Japan’s newest national holiday, Mountain Day, is celebrated across the country on August 11th. What’s interesting about this holiday is that, in a country with many holidays and broader cultural traditions often spanning several centuries, Mountain Day was only officially passed into law by the national government in 2014, and was first celebrated on August 11th, 2016.
On a local level, there are in fact areas of Japan that have already recognized August 11th as a special day to worship their own nearby mountains. However, now that Mountain Day is officially recognized throughout the country, this is the best time to look as the cultural, political and environmental threads tying together this holiday with Japan’s history, and, of course, some key destinations to best enjoy Japan’s mountainous terrain.
So, how did this new holiday get started?
Mountain Day: A New Holiday Begins
Originally establishing Mountain Day was both an environmental and political matter. The holiday was first proposed to the Japanese government by environmental groups, most notably the Japanese Alpine Club. As you may have guessed, this group focuses on a passion for mountain-climbing, which makes particular sense for Japan, whose geography is about 3/4 covered in mountains. Some of their other goals include environmental conservation of Japan’s mountains, and even fostering solid, respectful social relationships between fellow climbers.
While Mountain Day holiday may seem to stick out compared to more established Japanese holidays and traditions, it in fact still follows conceptual themes seen in many long-established holidays. Two other environmentally-themed national holidays are Greenery Day and Marine Day. Greenery Day, celebrated annually on May 4th, can be seen as a sort of Japanese counterpart for the US’s Earth Day. Meanwhile, Marine Day focuses specifically on appreciating the ocean, leading to many eager holiday crowds at Japan’s beaches.
While these holidays certainly have a modern-day environmentalist slant to them, they can also be tied to a much older belief system: namely, Shintoism, which is regarded as Japan’s first religion, and indigenous to the Japanese. Shintoism is a centuries-old faith that focuses on worshipping the forces of nature and believing deities to be guardians of a place, staying on a mountain, protecting a forest, under a waterfall, nestled under a rock.
Thus, while Mountain Day may seemingly stick out as a young upstart of a holiday amidst Japan’s older established celebrations, it does fit right in with many of the underlying themes that drive some of the country’s most well-known holidays.
Travel Tips: Japan in August
While this is a new holiday, with much room to grow for establishing beloved traditions nation-wide, the mountains of Japan are already well-known and well-loved by both the public as well as international travelers.
Japan’s Weather in August
In general, Japan, especially in its cities, can be very hot at this time of year. And while traveling to Japan in August will technically mean just missing the rainy season spanning June and July, humidity still compounds the effects of the summer heat.
This comes in contrast to the generally cooler climes of Japan’s mountains, making mountain hiking and treks even more appealing, as a respite from the summer heat.
Additionally, the mountains can be a destination in themselves, but if you’re starting your trip to Japan in cities such as Tokyo or Kyoto, a trip to the mountains may be a helpful break from the city summer heat.
Japan in August: A Busy Month
One more consideration before traveling to Japan in August is just how busy the month is. This is for two reasons. First, August is well-known for celebrations beyond Mountain Day, as the month is generally considered, combined with July, to make up the biggest festival season in Japan’s calendar year. In August, some festivals that take place closest to Mountain Day include the Sasebo Seaside Festival (August 3-4), the Sendai Tanabata (August 6-8), and the Tokushima Awa Odori (August 12-15.) Naturally, this surge of festive activity will lead to an uptick in crowds overall.
Second, August is summer break for most Japanese schools, so the general crowds often become even more pronounced as a result.
Clearly, there are pros and cons to traveling to Japan in August, of course, each month and season has its own ups and downs for potential travelers. With these considerations in mind, its time to jump into suggested destinations to make the most out of Mountain Day.
Places to Go on Mountain Day
When you think of mountains in Japan, Mount Fuji is likely the first to come in mind. Just looking at a photo of Mount Fuji is an impressive site, and is a sought-after travel destination for Japanese citizens and international travelers. The mountain itself is over 12,000ft tall, making it Japan’s tallest mountain (a feat in itself, since mountains make up nearly ⅘’s of Japan’s geography). However, the climb itself is not as difficult as you may think--you don’t have to be an expert mountain climber to make the ascent, and as Japan Guide explains in their feature article, “Climbing Mount Fuji,”, two concerns to keep in mind that the hike “is very strenuous and the air gets notably thinner as you gain altitude.”
Mount Fuji is a prime example of Japan’s awe-inspiring mountain destinations. However, there are many more worthy examples, some more off the beaten path (at least for international travelers) than others.
- Mount Kongo, in the Osaka prefecture, according to Kansai Scene appeals to a more casual crowd, with its easy-to-follow trails, and, if you so choose, the mountain provides access to a cable car scaling part of the climb up.
- Nara’s Odai-ga-hara, has a mix of challenging hikes as well as a pleasant, less demanding trail, drawing in a range of hiking experience levels in its visitors.
- Mount Shibutsu, located in Oze National Park, in Gunma Prefecture, is yet another great example.
- Finally, perhaps saving the best for last, are the Japanese Alps, a well-known, far-reaching range of mountains with many high peaks and challenging hikes, as well as tourist destinations including ski resorts, hot springs, and a number of travel-worthy cities at the bases spanning the Japanese Alps. For more information, check out Japan Alps Seven Cities website, an organization promoting an appreciation for these cities and the Alps themselves.
This is a very brief summary of Japan’s wide range of mountains, meant to give a sampling of mountains spanning different Japanese locales, with varying levels of hiking intensity and different blends of areas more tourist friendly and a more pure, less-commercially developed paths, perfect for exploring on Mountain Day.
Mountain day may be Japan’s newest holiday, but its focus on appreciating nature ties in perfectly with so much of what makes Japan a culturally-rich nation, as well as an appealing, must-see travel destination. In the coming years, there are sure to be more traditions to become one with this special day, and in the meantime there is already a great range of Mountain Day activities and travel destinations just waiting to be explored.