top of page

Road trip through the mountains of Japan

Overwhelming. That is how I could describe Japan in one word. Over the past two weeks, my boyfriend and I hve made a special road trip through the blossoming mountains of Japan and we have been able to discover a tiny piece of this large island. I really enjoyed getting to know a country that is so different from the Netherlands. Typical Japan for me is drinking sake* in a Yukata*, a country where you will find more public toilets than trash cans (there are literally none on the streets), a country so clean that you just can't believe that here millions of people live. A country where the toilet has more options than your phone. A country where nature is allowed to go its own way and is valued and respected and is therefore incredibly beautiful. A country where we get a lot of plants from; think of Tricyrtis, Kirengeshoma, Carex, Schizachyrium, Miscanthus, Polygonatum , Cimicifuga, Wisteria and Akebia, but which can not be found in Japanese gardens, but in the woods and flower fields. A country that is very introverted, but at the same time extremely extroverted. And whether you are in nature or in the city; Japan is a country like no other. Japan is… overwhelming. When my boyfriend and I go on a trip, we always try to do as little touristy things as possible. We are not looking for hotspots where you can accidentally bump into your neighbour, but for the lowspots (this word does not exist, but you know what I mean) that are not or hardly discovered. As a result, you are immersed in the real culture, you meet the locals and the contact with people is very special (even though you sometimes speak the language of hands and feet). We love hiking, chilling and good food and our holidays are there to recharge and escape from our daily hectic pace. Tick, tick, tick, tick. Japan ticked off all these points with flying colours. Fully charged and full of inspiration I am back home again. In this blog I will take you on our road trip through the mountains of Japan and share the most beautiful places to stay & hikes with you! Of course I also discuss all the plants, shrubs and trees that I have encountered.

Enjoy reading!

Place to stay 1 | Tokyo

Our journey starts in Tokyo where we stay for two nights in the Asakusabashi district. I'm more of a country girl than a city person and to be honest the idea of ​​going to the biggest city in the world made me cringe (three weeks ago I was in London for a few days and the crowds really drove me crazy ). But what I could never have imagined was that this city of 14 million people is the most peaceful and clean city I've ever been to. Okay, of course there are neighborhoods where it is very busy, but the entire atmosphere is almost calming. Japan is known for its Sakura, the time when all Prunus trees bloom. The moment we arrived the whole city turned pink. It is understandable that this period has been given a special name. Because we rented a car to drive in the mountains, we will be at different altitudes and the flowering periods of the trees and shrubs will differ from each other. Tokyo is located at a height of 40 meters and the moment we have arrived here and the Sakura is at its absolute height. Lucky us. We spend our days here walking around and looking for places to eat or drink. One of the nicest places we stayed was the Skybar of the Four Seasons Hotel. You pay a hefty price for a cocktail, but the place itself and the view over the city are really beautiful!

Sakura in Tokyo
Sakura in Tokyo

Skybar Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo Otemachi
Skybar Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo Otemachi overlooking Tokyo

So, we survived the city. Check. Time to undergo the first experience of driving on the left side of the road and pick up our Toyota and drive North. Our first destination is Nikko, which is about a 3-hour drive from Tokyo. We will stay here for the next four nights. Let's gooooo!

Tokyo - Nikko

Place to stay 2 | Nikko |

After a beautiful and somewhat unfamiliar ride, we arrived safely in Nikko. I just said that we are not looking for the hotspot of a country or city, but to be honest Nikko is. This town is a huge attraction because here are temple complexes that are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage. However, that is not the reason we are here (sorry Mathieu). There are many hikes to find in the mountains of Nikko. We stay at the Natsukashiya Fuwari hotel. A traditional Japanese hotel where you will be served Kaiseki both morning and evening while sitting in your Yukata. Kaiseki is a 'celebratory meal' consisting of several small courses. The dishes are based on multiple traditional cuisines: the imperial cuisine of the Heian period in the 9th century, the cuisine of Buddhist temples in the Kamakura period (12th century), the Samurai cuisine (Muromachi period, 14th century). There are very tasty things in between, but for us Dutch sandwich with peanut butter eaters, occasionally also very strange things. Be prepared when you are going to eat Kaiseki ;) In this hotel you have the well-known Japanese hotsprings. A hotspring consists geothermally heated (up to 41 degrees) groundwater. The minerals that would be in the water appear to be good for you. Hiking, eating and then a nice bath. What else do you want more.

Natsukashiya Fuwari hotel
Natsukashiya Fuwari hotel

Hike 1 | Senjōgahara in Yumoto | Altitude 1400 meter

Our first hiking trail in Japan is the Senjōgahara in Yumoto. This is about an hour's drive from Nikko. Because we are very high up, the atmosphere is completely different from Tokyo. A four kilometer long platform leads you through different atmospheres of the marshland. Every so often it is explained what kind of plants grow here (350 different species), what animals live there and what the history of this place is. The hike takes about 2.5 hours and is very easy to walk. I have read that this trail is especially beautiful from June to late autumn. Just a little too early for us.

Hike 1  | Senjōgahara in Yumoto | 1400 meter
Hike 1 | Senjōgahara in Yumoto | 1400 meter

Hike 2 | Jakko Waterfall | Altitude 900 meter

A little closer to home you have a small trail that you can easily walk from the hotel. The end point of this trail is at the Jakko Waterfall. This hike is slightly lower, but still there is not too much to see except for the Edgeworthia chrysantha.

