Closed to the outside world for 250 years and forcibly opened in the 19th century, Japan catapulted itself from a highly structured feudal society to an industrial powerhouse in the matter of only a few generations. Today, beneath Japan's ultra-modern western veneer is an identity steeped in ancient eastern culture and shaped by the whims of its mountainous and volcanic landscapes. Bullet trains run with the precision of a Swiss watch, yet elegantly spare temples, shrines, and palaces dot cityscapes as well as isolated mountaintops. Despite an apparent rush to absorb all things new and Western, so much of the Japanese culture remains unique and distinctive.
Hiking and walking the landscapes of Japan is no less a magical blend of the familiar and the exotic, an almost mystical experience of East meets West. In Japan, as in Europe, it is possible to walk from inn to inn or hike from hut to hut, every evening landing in comfortable accommodations and feasting on sumptuous local cuisine. And, just as in Europe, the richness of its history and customs begins to reveal itself as you walk its ancient trails.
Here, an age-old belief of the divine in nature mixed with an embrace of Buddhist teachings has left a network of pilgrimage trails winding between forest shrines and temples and up to mountain peaks. Old world Japanese inns, called ryokans, offer spacious tatami mat rooms, futon bedding, yukata dinnerwear, and slippers for every occasion. Traditional onsens, communal hot spring baths, provide a uniquely Japanese experience much welcomed at the end of a long day on the trail. And, rice is a constant accompaniment to meals made up of an amazing array of tiny dishes.
A 1,900-mile long archipelago of over 6,000 islands, Japan's ability to fascinate is endless. Where you choose a hut-to-hut hiking experience through the Japanese Alps or a walk along the imperial pilgrimage routes, this land of samurai and sushi, temples and tori gates, high energy city centers, and tranquil Zen gardens, will keep you coming back for more.