Meizan-otaku and -ologist alike, I hereby present to you my personal ranking of the Hyakumeizan, the 100 Famous Mountains of Japan. 1 to 100, best to worst, based solely in terms of hiking worthiness gleaned from years of ongoing experience in the field, a bit of internet scouring, what side of the futon I rolled out of in the morning and any feedback you’re willing to offer up to sway a rash, ill-advised opinion.
#1 – TOMURAUSHI
Number 1: Tomuraushi!
Tomuraushi takes the cake because of the overwhelming variety of environs one passes through on the climb and the absolute ripsnorting gorgeousness of each of them. I scaled Tomuraushi as part of the Daisetsu-zan Traverse and the hike from Chubetsu-dake takes you through fields of head-high creeping pine, over undulating boulder-strewn hill country, past mountain ponds and pools to a final rock scramble to the summit. If you take on Tomuraushi only, the trail in from the east traverses the wetland of Numa-no-hara and summer flower meadows. Add in the thrill of a brown bear encounter and dicing with the fickle Hokkaido elements, Tomuraushi has everything one desires in a Japanese mountain bar the vulcanism. Bag the summit and head out to Tennikyo Onsen for a well deserved soak or head south and get your volcanic fix on Tokachi-dake.
#2 – TOKACHI-DAKE
If you’re not traversing Daisetsu-zan, it’s easier to time the weather, lock in your hike for a blue-skied day and climb via Biei-fuji and Biei-dake to take in the magnificent volcanically tortured landscape stretching away from Tokachi to your south before plunging down the scree and traversing the moonscape to the summit as out to your right the mountain smoulders away. I’m predominantly a summer hiker on the big peaks but timing the climb to coincide with a traverse of a few lingering snowdrifts could add to the experience.
#3 – CHOKAI-SAN
Oh, what a mountain! Straddling the borders of Akita and Yamagata this magnificent volcano harbours endless trails starting from all points of the compass to keep you exploring for years. I climbed from the main trailhead but I’d recommend finding the most distant one to keep you on this mountain longer! It may be a challenge to avoid the summer crowds so go just before the huts open and the flowers the mountain is famous for will be beginning to blossom. Beware a few gnarly snow-encrusted sections if you go early. The final highlight on Chokai is the clamber through the hardened lava crags that comprise the summit. The highpoint is tiny – another reason to miss the summer crowds.
#4 – KUROBEGORO-DAKE
Approaching from Mitsumata, the glorious cirque of Kurobegoro welcomes you with open arms. Though lacking the crags of its Northern Alps cousins, Yari and Hotaka, this is a peak you can stroll around for a day or two without fear of plummeting to your death (unless you do something dumb). Up and over and gone in a morning I’ll be taking in this mountain at a much more leisurely pace next time to explore the inner reaches of the cirque below the summit and scramble along its rocky left flank. A hike off the mountain to the west along a remote trail looks intriguing.
#5 – MIYANOURA-DAKE
Highpoint of Kagoshima’s Yakushima Island, Miyanoura is home to ancient cedar forests, open bamboo grasslands dotted with fabulous rock formations and crystal clear streams. Being one of the wettest places in Japan it pays to time your trip with precision. May and November seem to offer the best windows of opportunity. I took the latter and snagged an entire three-day traverse bathed in sunshine. As objective as I’m trying to be, if I’d have been mired in cloud I’m sure this hike would have plummeted down this list. It’s the combination of mystical forest and the scenery above the treeline that make this hike.
#6 – ODAI-GA-HARA
I haven’t climbed via Osugi-dani, the gorge that Fukada-san, the author of Nihon Hyakumeizan, claims to be the most beautiful in Japan but I’ve ogled plenty of photos and blog posts. In fact, I haven’t climbed the mountain much at all in the way I recommend but, this is the way to climb Odai-ga-hara: Head up through the gorge, explore the summit plateau then, if you’re prepped properly, if time permits and if you’ve got a good GPS, walk north, deeper into the Daiko Range for as many days as possible.
#7 – NAEBA-SAN
Another table-topped mountain, Naeba pulls at my heartstrings. Odai only beats it to #6 because Osugi-dani looks so damn ‘gorge’ous. Naeba, however, has no summit visitor centre and carpark bespoiling the surrounds. I love the mountaintop pools and clutches of woodland, I love the dramatic, sudden transition you make climbing up onto the plateau as if you’re pulling yourself onto a tabletop. Naeba is a peak I’d like to go back to and experience in different seasons. I visited in autumn when golden grasses crowned the mountain and drifting cloud masked most of the views to neighbouring peaks.
#8 – HAKU-SAN
Multiple long approaches through some remote terrain allow a traverse of the mountain to become a splendid multiday affair. Haku-san’s summit area is crowned with volcanic ponds, ample lodgings are a stone’s throw away from the top and a multitude of lesser peaks dotting the trails offer up great views of the mountain, one of Japan’s three holiest peaks. At a number of the trailheads, hotels and onsen abound, the world heritage area of Shirakawa-go being the most famous of these so, after a few days of roughing it in the hills, comfort awaits.
#9 – KIRISHIMA
Kyushu’s Kirishima Highland with its many volcanoes is a hiking paradise – as long as you don’t get blown to smithereens in the process. Volcanic activity has heightened in the area since my nonchalant amble across the peaks. Beware Shinmoe-dake at least and keep an eye on the latest news and trail closures. Highlights include Takachiho-mine (one of the 200 Famous Mountains), Karakuni-dake (the highpoint) and the crater lake, Onami-ike.
#10 – AKAISHI-DAKE
Akaishi is a robust stony peak deep in the Southern Alps. They say it glows a shade of red at sunset and hence its name being the Red Stone Peak. It’s part of the classic Southern Alps Traverse from Kita-dake but you can tackle it on its own if you’ve the stamina for big sustained climbs. Somewhere in the vicinity of the village of Oshika to the north-west of the peak a ryokan owner informed me a handful of hikers pass through that way each year to climb Akaishi via the route Walter Weston climbed – something in need of some further research I dare say. Oh, and the summit hut up over 3000m is apparently a good one if you have a head for heights and booze.
