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Hot springs, volcanoes, idyllic snows and primeval forests make the mountain ranges of Japan among the most spectacular in the world. They are also among the most numerous, with a majority of the country covered in alpine terrain.
According to Frommer's, approximately 70 percent of Japan is made up of mountains, spread across all four main islands. Additionally, there are hundreds of volcanoes, dozens of which are still active. Indeed, exploring Japan necessitates venturing into its many mountains and the hidden treasures found within.
For travelers looking to explore such regions, there are some ranges that are more popular than others. Mt. Fuji and Aso are among the iconic destinations, but travelers shouldn't feel beholden solely to the main attractions. From the Central Alps to the northern Zao Mountain Range, there are more than enough summits to see and scale.
Located in central Kyushu, Aso is a volcanic complex consisting of a caldera with five mountains on a central plateau, all encompassed by a miles-long outer rim. The crowning glory of the region is the active Mt. Naka-dake. While liquids still bubble and fume, tourists are welcome to get a close look. They need only take note of the nearby dugout shelters in case the volcano gets a little too active.
The volcano is actually situated in the center of Aso-Kuju National Park. According to JNTO, there are many hot spring villages, perfect for a relaxing soak after a long day of hiking. There is also the Aso Volcano Museum, which provides unparalleled views of the interior of the volcano with the help of TV cameras that can be controlled my museum patrons.
Where Aso supplies the danger, Mt. Fuji offers iconic peace and calm. There is no better symbol of the poetic and precise culture of Japan than the idyllic, snow-capped mountain, reflected in perfect symmetry by Lake Kawaguchi. Come spring, the watery image of Fuji is adorned with the petals of the cherry blossoms.
Fuji is a good hiking destination, and the sunrise from the top is a glorious view. The fiery panorama may be a welcome sight, but the mountain is also home to festival and worship intended to calm the mountain's eruption, according to JNTO. The most notable is the brash and lively Fire Festival of Yoshida, held at the end of summer, marking the close of climbing season.
With so many mountains spread across Japan, it's difficult to credit one without slighting another. However, the Shirakami Mountains are always worth a mention. Spread across northern Honshu – Japan's main island – this region has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its primeval beech forest. Apart from its ancient old-growth forest and diverse ecosystem, its also noted by UNESCO for the rare, heavy-snow climate found inland of the Sea of Japan.
Despite the presence of frozen snow, there is still beautiful running water found within the woods. JNTO calls Anmon Falls a must-see. Lake Juni-ko, meanwhile, is a series of lakes, marshes and ponds - oases among the beech.
Hot springs galore
Aso is home to plenty of hot springs, but it is by no means the only mountain area featuring relaxing baths. For example, the northern parts of the Nagano prefecture is home to the famed Jigokudani Yaen-Koen, or monkey park, where snow monkeys bathe in hot springs. Another destination for a warm-water soak is the Zao Mountain Range. The Zao-onsen Hot Spring found at the entrance of the Zao National Park is a gem, recognized by the JNTO as one of the best places for an open-air bath. Part of the pleasure comes in the grand public engagement. The hot spring can host up to 200 people at any one time. The hot spring is especially inviting, given that the mountain range is also a popular destination for skiing, snowboarding, hiking and horseback riding.
Of course, Japan's mountains may be splendid, but they are far from the only ones worth seeing around the globe. Travelers interested in Japanese mountain tours may also want to consider the Asian Himalayas or a tour of Africa's Atlas Mountains.
As your small motorboat slides onto the sandy bank of a deserted beach and your attentive guides set up a gourmet seaside picnic, all that’s left to do is allow the turquoise waters of this remote paradise wash away your stresses.
This is Japan for the intrepid explorer. Enjoy the insight of a local guide, but make use of Japan's efficient train networks to ensure maximum experience for your money.
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