HIKING THE SHINETSU TRAIL, NORTH OF NAGANO, JAPAN
(JAPAN IS NOT JUST FOR SKIING) AHH-SO!
The impressive amounts of snow that fall near the west coast of Japan not only contributes to a massive snowpack, it also provides the large amounts of water required to grow an equally impressive woodland along the 80 kilometre Shinetsu Trail.
The first long-distance trail
This trail is Japan’s first long distance woodland trail and is designed after the Appalachian Trail. It is maintained by volunteers of the non-profit The Shinetsu Trail Club since 2004. The trail connects small villages and allows the hikers to experience the mountain culture, nature and hospitality of Japan. It is rich in history dating back to AD 710-784 as a trade and travel route.
The Shinetsu Trail is located north of Nagano, the site of the 1998 winter Olympics. We reached the trail by travelling on the bullit train from Tokyo at 300 kilometres per hour. The trail follows the Sekita mountain range about 1000 m ASL. The old growth beech trees dominant the woodland and grow to remarkable sizes due to the spring melt from 8 metres of average snowfall. If you can learn just a few Japanese symbols, the trail is well signed.
It is well maintained and mostly dry during the month of October. We hiked about 12-15 kilomtres each day with about 700 m elevation gain throughout the undulating terrain. I would not recommend this trip for a beginner hiker. We were on the move for most of the day with small but persistant elevations gains throughout resulting in all hikers including the guides eager for the hot springs.
For most, the experience after hiking was as important as the trail itself. We regularly visited the local hot springs which are called ONSEN. There are public onsen which serve as a communal bath house. There are numerous warm water foot baths along the streets of the small town of Nozawa. Unlike in Canada, the Japanese onsen is always divided for men and women and all visit in the nude. There is a funky little chair to sit on as you shower before the bath. I really liked the charm and friendliness of other bathers despite the language difference.
Loving to stay at Japanese inn
As one might expect, the food was abundant with plenty of fish, rice and miso soup. If your guests are looking for western food or a knife and fork, forget it. I’m so happy everyone embraced the culture and habits of these generous and polite people. We stayed at local Japanese Inns called a ryokan. These places typically feature tatami matted room with thick futons, communal baths, and provide an evening robe with jacket called a yukata. I loved seeing everyone come to dinner all dressed in the same simple robe – a group bonding thing, I think.
I’m feeling lucky, these days that this hiking thing is opening up such unique adventures.
Trip dates: October 14-24,2015
Hiro Shinozaki Assistant Hiking Guide, Canmore
Taichi Ishizuka Hiking Guide, Canmore
Andrea Petzold Hiking Guide, Canmore