#11 – HOUOU-SAN
I always thought the next two peaks would make the top ten and in a more personal selection they probably would but, as I said earlier, I’m attempting objectivity here. So, Houou-san resides at number 11. A Golden Week traverse of its three peaks in deep snow was memorable but I haven’t seen snow as deep on the mountain at that time of year since. The sands that grace its long ridges make for a unique hike as do the boulders and crags, rounded by the elements for the most part, that culminate in the striking Jizo-dake or Obelisk, the third of Houou’s peaks on the march from Yashajin Pass. Views across to Kita-dake and out to Fuji-san add to the splendour.
#12 – SUKAI-SAN
A personal favourite but much maligned by other hikers who approached via a rough road from the west. I walked in from Mato Station in the east to the hut below Koshin-san. The woodlands were resplendent in their summer greenery. Any approach to Sukai from there will eventually have you battling through head-high bamboo. Other sections of trail will have you gushing at the forests you’re ambling through. Summer was great but autumn must be spectacular. Though longer and lacking in any shelter, a trail to the north of Koshin-san which eventually scales Sukai after emerging from a valley looks appealing. As does a bush bash from Nikko commencing around the southern shoreline of Lake Chuzenji.
#13 – IWATE-SAN
A 2000m volcano looming over Morioka City offers up a multitude of hikes to choose from. I randomly picked the ridge from Amihari Onsen because I’d prearranged lodgings in the area. The nearer you get to the crater and summit area the gnarlier the crumbling ridgeline becomes. Summer wildflowers cascade over the sharp crags as painted arrows guide you onwards and upwards. The route can be lengthened by days if you start on Hachimantai, something I would have done had my knee not blown out the week prior to climbing. As for the summit area, there are a couple of great huts and a crater filled with religious relics, I assume placed there to appease the mountain gods.
#14 – JONEN-DAKE
A stately peak in the Northern Alps visible from Matsumoto City that has lured climbers for over a century at least. Climb via the Ichi-no-sawa Course and you can’t go wrong. After that there are options to stay on the ridge either north or southwards, drop into Kamikochi or back down to Matsumoto either the way you came or what looks to be a knee-knocker off the summit and over Mae-jonen. Bah! Who am I kidding? They’re all knee-knockers. BTW: Matsumoto Castle is great.
#15 – HAKKODA-SAN
Heading back north to Aomori Prefecture and it’s Hakkoda-san that’s next on the bill. Fabulous marshland walks, fragrant Aomori firs, endless views, a hint of vulcanism and a famous onsen. I only looped around from Sukayu Onsen, completing the old Lonely Planet loop. That’s enough to push this hike into the top twenty but longer spells are possible and look even more attractive, so we’ll knock Hakkoda up to #15 for now.
#16 – OMINE-SAN
I was pretty much freezing my balls off and half-buried in snow during my Omine experience but from the images I’ve seen, the high ridges of the Omine Mountains are spectacular. Two other peaks to the north and south of the highpoint are on the 300 Famous Mountains list, so we’ll save them for later, but even if you just take in this high section of Omine you’ll be in for a treat. As for approaches, if you’re up for some thrills in the form of ropes, chains and ladders, the Misen-gawa/Somon-no-taki Course might fit your bill.
#17 – O-ASAHI-DAKE
The Asahi and Iide Ranges felt quite similar to me. Long, open ridgelines with endless views, gorgeous snowdrifts if you go early in summer. Why Asahi tumps Iide by one spot is due to the gracefulness of its peaks and the fact it was an easier climb up into them. A traverse of the range, a long-time goal of mine, I’m sure will send O-Asahi up this list.
#18 – IIDE-SAN
Splendid, gorgeous, but just not quite as much so as the Asahi Range…but the climb into the Iide Mountains sure hurt more. Once up though you can walk for days, traversing the range, hut hopping – not sure if they’re all manned though. But, yeah, I’ll give an Iide traverse a crack one day too.
#19 – TSURUGI-DAKE
Crowds and logjams can spoil a hiking experience on this rugged and probably most infamous of Northern Alp peaks. But if you go mid-week right at the very end of the climbing season you can have the trails virtually to yourself. Tsurugi is magnificently intimidating on paper but didn’t quite scare the crap out of me as much as I was expecting. It’s a great scramble and could potentially get the pulse racing. There are some big drops, and leery traverses of rockface to endure but there’s time to breathe between most challenges the peak throws at you. Take a deep breath and enjoy it. If all that scrambling doesn’t appeal to you, there’s a long slog through the forests coming in from the north-west that misses most of the dramatic stuff.
#20 – MEAKAN-DAKE
Best volcanic summit of the Hyakumeizan? Yeah, probably. Everything’s there and in your face, once you’re on top. The hissing vents, the scalded crater with its luridly hued pools, the moonscape stretching back to Akan-kohan and the sinister Akan-fuji sitting ominously next door – like a neighbour you’re just not sure about. The climb from Meakan Onsen, while attractive, pales in comparison to the summit delights. The climb from Akan-kohan across a volcanic wasteland should stir the senses a little bit more.
#21 – KASHIMA-YARI-GA-TAKE
A spectacular twin-peaked mountain between Jii-ga-take and Goryu-dake in the Northern Alps. The only approach worth bothering about is via Goryu in the north and the ensuing nerve-jangling scrambles in between over chain laced ridges and up rusty metal ladders bolted into rockface. The southern approach from Ogisawa and over Jii-ga-take is in comparison a ho-hum affair and best left for the descent as you regain your composure.
