Preparing for the Michinoku Coastal Trail: Advice from Oku Japan

In our first post about the Michinoku Coastal Trail, we discussed the beauty and unique charm of Tōhoku’s Sanriku coast, the northern part of the Michinoku. While Tōhoku’s northern location sets it apart from the rest of Japan in terms of environment, flora, and fauna, it also means there are special things to keep in mind when travelling here. Hiroshi, Daniel, and Geoff weighed in on their personal experience when hiking the trail, offering up some of their advice to people embarking on their own Michinoku hiking journey. 


A sign warning travellers of waves

The very thing that makes Tōhoku so pleasant in the summer – its cooler weather – also makes it chillier than one would expect in autumn and spring. 


‘In most of Japan, March is the beginning of spring, but in Tōhoku (as in its northern neighbour, Hokkaidō) spring only truly starts in May. If you’re travelling up north, be sure to bring gloves,’ says Hiroshi. 


Gloves are just the start; when hiking in the area in April or October, it’s best to dress as if for winter. Common favoured wear includes neck warmers, scarves, warm pants, warm socks, and definitely a windproof, insulating jacket. 


‘Windproofing should not be taken lightly,’ is Daniel’s warning. Wind chill can sharply raise the risk of hypothermia, even in warmer months, so protection is mandatory. ‘Be sure to bring a windbreaker even in the summer; winter weather will require an even heavier jacket.’


The Tōhoku coast is startlingly windy, especially on cliffs such as the magnificent Cape Kitayamazaki. The wind and the sharp drops together make for a dangerous combination, and visitors are encouraged to exercise caution around any ridge or dropoff. Geoff cautions being aware of where land ends and ocean begins, particularly if one isn’t used to hiking near the sea. ‘There are places where the cliffs are weaker, or where there’s more erosion due to the wind or the doesn’t look much different than the rest of the cliff, which is what makes it dangerous. It’s always best not to take chances. Even if the cliff is stable, there’s the wind gusts...always keep the edge in mind, and stay a good distance back.’


Beautiful scenery over the coast

Walking poles are another highly recommended piece of gear. There are many elevation changes; walking poles help both on ascent and descent, particularly in slippery conditions such as the rainy season or in autumn when fallen leaves may cover the trail. 


Of course, nothing can beat a good pair of shoes. ‘The Michinoku Coastal Trail has some climbs that you really want good shoes on,’ says Geoff. ‘Mine definitely made a world of difference.’ Grip on trails, resistance against slipping, and most importantly, ankle support will make your days of hiking enjoyable and sustainable. 


Compared to many other places throughout Japan, the Michinoku Coastal Trail is much more remote. Satellite – and thus mobile phone service – may be limited, so downloading offline GPS information and utilising physical maps is important, as is staying on the trail no matter what. Blue-and-white trail-marking ribbons wrapped around trees, courtesy of the Ministry of the Environment, can help mark your way; keep an eye out for these. 


Trail-marking ribbons on the Michinoku Coastal TrailTourism information centres can help you guide the way, but Daniel reminds that the area is still very far removed from any city centres. He recommends keeping track of bus timetables and your own schedule to ensure you don’t miss one of the rarer buses. Keeping your surroundings in mind – both in terms of geography and in terms of timing – is important here.


Finally, as with many hiking areas in the north, it’s important to keep an eye out for signs of and warnings about bears. All our gentlemen warn that a bear bell is one of the two most important tools you can have with you, the second being knowledge. ‘Even with the bell, make noise as you walk – make even more if you’re by a river or when it’s windy, in case your sound gets drowned out. Seal up and pack out any litter to keep bears from following the smell, and always watch out for signs such as footprints and scat.’ 


Through their multiple trips to the Michinoku Coastal Trail over the course of the year, none of our team members encountered an actual bear on their travels.  However, as any hiker should, they kept the best practices for avoiding an encounter in mind. 


Sunset over the water

While preparing for the Michinoku Coastal Trail takes a bit more consideration – and Tōhoku hiking takes a little more care – it’s a journey that hundreds of people have found to be awe-inspiring. Our Oku Japan team members came back from their Michinoku trip with many new, beloved memories; we hope that yours will be just as rewarding. Happy hiking!