Take a Hike: A Guide to Kansai’s Best Walking Trails
After a long and bitterly cold winter here in Osaka, finally the weather seems to be clearing and things are, literally, heating up finally.
With the more clement weather comes an increasing urge to venture outside, get some fresh air and have a good walk.
Whilst I love to walk around Osaka City itself, in particular the practical straight line 8 km trail from my house to Umeda, many of my friends have recently told me that hiking in the countryside is where one can derive real pleasure. So, eager not to miss an opportunity, I decided to give it a go. I’ve conducted some online research and taken my first few short walks in the hills in and around Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe.
For your consideration today, I present my top 5 suggested hikes.
Last year I enjoyed a wonderful weekend in Shiga Prefecture with a lady friend. Whilst we spent most of our time enjoying fine foods, good local beers and touring the area by boat, I had little idea that Shiga is also home to some really good hiking.
For my trip last year I stayed in a hotel in Otsu, on the shores of Lake Biwa. For this hike, you’ll need to head to Kusatsu Station, on the JR rapid line from either Osaka or Kyoto.
Once you arrive at Kusatsu Station, head down the stairs at the East Exit, and you’ll find the bus station. Look for bus stop number 4, and take the bus number 153 to Kami-Kiryuu. Don’t worry if you can’t read Japanese, it’s easy to remember where to get off, because it’s the last stop!
The hiking trail will take you in a circular route around the famous “Alps”. At 12 kilometers and with an elevation of around 500 meters, this is a fairly challenging hike which an intermediate level hiker can expect to take 5 to 7 hours to complete. Along the way you will see various Buddhist monuments, plant life and relatively unspoiled forestation. Whilst this is a very scenic trail, one should of course take care in the hot humid summer to avoid hornets, and likewise beware of slippery ice formations on the rocky pathways in the winter. The trail is generally open all year round, although it does close for a few weeks in autumn due to the local mushroom harvest.
Konze Alps can also be quite busy on the weekends, so I would advise you to go there on weekdays if you can.
Next up, it’s over to Kyoto Prefecture, as we explore the prefecture’s highest peak, Mount Minago.
At 972 meters, it’s not exactly a rival to Everest, but it does allow some pretty impressive views of the surrounding region, and makes for the perfect tonic to the hustle and bustle of the urban sprawl below.
Being one of the more peaceful trails, this hike is, as one would expect, a little bit more out of the way than some of the other trails in the area. Coming from Kyoto, you’ll need to take the JR Kosei line from Kyoto Station and get off at Katata. Katata is approximately 25 minutes from Kyoto by train. From Katata, you’ll next need to take the number 50 bus bound for Hosokawa and get off at Sakashita.
Although this route is quite a bit shorter than the Konze Alps, at around 8 kilometers, with an elevation of more than 600 meters, it will still take around 5 to 7 hours for a seasoned hiker to complete. At least, unlike Konze Alps, the trail at Mount Minago tends to be decidedly less populated, regardless of the time of year.
Photo: Robin on Flickr
From Kyoto, we now head south-west to Hyogo Prefecture. As Mt. Minago is to Kyoto, so too is Hyonosen the highest point in Hyogo. This is a challenging hike, with a total elevation of close to 950 meters. How long it takes you really depends on your own capability. Many hikers opt to break up the hike by sleeping at the emergency hut near the summit. Indeed the panoramic views, particularly at sunrise or sunset, are spectacular.
Again this is a trail that can be traversed at any time of the year, but be aware that, given the elevation, you can expect to encounter snow well into springtime, perhaps even until May’s Golden Week.
Photo: cotaro70s on Flickr
To get there take the Limited Express Kita Kinki train from JR Osaka Station and get off at Yoka Station. The train to Yoka should take a total of around 2 hours and 20 minutes.
Overall, a challenging but highly rewarding hike, but certainly not the most convenient one.
Ok they are using the term “Alps” very loosely in the case of the Harima Alps. This place is about as alpine as my living room!
However, as far as hiking trails go, this delightful little adventure, near Himeji offers something a bit different. The terrain varies from indigenous pine trees to something more akin to a desert landscape, and if you’re lucky, you may even run into the odd wild boar or two. Just be careful, in real life, these powerful beasts aren’t anywhere near as friendly as Pumbaa from the Lion King!
Although this trail only incorporates an elevation of around 200 meters, it is best avoided during periods of wet weather, such as the rainy season, which in Japan lasts from mid-June until mid-July.
To get to Harima Alps, take the JR Rapid line from either Osaka, Kyoto or Sannomiya towards Himeji. When you reach Kakogawa get off and transfer to the local line train headed towards Himeji. After a couple of stops, you’ll reach Sone Station, from which the trail can begin.
Ok, so perhaps I’m cheating somewhat with this last entry. Given that much of this “hike” takes place over a fully developed pathway, one could argue it’s not so much a hike and more of a stroll. However, don’t let that deter you from visiting one of the most beautiful places in this region of Japan and possibly the best place in the world from which to view mountainside cherry blossoms (Yamazakura in Japanese).
Getting to Mount Yoshino is also relatively straightforward compared to some of the other hikes mentioned herein. Simply take the Kintetsu Line from Abenobashi (Tennoji) Station in Osaka to Yoshino Station. This will take about 90 minutes on the Express Line, or just under an hour if you opt for the more expensive Limited Express.
With an elevation of only 200 meters, this last hike is not only one of the most scenic but also possibly the easiest for those new to Hiking.
With warmer weather now upon us there really isn’t a better time to get out there and do some hiking. So what are you waiting for?
Close down the laptop, put down the smartphone and get those hiking boots on!