When you think of Japan, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Mt. Fuji, right? Japan’s highest mountain has inspired many visitors to see its iconic shape in person. But Fuji is just one of many mountains spread across the islands of Japan. Highlands cover over 70 percent of the country with many found in Yamanashi, Shizuoka, Nagano, Gifu, and Toyama prefectures in central Honshu (Japan’s main island).
Mountains have always been a part of the Japanese culture because of their connection to Japan’s religions. Shinto, or the “way of the gods”, worships the divine in nature — the rivers, mountains, seas, and forests. Three of Japan’s holiest mountains include Mt. Fuji (3,776 meters) found between Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures, Mt. Tateyama (3,015 meters) in Toyama prefecture, and Mt. Haku (2,702 meters) on the border between Gifu and Ishikawa prefectures. Another sacred site is the Kumano Kodo in the Kansai region, covering most of Wakayama prefecture. If you trek along this World Heritage-listed trail, you can visit Mt. Koya, the epicenter of Shingon Buddhism in Japan.
Today, Japanese people still climb mountains to worship or just enjoy the great outdoors. Because of this, in 2014, the Japanese government created a national holiday called Mountain Day or Yama no Hi (山の日). Mountain Day was then first observed on August 11, 2016, so locals could really appreciate the country’s rugged landscape.
Since then, more and more people have been seeking the cooler heights during the middle of Japan’s hot and sweaty summers. This August, we give you the chance to virtually visit some of Japan’s most famous mountains. Even if you don’t like trekking, here are three movies you have to see to learn more about Japan’s rocky heights.
1.The Summit: A Chronicle of Stones (劔岳 点の記), 2009
This movie is the directorial debut of Daisaku Kimura. It’s also based on a true story that was turned into a novel by Jiro Nitta. The Summit follows a 1907 surveying expedition to map Mt. Tsurugidake (2,999 meters) in the snowy Tateyama Mountain Range of Toyama prefecture. In hiking circles, Mt. Tsurugidake is known as Japan’s most dangerous mountain because of how many people have died on it.
Kimura, also a famous cinematographer, captures the harsh and unforgiving conditions of the landscape and the spirit of the men trying to climb it. This movie will also take your breath away with its dizzying panoramic shots and saturated sunrises.
Cast：Asano Tadanobu, Teruyuki Kagawa, Ryuhei Matsuda
2.Climbing to Spring, (春を背負って), 2014
Based on a novel by Ryohei Sasamoto, Kimura’s second film features Mt. Tateyama, one of Japan’s three most sacred mountains. Like The Summit, filming for this movie also took place in Toyama Prefecture. After his father dies, Tokyoite Toru returns to Toyama to take over the family business, a mountain hut that provides lodgings for hikers.
Kimura’s movie shows the courage it takes to reclaim a mountain that took the life of a loved one. The cast’s actual experiences battling the mountain conditions are also captured on film, giving viewers a chance to see what it’s like to live and work on a mountain.
Cast：Kenichi Matsuyama, Yu Aoi, Etsushi Toyokawa
3.Peak –The Rescuers-, (岳-ガク-), 2011
Gaku, a manga written by Ishizuka Shinichi, comes to life in this action-adventure movie. Peak also features one of the most famous mountains in Japan, Mt. Hotakadake (3,190 meters). The movie follows a team of mountain rescuers in the snowy Hida Mountains in Nagano Prefecture.
One rescuer who stands out is Sanpo, a volunteer. Sanpo baffles his co-worker Kumi with his positive attitude to his job in spite of seeing so many dead bodies on the mountain, including that of his best friend. In particular, Katayama’s movie shows that although mountains are beautiful, they can also be cruel and dangerous.
Cast：Shun Oguri, Masami Nagasawa, Kuranosuke Sasaki
With their panoramic and close-up shots of snow, forests, and mountains, these movies are a feast for the eyes. Even if you aren’t a huge mountain fan, these movies will take you to some of Japan’s most awesome landscapes and hopefully inspire you to visit them yourself someday.
Text by Suzanne Bhagan