#22 – HOTAKA-DAKE
Kita-hotaka, Mae-hotaka, Nishi-hotaka and the highpoint, third highest in Japan, Oku-hotaka combine to crown the Hotaka Massif (right in photo) rising dauntingly above the nation’s hiking Mecca of Kamikochi. Trails hone in on Oku-hotaka from all points of the compass and range from the strenuous to the seriously nerve-wracking. Do some research, choose your poison and head for the Hotakas. You won’t be disappointed.
#23 – ASAMA-YAMA
A fire breathing, gas billowing monster on the Gunma/Nagano border Asama offers up a variety of terrain to keep one’s mind off their imminent demise should she decide to blow her top. From the splendid forests of conifer to the crags of the ancient Kurofu Crater and the lost world nestled in between there and the barren hellscapes of the summit area, Asama is a pleasure to visit…most of the time.
#24 – OKU-SHIRANE-SAN
Nikko’s hidden highlight, Oku-shirane-san rises away from the temple hopping crowds down in town, the masochistic taking to Nantai’s uninspiringly steep and eroded main trail and those who satisfy themselves with the strolls around Lake Chuzenji or into the Senjo-ga-hara Marsh, the latter from which the mountain gradually rises to the north-west. Climb from Yumoto Onsen and over Mae-shirane-san for a spectacular view of the peak.
#25 – GORYU-DAKE
One of my favourites in the Alps and an imposing highlight along the Ushiro Tateyama arm of the Northern Alps. I approached from Karamatsu-dake as I made my way south towards Kashima-yari. Scrambles on the high ridges from Karamatsu culminate in a breathtaking view of Goryu straddling the ridge ahead, seemingly barring any onward progress such is the massive presence it exudes.
#26 – ISHIZUCHI-SAN
What a magnificent peak, steeped in mountain mysticism and the highest in western Japan, it sports one of the 300 Mountains’ most spectacular summits. Ascend through the woodlands and undertake the chain-draped Yamabushi challenges along the way.
#27 – KASA-GA-TAKE
An attractive peak adjacent to the Lords of Kamikochi – Yari and Hotaka-dake – Kasa-ga-take offers up a variety of long, satisfying approaches to its gentle summit crown and great views across to said neighbours as well as Norikura, Yake-dake and beyond. A longer loop than usual taking in Kagami-daira and most of Kasa-ga-take’s ridge between Sugoroku-dake is what I’d recommend.
#28 – ADATARA-YAMA
The best of the trio of Hyakumeizan peaks surrounding Urabandai. And I say this having been socked in in thick mountain mists and rain for the 24 hours I spent on the mountain. I climbed via an atmospheric ravine choked with sulphuric gases and long abandoned mining relics, split by a pale blue stream of steaming water. The steep climb out of the ravine and barren ridge or crater rim walk were thrilling experiences. I assume now that this was not the regular route and may even have been advised against due to the prevalence of noxious fumes.
#29 – POROSHIRI-DAKE
Highest peak in the remote Hidaka Mountain Range of Hokkaido Poroshiri is a wild one out in bear country with a river walk leading to a big climb to the top and a traverse of a magnificent mountain cirque. Go at the height of summer when the forecast promises good weather and enjoy the cold river then maybe a few beers at the hut (you may need to BYO) before climbing and walking out on day two.
#30 – RISHIRI-ZAN
Welcome to Volcano Island! You can sea to summit this mountain with relative ease. Well, when I say summit I mean the ‘safe’ summit which for all intents and purposes (except for bragging rights) means you’ve done the hard yards anyway. Relax and take in the spectacular views, including the spectacular Candlestick Rock. Usually, there’s no need for concern about bears but apparently one swam over from the Hokkaido mainland recently. Bear updates: when available.
#31 – YATSU-GA-TAKE
An all year round mountain – though you’d want to be prepared for a full-on winter climb late and early in the year. It’s popular amongst Tokyoites due to its proximity to the capital and offers a range of experiences. Gentler climbs are found in the north and more rugged, chain laced affairs exist in the south around the highpoint Aka-dake.
#32 – YOTEI-ZAN
Or Ezo-fuji is a big, old, perfectly shaped volcano poking out of the Niseko farmland in Hokkaido. There are no bus rides halfway up this one as with the original Fuji-san down south, just a few big climbs to choose from. Big climbs make for big descents so spend a night in the emergency hut near the summit and catch the sunrise. It shouldn’t go unnoticed that this volcano sits around fifty places higher than Fuji on this list. Unblemished by development nor overrun by hordes of hikers this is a far superior climb.
#33 – HAYACHINE-SAN
I spent a cloudy day and night on the mountain in a solid little summit emergency hut and awoke to crystal clear skies and expansive views. Hayachine, the crown of the Kitakami Mountains in the deepest reaches of Northern Tohoku, is home to many a legend and folktale. Let your imagination wander when you enter the hill country here for a truly magical experience. An east-west or north-south traverse of the mountain is possible.
#34 – KAIKOMA-GA-TAKE
Well, there’s the relatively easy climb up Kaikoma-ga-take from Kitazawa Pass to the white sanded crown of the mountain that allows one to appreciate the highlights of the peak without really suffering and then descend and climb Senjo-dake the following day after lodging at one of the huts at the pass. For those who equate hiking worthiness with a healthy dose of suffering, there are more strenuous approaches from all points of the compass including the mad scramble over Nokogiri-dake to the west. I’m not sure I recommend this approach though unless you have a hell of a lot of experience and maybe a rope and helmet as well.
#35 – SHIROUMA-DAKE
Rising over Hakuba in the Northern Alps, Shirouma-dake is the first big mountain on the famed ridge run south to Ogisawa. You can approach the summit from the marshes in the north or the year-round snowfield in the valley or alpine onsen to the east. From the west, a trail winds its way up from the Kurobe Gorge. Enormous huts a little too close to the summit service the summer crowds.
