A Celebration of Japan’s Mountains
Did you know that around 70% of Japan’s land mass is mountainous? A striking contrast to the densely populated cities of the lowlands, the stunning mountains of Japan include the iconic Mount Fuji and 100 active volcanoes.
In 2014, the Japanese government established a new national holiday to honour the peaks. The Japanese Alpine Club and other organised environmental groups had lobbied for the official holiday, arguing that Japan, where Shinto beliefs in nature have shaped the culture, should celebrate its mountains.
After all, the country’s public holidays already included Midori no Hi (Greenery Day), a celebration of nature and also Marine Day, a time to honour the blessings derived from the oceans.
Many areas of Japan already celebrated the mountains on August 11 each year and so this was the date chosen for Yama no Hi (Mountain Day). This specific date seems appropriate as August is the eighth month of the year and the kanji for the number eight “八” looks like a mountain while the number 11 looks like two trees.
How many public holidays are there in Japan?
Mountain Day is the 16th official public holiday to be established in Japan. There are more public holidays in Japan than in any other G8 nation. But the country will need many more holidays if it is to rival Nepal where there are no less than 35 public holidays annually. There are 32 public holidays in Myanmar each year and Iceland has the most of any European nation with 16.
How is Yama no Hi celebrated?
Yama no Hi is Japan’s newest public holiday. The Japanese government stated that the holiday was created to provide “opportunities to get familiar with mountains and appreciate blessings from mountains”. The holiday is so new that traditions for the day have yet to become established. Indeed, in 2016, a survey by the Japan Weather Association revealed that only 68% of Japanese people were even aware of the new holiday at that time.
It could take some time for the Mountain Day holiday to become universally known. The same 2016 survey demonstrated that 10% of the Japanese population were not aware of Marine Day which had been introduced 20 years earlier!
Mountain Day should prove to be a great time to hike in the mountain ranges, to sightsee or to engage in adventure sports. It remains to be seen whether those in Japan that live in the lowlands will take the time to travel out of the metropolis to seek peace amongst the peaks.
When Yama no Hi was created, the Japan Times suggested that the new holiday could possibly inspire a spend of around 820 billion yen ($8bn; £6bn), including a significant rise in the sale of camping gear!
What are the highest mountains in Japan?
The highest peak in Japan is the legendary Fuji-san (mount Fuji) at 3776m (12,388ft). Mount Fuji is an active volcano, which last erupted in 1707. It is located on the border between Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures and can be seen from both Tokyo and Yokohama on clear days. Mount Fuji is a sacred mountain boasting an exceptionally symmetrical cone. It is situated at the meeting point of three tectonic plates, hence the volcanic and seismic activity in the area.
Standing at 3193m (10476ft), Kita-dake (Mount Kita) is the second-highest mountain in Japan. It is located in Minami Alps National Park, Yamanashi prefecture, and is a popular peak with hikers and climbers. However, the routes to the summit are challenging. In 1902, British missionary Walter Weston became the first non-Japanese climber to reach Kita-dake’s summit.
Just three metres lower than Kita-dake, Hotakadake (Mount Okuhotaka) is Japan’s third-highest mountain. It is situated in the Chūbu-Sangaku National Park and sits on the border between the cities of Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, and Takayama, Gifu Prefecture.
Japan boasts 12955 named mountains and over 16,000 mountains in total. 20 Japanese peaks are over 3,000m in height. Mountain Day is certainly a fitting holiday for the nation.
What about the mountains in winter?
Mountain Day is celebrated in summer, but the Japanese peaks are hugely popular in winter. Mount Fuji may only be snow-capped for up to five months of the year, but Japan generallybenefits from remarkably good snow conditions in the winter months and so is one of the best places on earth to ski or snowboard. There are over 450 operating ski areas in Japan. Some of which are interconnected.
Resorts such as Shiga Kogen, Nagano, have incredibly long seasons, often running from mid-November until the end of May. Niseko, Hokkaido, is perhaps the best-known ski resort in the country. It consists of four interlinked ski areas and averages 15m of snow each year. The resort is famed for its epic power.
International Mountain Day
In 2003, the United Nations General Council designated December 11 as International Mountains Day. The assembly “encouraged the international community to organize events at all levels on that day to highlight the importance of sustainable mountain development.”
International Mountain Day is observed annually, and each year has a different theme. The theme in 2023 is restoring mountain ecosystems.
There are many great reasons to visit Japan and the mountainous landscape is certainly one of them. From the year-round beauty of Mount Fuji to the many amazing winter resorts, Japan is a fabulous place to visit if you love the majesty of the highest peaks. Mountain Day now gives visitors to the country the perfect occasion on which to admire and appreciate the striking peaks of Japan.