I live in Kanagawa prefecture, which is a suburb of Tokyo, about 45 minutes by train to Shinjuku. When I first arrived here in April of 2016, I had no knowledge of the Hyakumeizan. My goal was simply to climb Mt. Fuji and I did that in July the same year. Later that year, I did some other nearby hikes that I found in a Japanese hiking guide book, such as Oyama, Tanzawa, Mitake/Odake, Komayama, and Kongosan.
I wanted to reach out, away from the Tokyo metro area to find some real rugged, wilderness hikes and explore more of what this country has to offer. I stumbled across a website by Wes Lang called Hiking in Japan. On the homepage, there are links to descriptions of hikes by region. I saw a link for “Hyakumeizan” and didn’t know what it was so I checked it out. There were 100 hikes organized by region with very detailed descriptions of the hike from the perspective of someone who uses transportation other than a personal car to get to the trail heads. Together, these hike make up the list of hikes known as Hyakumeizan.
I’m not going to go into detail about the specifics of the origins of Hyakumeizan, because you can look it up really easy just by typing it into Google. This website is dedicated to documenting my personal experiences while attempting to complete the Hyakumeizan list. My perspective will be different because I rarely use alternative forms of transportation. I like to drive. Driving in Japan is expensive. Just a few hours on a toll road could cost 5000 to 7000 yen, each way. But it is convenient. To maximize my daylight on long hikes, sometimes I’ll drive up the day before, sleep in my car (I have a station wagon) and get an early start in the morning. This is especially useful for those hikes where the trail head isn’t accessible by car and you have to take a bus to get there.
This isn’t a complete guide to hiking the Hyakumeizan. For that, I’d recommend checking out Wes Lang’s site. The purpose of this is simply to document my hiking experiences while here in Japan and to provide English speaking readers with additional tools and descriptions about hikes that are otherwise difficult to find information in English.
I like simplistic gear that’s light and does the job well (sorry no SLR camera here, an iPhone does many things in a single small and lightweight package). I like having minimal (not minimalist) gear, just the essentials and a few extras to make life in the woods more comfortable. I have the luxury of living in Japan but having a U.S. address, so I can get most things shipped to me for free or low cost. I’ve had really good gear and also some really bad gear. I’ll pass along my observations of this gear so that you’ll be able to make more informed decisions on you gear purchases. Note also, that even though I said I like to drive to trails, I also like to ride my Harley from time to time. So in addition to hiking and backpacking gear, I’ll also tell you what I thought of things like helmets, riding jackets, riding pants, etc.
I won’t pretend that I liked every hike on the list. Some of them are overcrowded and touristy. I may be negatively biased on some because the weather wasn’t favorable. Others such as Asama and Ontake are closed off due to volcanic activity. I generally try to chain peaks together so that I can reach several in the same trip, which usually requires an overnight in a tent or a mountain hut. This means that my return route will likely be different, but since I drive to the trails, the destination has to be the same as where I started.
The Hyakumeizan means something different for everyone. For some people, it’s another thing to conquer, for others it’s a list of hikes that you can pick from if you just want to get some fresh air. I’m not sure what it is for me. I will say that since I’ve been hiking the list, I’ve been able to explore parts of Japan that most foreigners rarely see and that I’ve been to mountain huts where the hut managers say they haven’t seen a single foreigner except me all season even though it’s mid September.
But what’s more than that, I learn about myself while hiking the Hyakumeizan. I learn about the people that I hike with. I learn that the journey to get to the trailhead sometimes is more difficult than the hike itself. That buying bus or tram tickets and waiting in line is probably a genetic predisposition in this country. I also have the opportunity to experience the generosity and courtesy of the Japanese people, also a genetic predisposition no doubt.
When I first set out on the Hyakumeizan I had a plan, not an elaborate one, just that I’ve already lost a year not hiking the Hyakumeizan. Now I have 4 years to complete them all and I have to hike at least 25 per year. Last year, I hiked 28, so if you include Fuji and Tanzawa, which I unwittingly hiked the first year, that puts me at 30 total. So going into my second year of pursuing the Hyakumeizan, I need at least 20 hikes to stay on track.
Let’s do it.
If you’re wondering, yes, in the picture below I am holding a can of Ballast Point Watermelon Dorado. And yes, I did bring it up over 6,000 vertical feet in my backpack so that I could enjoy it on the top of Kasagadake in the Kita (Northern) Japanese Alps – worth it!