Thirty-six-year old Wim from Belgium was excited when the Japanese chemical company he works for invited him to Japan to visit its headquarters. For him, the trip was the perfect opportunity to not just expand his work relationships, but also explore the country.
“Japan has always intrigued me. It is a very diverse country with tropical islands such as Okinawa, mountain scenery in the Japan Alps, and remote places with abundant wildlife such as Hokkaido,” Wim said.
Wim spent his first week in the country on work-related business, visiting chemical facilities in Tsukuba, Amagasaki, Osaka, and Fukaya. He loved the cities, the food, and the people, but still felt drawn to the mountains. So he started to research outdoor trips, which is how he found Explore-Share.com.
Explore-Share proposed three different itineraries that Wim could complete while on his work trip. He then went through the possible itineraries (Yatsugatake, Mt Fuji, and Japanese Alps) with his work colleagues to help him decide. “They told me that Mt Yatsugatake was perfect for me,” he said. A few short days later, Wim was off on his Mt Yatsugatake trek, accompanied by JMGA-certified guide Chikako Hayashi.
Yatsugatake hiking traverse
Wim had climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and hiked in Colombia, Alaska, and Canada, but Japan was a completely new experience. “Vegetation is different from other places, you have unique types of trees and moss which turn a regular hike through the forest into a breathtaking experience,” he said. The beautiful scenery was really what made the trip special for the experienced hiker.
One of Wim's favorite moments of the trek was reaching the summit of Mt Akadake. He said it was not too difficult to ascend and offered a spectacular view. He could even see all the way to Mt. Fuji.
Wim was always ahead of schedule on the hike, but Chikako was happy to adjust to his fitness level. They actually hiked up to the summit twice. “Scenery was beautiful and unique. So it is worth it to hike more than 8 hours a day,” he said.
Chikako made sure Wim made the most of his hike on the Yatsugatake mountains, which stretch over 30 km total. They got up at 4 am one day to see the “asahi,” or sunrise, and bathed in a hot tub in the mountain hut next to the summit. At the end of the trek, he got to relax in a typical Japanese onsen (hot spring).
These unforgettable experiences were made all the more special by the fact that he is one of the few foreigners who complete this route. For this reason, he got a lot of questions from other hikers and people in the mountain huts (“What is the overseas hiker doing here?”) but he says Chikako was an excellent translator.
During each night on the hike, Wim and Chikako stayed in well-maintained mountain huts. There they could get a hot meal and even a hot bath. Wim especially enjoyed being able to grab a cold beer after hiking and chat with the other hikers in a comfortable environment. However, most people just spoke Japanese, so it was ideal having Chikako there to translate. "Local hikers and hut-staff really appreciated the fact that ‘overseas people’ came to the Mt Yatsugatake area to hike,” he said.
Wim was very impressed by the huts and says they made the hike all the better. “The huts were all in perfect condition, they all served very good food and provided a decent packed lunch for the next day. Sleeping facilities were clean and well-maintained, it was not necessary to bring a sleeping bag,” he remarked.
Benefits of hiring a guide
Wim didn’t have the time to set up a trip himself and he quickly realized that the language barrier would make a solo hike difficult and even dangerous. Hiring a mountain guide was the perfect solution. Chikako, who has lived and worked in New Zealand and speaks English fluently, was able to give Wim just the experience he was looking for.
“As not many tourists do the Mt Yatsugatake trek, direction signs and maps are all in Japanese. So it is necessary to have a Japanese guide,” Wim said. He recognizes that the trek would have been almost impossible for him to do by himself. Chikako also went above and beyond to make sure Wim had everything he needed. At one point, she even went to a supermarket to buy him lotion for his sunburn.
Chikako also ensured he kept safe throughout the trip. During a rocky section on the second day, she set him up with a helmet and rope. Though Wim didn’t feel like all the precautions were always necessary, he was impressed by her diligence.
Heading back to Japan? He hopes so
Wim loved his short trek, and instead of satisfying his hunger for Japanese mountains, it just inspired him to explore more of the country. He hopes that his employer will send him back to Japan in the future so he can contact Explore-Share again to organize a trip. This time he has his heart set on Hokkaido. “Japan is a great destination for mountain hiking and Hokkaido is one of the best places in the world to spot wildlife, so this is a must go for me,” he said.
Weeks after his trip, Wim continues to praise mountaineering in Japan. “You can do a lot of outdoor activities in a country where people are very friendly, helpful and where the food is great too.”
Wim's story is a great reminder to take advantage of every opportunity to explore the outdoors. Explore-Share offers many other wonderful programs in Japan with local guides like Chikako. Don't miss having your own unforgettable mountain experience!
Read more about the amazing trips Explore-Share users are taking in Japan, like this backcountry ski expedition in Teshiodake. Find out more about activities you can do in Yakushima, Japan's last wild paradise. And don't forget to check out the facts on ice climbing in Japan.