Japan hiking notes

The main issues with hiking in Japan are – Transport, Navigation, Language and finding food suitable for hiking. Which of course are the main problems with hiking in most unfamiliar countries.

We are using the Lonely Planet – Japan and Hiking in Japan books. The hiking one is no longer in print, so we have an old copy and a pdf of the most recent one.

Transport

Hiring a car and driving is quite do-able as the road rules are pretty much the same as Oz and they drive on the left. We used an on line car hire rentalcars.com to do the booking and payment as it’s all in English. You still have to sign your life away when you pick the car up and there is a 50,000 yen ($500) excess you have pay if you have an accident. This is on top of the usual insurance. You also need an international license that you get before you leave, $80 from any RACV office.
The bus and train system is fantastic. Most of the walks are accessible by bus. The staff are all really helpful and some speak a little English.

Navigation

All of the maps for Japan are in Japanese, so unreadable, by me anyway. The two scenarios we had to deal with were driving a hire car and hiking.

For driving you can hire a car with a GPS that supports English, which sounds good, and it is in English, the menus that is, the maps are NOT. To make things more complex the Japanese do not use number/street/town to create an address. They use Number/Area/Town, so your house has a number in an area not a particular street.

To deal with all of this we have been using a mapping program on a windows tablet (Maps Pro) that can access Google, Bing, Open Street Maps and a bunch of others. For driving we use Google Maps as they have the English translations for most place names, shops etc. For hiking we use Open Street Maps with the Open Cycle Map Layer. This has contours, shading and most tracks. We also use this in Oz as it is more up to date than the printed maps and is free.

The downside with this approach – The Japanese Govt. has stopped Google and Bing from making a downloadable version of their maps. I assume it’s to do with self-defence. For hiking it’s not a big issue as Maps Pro will let you download the topos of the area you want to hike in. For driving this isn’t practical so you need an internet connection. Also the routing used for directions needs an internet connection when you ask for the directions.

Language

It would be really useful if we could speak some Japanese. As it is we can do the basics – hello, sorry, thank you, it was delicious. Fortunately pronunciation is not a problem, unlike Chinese, Vietnamese etc. The biggest problem for us is the written language, Kanji is just not decipherable by someone who wasn’t even good at English. Fortunately most signage is in Kanji and Romaji (English interpretation) so we can get around OK.

Food

There are supermarkets in most large towns. These are comparable to a medium Coles or Woolies. Look for Max Value, Cookie, A-Coop and others. There are 7-Eleven and Lawson stores (Competitor to 7-Eleven) everywhere, similar to their stores in Oz except they sell booze as well, which is very cheap in Japan. A bottle of spirits is about $10.00.

Supermarkets are usually under the railway station or bus station in the centre of town.

Breakfast

Cereal is almost non-existent. Powdered milk is available but you will need to speak Japanese or have it written down in Kanji to find it. Locally it’s called dried milk, we found a couple of Brits that were here to teach English that Pauline got to write it down for us. We did find some granola that is loaded with sugar and tasted like co-co pops. The best solution we have found is noodles and sachets of miso paste.

Lunch

We bought in dried dips from home and have found crackers in the supermarkets – Salada, Ritz.

Dinner

We bought in a lot of dehydrated meals from Oz. They won’t let in beef jerky or any fresh fruit or veggies. We declared that we had food with us and waffled that it was all dried and no fresh stuff and they let us through. They didn’t even look at it. We were prepared to just throw it all in the bin if needed. The main focus of customs seems to be drugs.

For carbs we bought in some Deb mashed spuds. You can also buy mashed spuds here, again you will need it written down in Kanji to find it in a supermarket. There is a limited range of Pasta available in most supermarkets.

Money

As of 2016 the best way to do money is a Travel Money Card. It has the least amount of fees. Either Visa or Mastercard. The banks in Oz all seem to have a version of it. We use Commonwealth Bank. You transfer money from your normal account to the travel money card in the currency you want. The exchange rate is what is going at the time. This makes it easy to top up as required and there is no delay. The card will work in any ATM that supports international cards. In Japan there is one in every post office and every town seems to have a post office. The ATMs are usually in a foyer at the front of the post office, they are not open late at night so you need to plan around this.

Internet

All the hotels, B&Bs etc have free Wi-Fi. You need your own device – phone, tablet, laptop.
The Japanese Govt. have a restriction on SIMs for mobile phones for making phone calls. You cannot get one without a permanent address in Japan. You can hire a phone at the airport to get around this, they are not cheap. You can however buy a SIM for data only. These are available at the airports and big electronics stores. They are also available in Oz before you leave which is what we did. Took a couple of days for it to be posted to us http://prepaid-data-sim-card.wikia.com/wiki/Japan  https://pp-p.freetel.jp/
Freetel SIM is also available from the Mega camera shops in most big cities.
To make phone calls we use Skype and have set up some credit on it so we can call a normal phone in Oz. It’s about 2.5c/minute.

Places to go

Kamikoci – camp up river at http://www.tokusawen.com then further up the valley.
Trip over the top from below Kamikoci, good loop. Catch chair lift up

Stuff to bring

Insect repellent – Off
Anti-Histamine – Claratine
Sleeping sheets and pillow cases