#36 – UTSUGI-DAKE
Interesting rock formations on the summit. A gorgeous looking hut with a spacious deck below the final peak approach from the east. A wonderful climb through the woods from the west including the crossing of a rickety rope bridge. I’m a sucker for rickety rope bridges. A welcoming hut below the summit’s western approach. All these things make Utsugi a great climb. The ridge walk from Kisokoma is fantastic too. When I was there (2009) the hut owner at Kisodono to the west said that climbers concluding their Hyakumeizan quest on Utsugi get their photos on the hut’s ‘Wall of Fame!’
#37 – YARI-GA-TAKE
Popular. Overcrowded. Limited summit space on the tip of the famous spear and ladders to the top which somewhat dampen the feeling of achievement upon such a spectacular peak ‘plummeting’ to number thirty-eight on this list. In my opinion, while the hike to the summit is glorious, on Yari, it’s all about climbing the Spear, Japan’s Matterhorn, so much so that the rest of the hike is somewhat overwhelmed. Go at the very end of the season – midweek – and there’s a fair chance you’ll get the mountain to yourself. I did.
#38 – SHARI-DAKE
The sight of Shari-dake and its striking profile across the expanses of Hokkaido farmland lure the climber in you and once you start up the famed sawa course, negotiating stream and waterfall as you go, you know you’ve made the right decision to climb this mountain. Leaving the stream, fields of summer flowers blanket the peak’s upper reaches, expansive views stretch out before you.
#39 – SHIOMI-DAKE
I had a tough time on Shiomi-dake. Thunderstorms don’t allow one to appreciate mountains fully. I approached the mountain on a traverse of the Southern Alps, which I assume most do or otherwise on some sort of multi-day trek. I assume the views are great as the peak sits at somewhat of a junction between the northern and southern sections of the range. You can get to within 6km of the summit from a road to the northwest. From there it’s 7.5 hours to the top! Looks like there’s still more epic suffering to be had on Shiomi! I’ll let it reside here on the edge of the top forty for this sole mouth-watering prospect alone.
#40 – GASSAN
Big, expansive, sweeping. Long traverses across snowfields and sasa. That’s Gassan. The mountain sports half a dozen main approaches from all points of the compass. A somewhat unvaried (at least from my hike up from Yudono Onsen) yet fantastic hiking experience on a mountain with a history stretching back through the ages.
#41 – MIZUGAKI-YAMA
An awe-inspiring cathedral of smooth-faced stone in the Chichibu Mountains. Seems dwarfed by Kinpu next door and the approach is relatively short thus things are over pretty quickly but the climb through the spires of stone is mesmerising. Maybe deeper research can unearth better approaches from trailheads other than the walk off Kinpu or the main trudge up from the bus stop.
#42 – YAKE-DAKE
Not the highest peak in the Kamikochi neighbourhood but once you prise your eyes from the looming crags of the Hotakas this gas billowing cone suddenly grabs your attention and you wonder how you missed it at all. Yake-dake (The Burning Peak) offers up a thrilling hike to its safe highpoint amongst sulphur spewing vents. Its crater is divided into two distinct sections: one cradling a shallow emerald pond that reflects the jagged rim overhead and the other area a gaping, gas issuing, black pit.
#43 – UONUMA-KOMA-GA-TAKE
The mountains of Joetsu strafed by Siberian borne winters offer up some hard climbs over some gnarly, weather-beaten terrain. Here ridgelines are honed to knife edges. Mountainsides are gouged by summer snowmelt and thumping thunderstorms. No harder peak, in terms of exertion expended, have I climbed than the Horse Mountain of Uonuma. At only a smidgin over two thousand metres, this peak still gets your attention. Take the challenge and climb from the Urasa side (but stay in the hut nearby the summit rather than punishing yourself by returning on the same day).
#44 – HIRA-GA-TAKE
Another monster. Another memorable arse-whipping. Hira-ga-take reclines deep in mountain country between Oze and Uonuma. The wide expanses of Hira aren’t gained without serious effort if you take it on from the east. Here you’ll tackle a nasty spur, open ridge, forest, marsh and a final climb through head-high bamboo before the mountain softens and welcomes you. A hard but thoroughly satisfying hike.
#45 – DAISETSU-ZAN
With a multitude of trailheads and a ropeway for easier access, Daisetsuzan is the perfect opening act to a traverse of the major peaks of the national park of the same name. You can climb up via wetlands and forests to the steaming vent-ridden summit cone on the Asahikawa side of the mountain or come in from Sounkyo where waterfalls plummet from precipitous crags and the traverse of a vast volcanic plateau is required.
#46 – MAKIHATA-YAMA
A fun mountain with a split personality. Climb (if it’s open) the waterfall course beneath the gaze of Tengu Rock and haul yourself from the boulder-strewn course up on to a rolling highland of luxurious sasa. Alternatively, there are a couple of wilder trails coming in from the north. I have no idea what surprises these alternate routes hold but they do intrigue me. The regular route up Makihata is uninspiring but offers an easy way to get off the mountain.
#47 – AIZU-KOMA-GA-TAKE
Oh, the verdant greens of Aizu-koma on a midsummer’s day. Its mountain top pools reflecting the dazzling blue sky. The climb from Hineomata was the usual steep, forested affair. The summit area alone, however, knocks Aizukoma up into the top half of these rankings. A walk along the ridge from the Oze Visitor Centre could very well propel this mountain higher up these tables. A ‘note to self’ has been written to do just this.
#48 – KISOKOMA-GA-TAKE
Minus: Senjojiki Cirque, the highlight of Kisokoma-ga-take is blighted by day tripping hordes jumping off the ropeway oohing and ahhing at scenery they hardly worked to get to. Plus: Hikes to the summit of the mountain via more strenuous trails up from the flats or via the long ridge walk from Utsugi-dake are much more rewarding, as are the scrambles over Kisokoma’s surrounding satellite peaks, most notably Hoken-dake.
