan.