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Hiking in Japan (2): Things to know for safe hiking


Japan, the country covered with mountains and forests by nearly 70%, attracts many hikers to wild places. Foreign tourists, mainly from Asian countries, visit Japan for hiking more than ever. Though hiking lovers are all welcome, accidents in the mountains are becoming more concerned while the popularity is increasing.

In Japan, 3000 people annually encounter an accident in the mountains.

Moreover, about 300 of them are dead or missing annually. 78% of those are aged 60 years old or older, and likely lost their life from a physical problem. As for younger people, they tend to get injured due to carelessness from too much optimism.

Hiking accidents most frequently happen in three of the prefectures;
No.1: Nagano Prefecture, the region having the Japan Alps
No.2: Hokkaido Prefecture, has changeable weather with a blizzard of snow
No.3: Tokyo Prefecture.

Hiking accidents are increasing in Tokyo

Despite the typical image of Tokyo, the urban city with high-rise buildings, the west part of Tokyo is actually a forest region with small and large mountains, one of which reaches 2000m at the highest. In the west-end Tokyo prefecture, there are hiking trails within easy access from central Tokyo, where people tend to go for a day hike without much preparation, causing them to get involved in an accident. We should keep in mind that more than 10 people lose their life annually at the mountain site in Tokyo.

The accidents are mostly caused by lacking of physical strength, less preparation, and confusion with the direction.

Hikers who don’t speak Japanese are strongly advised that they should be more careful about not getting lost. Though you can find sign boards at a fork on walking tracks, they may be written only in Japanese. Non-Japanese-speaking hikers should go hiking in a group with a Japanese speaking guide. Also, it is advisable to keep some Japanese phrase samples on hiking such as “I have a heatstroke” or “I am injured” in your smartphone that can be used offline.

Hiking trails at Kiso Komagatake
A starting point on a trail at Kiso Komagatake, Southern Japan Alps

Things that help hikers to avoid accidents in the mountain are;

Hikers are required to submit a Tozantodoke, a hiking registration form

This registration form is called in Japanese Tozantodoke "登山届" or Tozan Keikakusho "登山計画書", or Tozansha Todoke "登山者届". The submission is obligatorily required in some prefectures. In Gifu Prefecture, hikers obligatory need to submit this form. Hikers, who omit it, will get fined up to 50000 JP Yen.

There is no specific format for the registration form that you can create the one by yourself. The necessary information to fill in the for is; Name, Contact address, Gender, Age, Birthday, the hiking plan, and the number of people in the group. You can submit the form by putting it in a box, usually provided at the starting point of a trail or the nearby train/ropeway station.

A sample of the registration form is downloadable on the website of Japan Mountaineering and Sports Climbing Association.

Hiking registration form
The hiking registration form and the box to put it in (on the right)

The hiking registration form

Japan's Hiking Insurance

For hiking in high mountains, it is suggested we buy hiking insurance. The insurance will be somewhere between 250 JPY and 500 JPY per day. The insurance valid for one year, it will be between 2500 JPY and 3000 JPY. Hiking insurance is essential for people who participate in trail running like HASETSUNE CUP (https://www.hasetsune.jp/ ). If you are a tourist having travel insurance, make sure if hiking accidents are covered by the insurance or not.

Extra Information

The habitat of Japanese mountain leeches or Yamabiru is expanding. At the starting point of a trail located in such a habitat, you will see a board saying in Japanese, “Watch out Mountain Leaches!" At the place near the board, you will also see a salt (or salt water) bag to put on your shoes to keep leeches away. The salt may work for an hour or so, but remember it won’t be last. It is more secure to keep spraying repellent frequently on your shoes and body.

Watch out for bears (Kuma) and Hornets (Suzume-bachi), especially in Spring and Autumn.

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