#49 – BANDAI-SAN
Overlooking the splendid lake dotted highland of Urabandai – a realm of the old volcano’s own creation – Bandai lures all manner of outdoor enthusiasts. Hikers venture onto Bandai’s wooded slopes via trails circumventing multihued pools leeching a variety of minerals. Rugged remnants of the old crater walls still stand from the blasts that rocked the district over a hundred years ago.
#50 – SENJO-DAKE
The climb to 3033m from Kitazawa-toge isn’t as strenuous as other hikes in the Southern Alps and so doesn’t offer up many of the incumbent thrills that usually ensue. But so what, Senjo-dake is a splendid peak and can be enjoyed without much fear of plummeting to one’s doom if the views take one’s mind off the trail underfoot.
#51 – HIUCHI-GA-TAKE
Hemmed in by river…wait – what am I saying? Hiuchi-ga-take isn’t a mountain one refers to as hemmed in. Let’s try that again:
The majestic Hiuchi-ga-take soars heavenward at the northern end of Oze-ga-hara. At his foot, lake, marsh and river congregate as if in an effort to cool the mountain’s lusty character. Ambling around its charming nether regions could easily provide enough to satisfy any hiker’s desires but add in the climb to the summit and Hiuchi offers up a truly wonderful experience. Carefully time your Oze arrival to avoid the crowds.
#52 – WASHIBA-DAKE
What do they say? It’s more about the journey than getting there…something like that. Whatever the exact phrasing, this pretty much sums up Washiba-dake. I traversed a sometimes crumbling ridge from Yari-ga-take and out to my left, through the clouds, spied the splendid looking route leading up from Shin-Hotaka via Kagami-daira. Down to my right, some lesser-used trails snake up from Yumata Onsen. You could even come at the mountain from the north-west via the alluring Kumo-no-daira and Arimine beyond. Once below the summit of Washiba, no matter how you arrived, it’s nothing more than a walk up to the top.
#53 – HACHIMANTAI
The marsh crowned highland of Hachimantai has its charms, but they are away from the daytripper clogged summit area. Lengthy trails to and from foothill onsen are the best way to traverse this mountain. The crux of the mission is to time your arrival at the summit very early or late, otherwise, the throngs may upset the ambience gained on your walk so far.
#54 – ZAO-SAN
I didn’t do it (just bussed to the top and fled in the rain) but I wish I’d waited an extra day or two for the weather to improve and traversed the Zao Mountains from Yamadera in the north at least as far as the high point and magical crater lake. I will one day, and dutifully report back here…or rather twenty or thirty spots higher up on this list I imagine.
#55 – SHIBUTSU-SAN
A more gently profiled peak than its counterpart Hiuchi at the far end of Oze, Shibutsu-san is a pleasure to hike. No need for the huffing and puffing required on Hiuchi, one can stroll the boardwalks from the bus stop and breathe in the mountain air at one’s own leisure. Summer flowers bloom amongst the softly hued summit rocks and the views down into Oze and across to Hiuchi-ga-take are breathtaking. As mentioned above, judge your arrival in Oze to avoid the crowds.
#56 – TANIGAWA-DAKE
Don’t take the ropeway if you desire a more wholesome experience than this ranking reflects. There are better ways to climb the mountain than confined to a plastic bubble. This most popular of peaks is also one of the most deadly – for that very same reason. It attracts rock climbers to its crag ridden facade and, due to its ease of access, numerous winter visitors who really shouldn’t be on that mountain in such conditions. Wait for high summer or deep autumn and climb from the underground station of Doai to earn your crust on Tanigawa.
#57 – TSURUGI-SAN
A mountain of legend and spectacular scenery. Not that I experienced any on the sodden day of my summiting one of Shikoku’s most splendid peaks. But I’ve seen the classic image of the long approach up the bamboo grassed flanks of the mountain. It’s not too far away from Kyoto and is marked down in my books for a formal fair-weathered reassessment.
#58 – ASO-SAN
Flee the touristy detritus around the active crater (if any still exists after the recent volcanic activity) and head for the high point across the moonscaped lava fields and rust coloured crags. Peer out at the distant caldera rim and the fantastically rugged Neko-dake a little closer at hand. If you’ve bussed up, at least find your way down on foot via one of the many trails on offer.
#59 – MYOKO-SAN
Edges out its partner in crime (Hiuchi-san) on account of its ruggedness, large boulder-strewn summit, marshy crater base, and resplendent woodlands. I clambered down off Myoko and found myself strolling a closed, rock bombed road half cut out of mountainside, half propped up on beams out of cliff face and can’t for the life of me work out where exactly I was, but it was a thrilling end to the day.
#60 – HIUCHI-SAN
In its autumn coat, this mountain is a splendour to behold. That being said, some locals may try to convince you winter is the time to be out on the mountain. The thing is, the hike in from Sasagamine to the hut below the summit didn’t really stand out as anything spectacular. Maybe there are better approaches. I’m sure a traverse of Yake-yama, Hiuchi and Myoko is a better way to experience this area.
#61 – TANZAWA-YAMA
Extremely popular hiking destination between Tokyo and Mount Fuji. The Tanzawa Mountains are a little over loved and from reports I’ve heard, it’s starting to show. On the positive side of the ledger, the mountains offer up charming vistas, have plenty of accommodation and are easy to access. Go mid-week when everyone else is hard at work.
#62 – HIJIRI-DAKE
It’s a biggun, but there are better peaks in the Southern Alps to get your attention. If you’re on the traverse of the range Hijiri certainly stops you in your tracks as you traverse the flats outside of Hyakkenbora and then even more so as you pause to peer up at it from Usagi-dake (Rabbit Mountain). All in all, though, it’s a slog and if you’re only in country for a limited time look somewhere else for your alpine jollies.
