In 2001, Lonely Planet published its seminal guidebook “Hiking in Japan,” a collection of more than 70 hikes spanning the length of the country from Okinawa’s Iriomote Island to Mount Rishiri in the far north. The book, now out of print, showcases some of Japan’s most beautiful hikes, but it is very much for the committed, people who are prepared for long, multiday excursions and sleepless overnight bus journeys to take on remote peaks.
Lonely Planet’s new book, “Best Day Walks Japan: Easy Escapes into Nature,” takes a more relaxed approach. Like its predecessor, it covers routes across the country (though sadly Okinawa is omitted), with 60 walks and accompanying maps. The hikes are united by their length, most of which are no more than a day — Mount Fuji and the 1,400-kilometer Shikoku Pilgrimage are notable exceptions — but otherwise offer fantastic variety: There are day hikes, cave walks, boardwalk strolls and even a few routes that are child-friendly.
Each route is listed as “easy,” “moderate” or “hard,” with clear indications on how long the journey should take, allowing you to choose something that fits your schedule and desired level of activity. Another nice touch is the “Take a Break” section on each route, which gives details about good places to stay, local hot springs, cafes, shrines, visitor centers and much more, to get the best out of each hike.
The photographs included are glorious, showing off Japan’s wilder side in full color, and make the book a welcome departure from the classic edition that came before it, which was devoid of photos apart from its cover. The downside is that it is not a book made to be carried in a rugged backpack: It is larger and heavy with ink at almost 500 grams, and does not come with a waterproof cover like the much-coveted “Hiking and Trekking in the Japan Alps and Mount Fuji” guidebook released by Tom Fay and Wes Lang in 2019.
Like many guidebooks, “Best Day Walks Japan” is great to draw inspiration from, but not a book that should be solely relied upon. While some of the higher peaks have clearly stated periods for when the mountain is in season, not all of the walks and hikes have specific information for the best time to visit, and readers should double-check details beforehand to make sure they’re not going when trails are overly crowded, or completely out of season and therefore inaccessible or even unsafe.
The book maintains a fairly consistent format of two pages per trail, which is perfectly fine for the shorter, easier hikes, but sometimes limits the descriptions of the longer, harder hikes, where a wrong turn can be the difference between a fantastic day on the mountain and getting lost in high terrain. If you plan to head out on one of the more ambitious peaks, it would be wise to carry dedicated maps and make sure you have the proper equipment, especially if you are going at the tail end of the season when the high mountains start to become very cold.
A final caution: As with any print edition dealing with mountains, information is likely to go out of date quickly (some already has despite the book’s recent publication), so do check local sources before heading out to the hills. Typhoons in particular have enormous power to change and close routes, and while the pandemic continues, many mountain huts and local buses are running at reduced capacity.
Twenty years since Lonely Planet published its first guidebook, “Best Day Walks Japan” is a significant and exciting addition to Japan’s English-language hiking literature and a useful jumping off point for anyone looking to start hiking here, whether you are a seasoned local or new to the country. Pair it with the original “Hiking in Japan” guidebook and you’re set to enjoy some of the most beautiful places the country has to offer.
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