Hiking the Tokai Nature Trail
At times the trail can be some what arduous with steep slopes, narrow roads, and trails that are not maintained. Other parts of the trail take you down forest roads, and through small country towns. Hiking the trail can be lonely at times as you will not encounter people very frequently, but when you do they are always very interested in what you are doing, and show you great kindness. The best part of the trail is the people that you meet, and the conversations that you will have with them.
This trip was my first backpacking or camping experience. I had been to Japan five times before for various lengths of time, and had done some more of the popular hikes. To get ready for this trip I did extensive research about the trail and sought advice from my friends who had done backpacking trips before. The main advice that they gave me was to train for the long days hiking, which I agree would be great if I had free time.
What I do wish I had done, and suggest for anyone starting the hike, is to hike with your full pack up the steepest hill, trail ect. I was in average shape at the start of the hike and didn’t find myself regretting not training. After my first day I was exhausted, and completely over did myself in part because my pack was too heavy. However, I think I could have had a lighter load if I had tested the pack with ALL the food and water I intended to bring on a steep terrain.
As you hike along the trail you will encounter maps, and trail markers. Depending on the prefecture the quality of trail guides will vary. At this point I have only hiked through Aichi prefecture, so I have experience with these. Some trail markers are old, some have time information and some have both the time and the distance on them. Generally I found that except on the bypass course the markers consistent across the prefectures and I had little trouble staying on the trail. I would not only rely on the trail markers, but have a back up to use such as a map or GPS. I think the markers are good for about 90% of the trail however.
Guide Posts on the Tokai Nature Trail
Water on the Tokai Nature Trail
Hiking through the trail you encounter beautiful clear streams, and waterfalls. Some English sources on this trail suggest that drinking water from streams is fine, and that you don’t need to treat the water. I cannot stress enough what a bad idea this is, you MUST treat the water in Japan that comes from rivers. This comes from talking to forest rangers I met on the hike, and from the nature centers as well as numerous signs posted along the trail.
Some of the water has water borne diseases and must be treated. Just looking at the water does not guarantee there are no diseases. The rangers and the Japanese guidebooks are still weary about drinking the water even if it is treated. Suggesting otherwise is dangerous, and I would drink water from the streams only after treating and at your own risk. This is general hiking principle and anyone suggesting to ignore it puts others at risk.
There are water spots that mark safe drinking spots, and I frequently collected water from public restrooms. There are some places where the water is not safe to drink. Do not ignore these signs. They are in Japanese, and they usually say something like this “ご注意, この水は飲めません”. Which means, warning you can not drink this water.
Another source is collecting water from peoples outdoor taps. In my time in Japan I have found Japanese people extremely kind and helpful. They are also very polite and there tends to be an air of reservation in the culture in addressing rude public behavior. Do not go take water without asking, do not wander on peoples land or to their houses and use the taps without permission. I was never told no, but rather people went out of their way to let me sleep on their land or use their water. I always asked. If you don't speak Japanese you can jester to the water tap. I have also included a basic Japanese guide in this site.
Camping on the Tokai Nature Trail
The Tokai Trail does not have official campsites so I camped out at various places I found along the trail. Many of the guides assume that you are going to be taking the bus back each day and then stay in a hotel. I however thought that this would be quite difficult because of how infrequently the buses come. From reading Japanese blogs I have noticed that people do both, but taking the bus back is much more frequent, and the trip is often broken up into multiple parts.
Avoid camping on public or private property. This should not have to be explained but I have read some other online sources that suggest this would be acceptable. Don’t ruin the trail for others by being rude foreigners. This includes agricultural fields, playgrounds, tennis courts or football stadiums. If you are stealth camping you are giving foreigners a bad name, the trail has ample places to camp if you plan correctly. Reasonable hikers and advocates for the Tokai Nature trail should not encourage or promote this behavior. The administering agency places camping restrictions for a reason. With proper planning it is easy to find camping at designated shelter points, and avoid places that say no camping.
In the prefectural guides I list the specific places that I camped, or other sites that I found that were suitable for camping. Generally I would hike for about 8-10 hours a day and try to guess if where I was stopping was the best place or if I should hike further on. I never had any trouble with people where I camped, and I should note that I rarely saw people either. I camped out as I went and generally I had an easy time of doing this, and was never bothered by anyone. I didn’t camp out on peoples farms or on temple grounds, rather I planned my day out based on where I thought there might be a good camp site.