#63 – WARUSAWA-DAKE
Like Hijiri, Warusawa’s another slog to get to. Most peaks in the Southern Alps are. If you’ve hit up Warusawa’s fantastic neighbour Akaishi-dake, then maybe it’s worth the climb for the views back to said peak. And well, you’re there right, if you’ve come this far to conquer Akaiishi you may as well head up Warusawa. With both Hijiri and Warusawa, maybe coming at them as individual peaks from their respective trailheads, rather than on a full Southern Alps traverse would be more rewarding when wishing to appreciate their charms individually.
#64 – ONTAKE-SAN
Slowly reopening after the 2014 eruption, Ontake-san, like Fuji-san is better experienced when climbing from as lower a point as possible. The surrounding forests are glorious and like on Fuji, dotted with religious relics. In fact, Ontake is still, for many, a pilgrimage destination which distinguishes it from the tourist circus found on Japan’s highest peak. If you’ve had enough of the Central Alps across the Kiso Valley pop on over to Ontake and tell them to clean up the summit a bit when you make it up there.
#65 – NASU-DAKE
Worthy of another foray from yours truly. The highpoint of Sanbonyari, in this cluster of volcanic peaks north of Utsunomiya, is an uninspiring hike but the craggy Asahi-dake and sulphur spewing Chausu-dake are highlights. A north-south traverse is probably a good way to go about tackling Nasu. Knock off the highpoint of Sanbonyari, then make for Asahi and Chausu, a more suitable climax.
#66 – KUJU-SAN (NAKA-DAKE)
The highpoint of a volcanic conglomeration of peaks in Northern Kyushu. Active in parts. Overcrowded in late spring when the dwarf azalea flower and turn the mountainside a deep shade of pink. Good for a day trip out of Beppu, or for an overnighter to explore deeper into these mountains. There are some huts and onsen at hand.
#67 – RAUSU-DAKE
I want to hike with peace of mind. Rausu-dake, on the Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido however, serves up the highest concentration of brown bear per square inch than any other mountain on this list. Now it’s a spectacular peak and all and there’s probably less of a chance of you meeting your end at the hands of a higuma than there is of getting hit by a tourist bus down on the main road but I for one just can’t get disembowelment by bear off my mind.
#68 – KITA-DAKE
Japan’s second-highest peak, in my opinion, is overshadowed as a hiking destination by its immediate neighbours: the charming Senjo-dake, the magnificent Kaikoma and sensational triple-peaked Houou-san. It’s a long slog to the top from the Hirogawara trailhead, but I have seen pics of a route sporting a rickety staircase that traverses a section of the mountain. Those stairs may well break up the monotony and provide a bit of a thrill on your climb.
#69 – TAKAZUMA-YAMA
In heavy mists, I didn’t catch even a glimpse of the proud pyramid of Takazuma rising at the end of a spine of ridge. Photographs on-line reveal it to be a beauty to look at but the hike puts it a distant third when compared to nearby peaks Myoko and Hiuchi-san. There are a few chains embedded into rock and some splendid autumn colours if you hike at that time, but I’d head back to Myoko or Hiuchi first – all being equal, had I climbed Takazuma in fairer conditions.
#70 – TEKARI-DAKE
Southernmost of the Southern Alps to make the Hyakumeizan cut, Tekari comes across as a gentle, welcoming peak after the cold stony experiences of its more striking counterparts to the north. Focusing on Tekari alone, there are big, mostly viewless climbs to get to it. Up top, there’s a nice hut, a brief traverse of some marshy ground, Fuji views and the outcrop of Tekari-iwa to keep you interested.
#71 – AMAKAZARI-YAMA
I need to get back to this mountain. I climbed amidst the height of its autumnal splendour but was racing the winter into the Alps so ended up not pausing to take much of the mountain’s character in. The summit views to the Northern Alps are wonderful, as is the final approach to Amakazari’s crown across a shoulder of bamboo grass. For the moment it can reside here in the 70s behind its counterparts Myoko, Hiuchi-san and Takazuma.
#72 – RYOGAMI-SAN
I took a simple route up through a typhoon-ravaged wood to the summit but I hear there’s a more thrilling chain laced, crag strewn course leading up Ryogami from the north that makes things more interesting. Should go back for a look I suppose.
#73 – YAKUSHI-DAKE
A big mountain on the famous North Alps trek from Murodo-Tateyama to Kamikochi though it can be accessed alone from the Arimine Dam area. A splendid peak for sure, but I wouldn’t go to the trouble of getting to Yakushi unless I was on that above-mentioned route or some other multi-day variation in the area.
#74 – SUISHO-DAKE
The Crystal Peak, or Kuro-dake, the Black Peak…which is it? I suppose it depends on what mood you encounter her in. Close neighbour of Washiba, it’s another peak where it’s all about the journey there rather than the final clamber to the top. Yeah, nah, you know there are better peaks in the North Alps to head to.
#75 – KINPU-SAN
Sporting a prominent rocky outcrop, Kinpu-san is also the most alpine and highest of the Chichibu Mountains but otherwise an underwhelming peak when compared to others higher on this list. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a good climb and worth the effort. Well, that is if you’ve already summited the spectacular Mizugaki nearby. Otherwise what the hell are you doing here eyeing off Kinpu? Get to Mizugaki!
#76 – KOBUSHI-GA-DAKE
Likewise, why bother with Kobushi if an unclimbed Kinpu or Mizugaki is close at hand? Sure there is some splendid forest to climb through and a lovely, welcoming hut just below the summit but don’t put all your effort into just getting to Kobushi, wait until you have a clutch of days to spare and make the peak, and the hut, a kind of central weighing point on a longer traverse through the lovely Chichibu Mountains.
#77 – TSUKUBA-SAN
Revolving restaurant, dilapidated stalls selling ice-cold beer and toad oil cure-alls, a ropeway, a cable car and a rock garden! What hiker worth his salt would rank tiny, blighted Tsukuba-san, the baby of the Hyakumeizan above such glorious peaks as Tateyama and Fuji-san? Well, here’s what I reckon: it’s accessible out of Tokyo, it’s small enough to warrant repeat visits throughout the seasons, there are at least half a dozen routes up to the tops and if the day’s a scorcher like it was when I went, the beer’s waiting, it’s cold and it’s on tap! Tsukuba doesn’t pretend to be more than it is. It’s hospitable and has that unique Japanese festive charm. Go in summer and work up a thirst.
