The Tokai trail takes you thorough rural towns and mountains of Japan. The further you go away from Tokyo the better experience you’ll have in Japan I believe. One reason being you start to see more animals that are native to Japan. The first time I left Tokyo I traveled to a small town in the countryside and was surprised by two things. The first that the trains did not come every few minutes and the size of the bugs. In Japan’s rural countryside insects abound as you enter the mountains you become much more likely to encounter bears, boars and raccoons.
The majority of the animals you encounter will leave you alone as long as you respect them. I did find this to be true in most cases. I enjoyed seeing a variety of wildlife while hiking the trail, some more than others. This section is no means a complete guide of all the animals your may encounter but an overview of most of the animals you may see on the trail.
Bear (熊/ kuma)
In the area that the Tokai nature trail goes through the bears are black bears, not the Ussuri brown bear which is known as the black grizzly. These black bears are smaller and are more skittish around people. The rangers that I spoke with told me that I would be very lucky to see a bear, and that it would probably run away if it saw me. I was also told that if I did encounter a bear I should stand my ground, put my hand up and say “STOP” and the bear would go away….
Each night I hung all my food far away from my campsite, to keep it away from the animals. I never hung it very high, or used a bear bag. I was more worried about deer, boar or raccoons getting into the bag. I never had a problem with any animals getting in my food or disturbing my campsite.
While hiking you will see many signs that warn of bears, and many Japanese hikers attach bear bells to their bags to ward off bears. Always follow common hiking precautions while hiking in areas with bears. That being said I did not feel that the bears where the most dangerous animal on the hike. I personally had more encounters with boars and hornets.
Japanese boar (イノシシ / Inoshishi)
Boars are potentially dangerous to hikers. I encountered two while hiking the trail, both times I walked backwards until they left. I never saw them in my direct path but rather up on the hillside while I was walking along forest roads. There will be warning signs in areas with boars. Signs might also write refer to boars by “山鯨”.
Monkey (さる/ 猿 / saru)
On the Tokai trail there are signs warning about monkeys, I never encountered them. I have encountered them on other hikes in Japan, and have seen them attack people. Monkeys are a deceivingly cute animal, and should be viewed with safety in mind. Monkeys are dangerous to hikers, and you should exercise caution if you encounter them.
If you do encounter them remember:
• Do not make eye contact, keep a neutral face.
• Do not smile.
• Walk away slowly and quietly.
• Don’t turn your back to the monkey.
Japanese Giant Hornet (スズメバチ / Suzumebachi)
The Japanese Giant Hornet prefers rural areas, and it is very aggressive. It does not need to be provoked to attack, just being in the area where it lives is enough. When mating it will become more aggressive The sting is incredibly painful, and can cause death even if you are not allergic. If stung more than 10 times a person may need medical help, and emergency treatment if stung more than 30 times.
I encountered the giant hornets about once or twice a week while I was hiking. I moved out of the area where they were and avoided camping if I saw them. Several guides also suggested to not wear black as it increases attacks and provokes them. This is something that I was also told when hiking in Yakushima. I followed this advice with the majority of what I wore.
The Japanese centipedes are long, and of a dark red color. The bites are painful and it is suggested you see a doctor if you have been bitten. I have never seen one in all my time in Japan. They are a common insect in both nature and large cities. I always took care to look where I set up my tent, but otherwise took no other precautions.
Japanese pit viper (マムシ / Mamushi)
The mamushi is a venomous pit viper species; about ten people die a year from bites. Signs might also write Mamushi using hiragana
“まむし“ or Kanji “蝮”. They are found in swamps, marshes, meadows, open woodland, rocky hillsides, and mountain rock outcroppings.
Snakes are somewhat common on the trail. I only saw a few signs warning about Mamushi specifically. I did see about ten snakes while walking, but I don’t think I ever saw a Mamushi.
Raccoon (たぬき /狸 / Tanuki)
Raccoons are abundant population in Japan, and frequently appear in folklore and popular culture. There were signs that made raccoons seem common, but I never encountered them. The signs warn campers about raccoons stealing their food, which is another reason to hang your food when you camp at night. While walking through towns will you most likely see artistic depictions of the Tanuki in the form of statues outside people’s homes or restaurants.
Deer (しか / 鹿 /Shika)
Sika deer are Japanese deer that inhabit temperate and subtropical woodlands.
The deer’s spot patterns vary with region, and the Japanese deer spots are hardly visible. I saw a few deer while hiking. They generally ran away if they saw you, they never got into my food either.
Crain fly (ががんぼ 大蚊 / Gaganbo)
Crain flies were one of the most common insects that I encountered on the trail. I had surprisingly never encountered them before in Japan, and was a bit nervous when I saw them. They are harmless, but are a bit of a nuisance when hiking in the wooded areas.
Mosquito (か / 蚊 / Ka)
There were so many mosquitos when I hiked through Japan. I used bug spray everyday and didn’t get too many bites. Mosquitos were something that I have always encountered in Japan both in the city and the countryside.
Leech (ひる/ 蛭/ Hiru)
The Japanese mountains and streams have leeches. They can be found in any wet location in the Japanese mountains. While hiking the Tokai I did not encounter any leech, but people who lived in the area warned me about them.
Butterfly (ちょう/ 蝶/ Chō)
On the Tokai Nature Trail you may encounter sign boards referencing the Gifu Butterfly (ギフチョウ). The signs are telling you that the butterfly is migrating through this area. The signs also ask you to not disturb or collect the butterfly. This butterfly is only found in Japan, and is becoming more scarce as woodlands are destroyed.