Japanse voortuin in Nikko
Japanse frontgarden in Nikko

Hike 3 | Onbekend | Altitude 600 meter

After two days I felt the need for some more greenery and we drove back towards lower Tokyo. After a half 30 minute drive, the landscape is completely different and we leave the highway in search of a hike in the area. When you search for hiking trails on Google Maps, you often get many search results. Although not all hikes turn out to be 'real' hikes. That may sound a bit crazy, but when there are only 1 or 2 reviews for a trail, you already know for sure that you don't have to expect much. My friend is always wise enough not to go then, I myself am a bit more impulsive and I am curious what there is to see. This hike was one of the most natural and wild routes we have ever done. The first two kilometers were easy to do, but then the path ended so we had to figure out our own way a bit (haha). Nevertheless, the vegetation under the Acers, the Pinus and the flowering Prunus of 30 meters high was very beautiful and I saw the Rhododendron and the Pieris for the first time in the wild. There were also 100 different ferns, Liriope, Polygonatum, Akebia, different types of climbing plants and bamboo.

Hike 4 | Mountain Nakimushi | Altitude 1000 meter

The most difficult hike that lasted 4.5 hours was our fourth. This hike is close to the hotel and easy to reach. During the hike you have to go up 600 meters via paths like the left photo of the triptych below. Once at the top you will be treated to the beautifully flowering candy cane pink shrub Rhododendron pentaphyllum var. nikoense, which is a symbol in this region (and which is often used in Japanese gardens) and of course a nice beer.

Top of the woorrlllddd

TIP: To see as many Beautiful views as possible, avoid the toll roads and drive through the mountains. It's vacation time!

And this is the landscape you can expect in early April when you drive through the Japanese mountains. The fresh green of the Acers, the flowering of the Prunus and the dark green of the Pinus. Swipe to view the photos.

Hike 5 | Kojin mountain top | Altitude 625 meter

On the way to our next destination we did a hike that was not very exciting, but had the most fantastic and diverse nature! Wowie, I really saw so many beautiful flowers, shrubs and trees in bloom. You can see which ones in the slide show.

Roadtrip door japan
Nikko - Hoshi Onsen

Place to stay 3 | Hoshi Onsen Chōjukan |

After the 5 hikes we have done it is time for some rest. The next two days we don't do much except eat, drink beer by the water and bathe in hot springs. What do you need more. We stay in the authentic Hoshi Onsen which has a hotspring that has been in use since 1837. This place is a true experience. After our rest we leave for the south again and we will visit the fishing village of Kosuge. Very excited!

Roadtrip door japan
Akaya Lake

Roadtrip door japan
Hoshi Onsen - Kosuge

Verblijf plek 4 | Kosuge |

Okay, when I'm excited, then I'm really excited. This place is the most beautiful and special place I've ever been so far. First of all, the hotel room itself was just perfect. Just look at the picture below. Traditional, stylish and modern at the same time. The room consists of a number of different areas that are situated around the bedroom - which you can close with the Japanese shutters at the front, back and side - At the front you have the dining area, at the side the sitting area overlooking the garden and at the back the bathroom. The garden itself is a real Japanese garden and was blooming beautifully when we got there. Here too you will be served both breakfast and dinner. The food is of a very high standard and everything you find on your plate is a product of the area or made by one of the 700 inhabitants of the village. We have had a tour from one of the inhabitants (the neighbour) in which he shows how they grow the products and how they live in the village. It is nice to see how a fancy hotel like this fully uses its environment to achieve the best quality.

Roadtrip door japan

Roadtrip door japan - Nipponia
The most local food I've ever eaten. The fish comes from the river of Kosuge and the vegetables are picked from the mountains. Su-per-nice

De tuin van Nipponia
The garden of Nipponia

Hike 6 | Berg Takazashi | Altitude 1200 meter

From the hotel you can start a 3-hour hike through the mountains, along the river and the town itself. It is a beautiful route with a special vegetation. Many Hydrangeas grow here in the wild, but also Pieris and Rhododendrons. I also came across some other odd things that can be seen on the triptych below. After two wonderful days we leave for the coastal town of Atami in the South East.

Roadtrip door japan
Mountain Takazashi

Roadtrip door japan
Kosuge - Atami

Hike 7 | Ryugatake | Altitude 1400 meter

On our way to our next destination we drive past this immense Mount Fuji. There are a number of popular places to go for a walk around here. We have chosen this tough hike of 3 hours. The vegetation here is not that fascinating, but the view is worth the walk up.

Roadtrip door japan
View on mountain Fuij

Place to stay 5 | Atami |

Our penultimate destination is Atami. A coastal town on the east coast of Japan and a two-hour drive from Tokyo. We stay in an Airbnb high in the mountains and really enjoy the view of the sea. During a walk from the mountains to the sea I came across something familiar. Erigeron karvinskianus, Persicaria and Stewartia.

Roadtrip door japan
View of the ocean from the Airbnb

Roadtrip door japan
Atami - Tokyo

Place to stay 6 | Tokyo

Time to go back to Tokyo! We stay here for the last two days. When we arrive the blossom period is over and the Cornus has taken over for now, but is not nearly as noticeable as that of the Prunus. I look back on a very special journey that made a big impression. It's so educational to see plants in their own habitat. I can better understand them and therefore better apply them in my designs. Nature remains the greatest source of inspiration for my work. I close the holiday with a very special souvenir. In an old bookshop I found a plant book from 1938. I leave Japan with a big smile and the book under my arms. This was a holiday I will not soon forget.

Boekenwinkel Tokyo
bookshop Tokyo

Plantenboek uit 1938
Plant book from 1938

* Sake: rice wine * Yukata: Summer kimono


bottom of page