#78 – TATEYAMA
The development of Murodo is a turn-off, as is the pillaging of the spring waters at Jigoku-dani for the onsen in its midst, the piping snaking here and about proves to make the otherwise dramatic scene quite ugly. It’s a pretty straightforward climb from Murodo to the summit. Maybe the secret is to climb from the Kurobe Dam and up its eastern flank (maybe even via the Shimo-no-rokka route up the Kurobe Gorge!). Most will take the easy route, however, to the summit of one of the holiest mountains in the land, and this is what this rating is based upon.
#79 – IWAKI-SAN
Dominating the Tsugaru Plain in the deepest of northern Tohoku, Iwaki lures in its hiker prey. The old volcano’s looming presence outstripping its mere 1625 metres and in so doing over inflating its own hiking worthiness as well. I didn’t have a great time on the mountain, stuck on an ice sheet, summit views lost in cloud, but I imagine an autumn climb on a crystal clear day must be a memorable affair.
#80 – KUMOTORI-SAN
Maybe the above-mentioned traverse through the Chichibus could start here. Kumotori is another ho-hum peak. Sure it’s Tokyo’s highest, cracking 2000 metres and all that, and there are Fuji views to be had, but only the fact that it connects to distant Kobushi and Kinpu beyond, by a famed ridge walk really make it worthwhile seeking out. Next time I’d start my climb via Sanjo Onsen.
#81 – AZUMA-YAMA
I’ve seen pictures of an Azuma turning on the beauty that would probably send this mountain shooting up these tables. Give it time, I’m pretty sure the mountain doesn’t belong down here in a lowly 81st, but conversely, I’m just not sure how high she can fly. If I was basing this list primarily on my hiking experiences, rest assured, the sweat and rain drenched half-dozen hours I spent on Azuma would send her to the bottom, so I’m being generous already.
#82 – FUJI-SAN
A travesty you may say to place Fuji-san amongst these bottom feeders of the Hyakumeizan but remember, this is a ranking all about hiking worthiness and sadly half of Japan’s most beloved peak is a little used and abused. I climbed Fuji-san from its foot, up through its glorious skirting of forests, where lost shrines and monuments poke out of the woods. This is where Fuji-san remains genuine – and genuinely splendid. From the fifth station, where buses disgorge the masses during high summer, it’s a scoria switchbacked affair to the top, the wide trail wending between numerous anti-erosion measures and a host of huts. Up on the crater rim, once the high of being there wears off, you notice the weather station, other assembled buildings and their accompanying detritus. Rivalling the forest walk far below, running down the Sunabashiri (a black sand field on the Gotemba Route) is probably some of the best fun you can have on a mountain with your pants on and your skis off. Do definitely climb Fuji-san, but don’t forget to marvel at it from the surrounding mountains either.
#83 – KUSATSU-SHIRANE-SAN
An onsen and ski field dominated highland, a closed highpoint (at left in image) due to the prevalence of volcanic gases all coagulate into a fairly unmemorable experience when compared with other peaks on this list. Apart from taking in the famous pale blue Yu-gama crater lake, probably the best thing to do on Kusatsu is to bus up there and take to one of the numerous trails leading away from the mountain into the surrounding hill country, which I hear, is rather gorgeous.
#84 – NORIKURA-DAKE
Having taken a bus most of the way up, and traversed bare ground in heavy cloud to an ice-encrusted summit, I didn’t get to know Norikura very well. All I can fathom of its glorious reputation is based upon second-hand accounts: a sprawling mountain encompassing a multitude of peaks, lakes and forests. With further exploration, I dare suggest old Norikura will jump up these rankings.
#85 – AINO-DAKE
Aino-dake may be the 4th highest peak in the land but it’s basically nothing more than a hanger-onner. Most hikers combine it with a traverse either to or from Kita-dake, the summit merely the hump in the ridge on the trail to other glories. Sure there are top views, but nothing overly unique. Aino needs help to climb higher up the rankings but, looking at the map, it’d take a hell of an effort to climb Aino as a standalone peak. Looking up from Mibu-dake on its western side one does get a hint of the mountain’s stature and its ability to impress in its own right.
#86 – ARASHIMA-DAKE
You get beech forests and summit views of Haku-san: Fair point, but there are plenty of mountains that offer that in the Hokuriku. It’s a fun climb with access straight out of a station: Better point, some of the other big peaks in the area look to be a chore to get to. The lack of any real ridge to take in the views as one ambles doesn’t help but then, that probably aided its good looks and allowed it to cut the Hyakumeizan mustard in the first place!
#87 – SOBO-SAN
There are better mountains in Kyushu by far. A rambunctious volcanic peak Sobo is not but in its forests one can escape the crowds hunting such gratuitous highland titillation and immerse oneself in the more subtle aspects of a mountain journey. That being said, you aren’t really required to travel all the way into Kyushu’s boonies for such satisfaction. You can probably find a mountain to serve a similar purpose in your own neck of the woods.
#88 – AZUMAYA-YAMA
It didn’t help that I was forced to pay to walk through a cow pasture and got slightly disoriented in the woods on the approach. Sugadaira Kogen has an attractive country club atmosphere, and Azumaya, standing behind provides a pretty mountain backdrop, but what can I say, I could have satisfied myself sipping on a soda in a tennis club lounge and chatting up a sweaty lass just in off the courts.
