Almost 80 percent of Japan is mountainous. And Japanese mountains are some of the most beautiful and iconic in the world. From the snow-capped peaks of the Japanese Alps to the active volcanoes of the southern islands, there’s no shortage of breathtaking scenery among the highest mountain ranges of Japan.
Mountains have always been an important part of Japanese culture. They serve as a natural backdrop for many works of art and literature, and as a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. What’s more, many mountains are considered sacred, with shrines and temples built on and around them.
Japan’s mountains are said to number in the tens of thousands. Of these, 21 are classed as 3000ers, meaning they exceed 3,000 metres (9,842 feet) in height. Detailing all of the Japanese mountains would be impossible – some might even say insurmountable – in a quick guide. But fear not. We’re covering the best known mountains in Japan, including the largest mountain in Japan.
Say the word ‘alps’ to most people in the UK and they’ll think ‘Swiss’, but the Japanese Alps are undeniably magnificent. Arising like a centrepiece across Japan’s largest island, Honshu, they encompass several peaks exceeding 10,000 feet across three main ranges:
Japanese Mountain Ranges
The Kiso Mountains: For some, the Japanese Alps means the Kiso Mountains. Others refer to it as the Central Alps.
The Hida Mountains: Also known as the Northern Alps, its mountains are located within Chūbu-Sangaku National Park (Chūbu Sangaku Kokuritsu Kōen).
The Akaishi Mountains: Also known as the Southern Alps, home of the Minami Alps National Park (Minami Arupusu Kokuritsu Kōen).
However, the mountains of Japan are not restricted to its alpine region. Indeed, its most famous peak resides alone. It’s also the tallest mountain in Japan, Mount Fuji.
Japan’s highest mountain is the iconic Mount Fuji. This picturesque peak with its classical cone-top rises to a majestic 12,389 feet. It’s a solitary giant, located outside the Japanese Alps some 60 miles southwest of Tokyo, in Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. It’s also an active volcano and last erupted in 1707.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of Mount Fuji in Japanese culture. It’s one of the country’s national symbols and a holy site adorned with shrines and temples. The mountain is a popular destination for climbers, pilgrims and tourists alike, with an estimated 400,000 people attempting to reach the peak every year.
The highest point of the Akaishi Mountains, Mount Kita is the second largest mountain in Japan, at 10,476 feet. It’s also the country’s highest non-volcanic mountain. Kita,along with Mounts Ainodake and Notori, are collectively known as the three white summits (Shirane Sanzan).
Mount Okuhotaka is one of the six peaks of Mount Hotaka, located in the Hida Mountains. At 10,466 feet high, this is the third tallest mountain in Japan.
Several Japanese religions and cultures revere mountains as holy places; Shugen-dō, Shintō and Buddhism among them. These mountains are considered other worldly and as sites of worship. While many mountains, Mount Fuji included, are seen as sacred, the Sacred Mountains of Dewa are the best known Japanese mountains for pilgrimages of this kind. Located in in Yamagata Prefecture in the Tohoku region, the mountains of Dewa are Mounts Haguro, Gassan, and Yudono.
100 Famous Japanese Mountains
The 1964 book 100 Famous Japanese mountains by Kyuya Fukada offers a mountaineer’s insight into the best known mountains in Japan. It’s said that Fukada chose these hundred mountains based on their individuality, grace and history as well as their height. All the mountains on the list exceed 1,500 metres (4,921 feet). The book has served as a checklist for many mountaineers, with the New York Times citing Crown Prince Naruhito among them.
The Most Famous Mountains in Japan
The Japanese proverb that says, ‘the wind howls but the mountain remains still’ is apt in conveying the sense of immutability evoked by these majestic giants. And, in a country so richly mountainous, we’ve covered just a fraction of the best known mountains in Japan, including Japan’s highest mountain.