#89 – UTSUKUSHI-GA-HARA
An escarpment lined plateau that is simultaneously abused by the trappings of tourism and primary industry but remains vast enough to harbour wilder nooks. Indeed, if you climb via the cliffs on the Matsumoto side of the highland, you won’t stumble across civilisation until you hit the summit hotel perched beneath a bevvy of antennae on the edge of the plunging cliffs. Once you’re up there, take a stroll across the highland, through the summertime pastures and hunt yourself down a well deserved soft serve ice cream.
#90 – KIRI-GA-MINE
Overrun by civilisation though it may be, I dare suggest this much-maligned member of the Hyakumeizan has more to offer than just its ho-hum summit stroll. I departed the weather station crowned highpoint of Kuruma-yama northward bound, and skirted the golden grassed Yashima Marsh. It’s no Oze for sure but adds weight to the argument that Fukada-san hints at: that Kiri-ga-mine is a highland worth repeat explorations.
#91 – KAIMON-DAKE
I don’t have a harsh word for Kaimon. It’s a gorgeous little peak poking out of the black sands of Ibusuki and standing guard over the entrance to Kagoshima Bay. There are splendid views from the summit. But it’s an up and down affair, albeit one that interestingly entwines itself around the little cone. If you’re already in the area let it lure you up but otherwise, it’s a long row of daikon to hoe for the sole sake of doing that hike.
#92 – ENA-SAN
A big mountain, impressive to look at, which was part of Fukada-san’s Hundred Mountain criterium but up close, on the ground, whilst the woodlands are pleasant enough on the approach (from Misaka Pass), they turn dense and scrappy and ultimately smother the summit. Maybe there’s a more scenic or adventurous route up the mountain. I haven’t overly burdened myself with finding out. Apparently, there’s a long 20 stage path somewhere but I think, for the moment, I’ll just recommend the fabulous, if a little more difficult to get to, Kohide-yama to hikers heading to that area.
#93 – DAISEN
Daisen is cool, scary cool, but only beyond the roped-off section and I’m not encouraging anyone to tread that path. It’s said, winter traverses to the real summit are much more feasible when snowfall widens the slither of crumbling ridgeline, but I’d rather be sucking down beers in Oz at that time of the year than freezing my balls off and thinking about dying on Daisen. So, as a hike, up to the safe highpoint, it’s a rather uninspiring slog. There are nice views out to the Japan Sea but you can get them sitting on your arse in a helicopter.
#94 – NANTAI-SAN
You have to pay to climb Nantai and lots of people do considering the state of the trail up from the shrine on the shoreline of Lake Chuzenji. Basically, it’s a grind and doing it in the summer heat won’t help any. The views down to the lake are gorgeous though, once you’re on top…apparently; I was above the clouds. A bloke in Oze later told me I should have climbed from the other side of the peak as it’s a much more beautiful trail. So Nantai holds on by its fingernails at #94 on account of his word with the potential to plummet if his promise doesn’t ultimately ring true.
#95 – TATESHINA
Tateshina’s unique boulder field of a summit notwithstanding, I’d say it’s probably a one and done for me. Yeah, I wouldn’t go back and hike this mountain unless I was doing the whole Hundred again. It is worth climbing once though, to check out one of the Hyakumeizan’s most unusual summits.
#96 – AMAGI-YAMA
Izu is charming, no doubt about it. The views across the bay to Fuji-san, the tiny fishing villages shoehorned into nooks in the rugged coastline and its hidden onsen in the hills make this a place to hold in one’s heart. And I suspect Fukada-san was so swayed by Izu’s tranquillity he stuck Amagi-yama on his list despite it being a rather ho-hum kind of mountain. You wouldn’t think it going by the highpoint’s fantastic name though: Banzaburo-dake: coolest mountain name of the 100.
#97 – DAIBOSATSU-DAKE
I didn’t get the Fuji views, I didn’t even get the views across the famed Daibosatsu Pass such was the gloom I hiked through. Those two points might bump old Daibo up a notch or two. I’m developing a soft spot for Yamanashi’s mountains and Daibo beats out Gunma’s Hotaka to #97 only because, of the two, I’d rather go back there and check out what I missed in the mist.
#98 – HOTAKA-YAMA
If I’m ever back in the area with nothing better to do I might reassess Hotaka’s lowly ranking here. I suspect I climbed from the least dynamic side of the peak and was mired in forest virtually all the way to the top. Summit views were mostly lost in summer haze and anyway, I suspect I nabbed better vistas off Shibutsu a hop skip and a jump away the following afternoon.
#99 – IBUKI-YAMA
A limestone quarry and ski-fields mar this mountain lording over Kansai’s north-eastern gateway. Some might think the conglomeration of (temporary?) souvenir stands and food vendors on the summit do too – especially when you drop off the back of Ibuki and discover a perfectly adequate visitor centre. Its fields of flowers and grasses do warrant repeat visits but then ultimately you’re heading out to a dullard of a mountain. You know what I’d do? Climb the relatively unheralded Ryozen-zan a touch to the south instead.
#100 – AKAGI-YAMA
Maybe there’s a better trail up the mountain, maybe there are better views than on the day I went. A climb through the forest from an uninspiring lakeside rimmed with pedal swans, followed by an undulating ridge of no astounding consequence gets you to the top before a steep trail off deposits you unglamourously back at the lake. Yeah, nah, Gunma has better mountains.
And that’s the hundred. If you’ve made it this far, ‘otsukare’. Thanks for taking the time. Don’t hold back in adding your opinions in the comments. You never know, I might actually listen to them! Either way, you’ve been sitting down here too long: go take a hike! Or check out Willie Walks on YouTube for regular hiking videos.
2 thoughts on “JAPAN’S 100 MOUNTAINS: 1ST TO WORST”
A monumental effort to rank these peaks from 1 to 100. There’s no way I’d even attempt to do this, but I think you did a pretty good job. I definitely recommend giving Azuma a second chance though, as an east-to-west traverse through the entire range will certainly change your mind.
Thanks, man. Yeah, Azuma’s high on my ‘Revenge List’.