The Best Trail Races in Japan:

Up to 42KM

by Tom (contributing writer)

Trail runner in Japan
The author, Tom, from Tokyo Trail Running racing at Yatsugatake - © Sho Fujimaki / Nature Scene

With so many trail races to consider, it can be difficult to distinguish the good from the very best. Based on the races I’ve attended, since 2016, I’ve compiled a list of the most interesting and unique races on the trail running calendar. 

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of trail races in Japan, and this article shares the best races up to the magic distance of 42.2km – at which point trail running transitions into the weird and rather specialized world of ultra running.

In itself trail running can be a costly sport, especially when traveling to remote locations in the mountains. If you are aiming to keep racing cheap, try to only enter races which you can travel to and from on the day of the race itself. 

My tip is to check the timing of any transport connections with applications such as Google Maps or local navigation websites, such as Hyperdia.

If you must stay the night, this is where the cost begins to mount up! At a minimum, a hotel will cost ¥5,000 per night, meaning total costs will quickly go over ¥15,000 per race. But it’s still cheaper than the ultra expensive ultra-marathon races. 

Finally, plan ahead and ensure you enter races early. Registration for any Japanese race begins at least 2 months before race day, and as many races sell out quickly, it’s worth looking at the exact entry dates of popular races. In some cases, very iconic races can sell out in the first few hours

The Hasetsune 30K - for which finishers are guaranteed entry into the later Hasetsune Cup, an overnight 70KM race - sold out in less than 1 hour this year, and I know this as I didn’t apply fast enough!

Subaru Mt. Mitake Trail Race

KFC Triathlon Club • December • 12KM • +600m

I wanted to find this race after I was told about the incredibly ‘steep’ road section included in the race course. Thankfully, the course didn’t disappoint. The first 2KM are brutal, an unrelenting paved climb of about +400m. However the remainder, you will be happy to know, is a much gentler rolling hiking circuit through the beautiful forests around the Mitake shrine.

© KFC Triathlon

Recommendations: Take time to enjoy the free onsen bath in the mountain inns afterwards, to soak up the beautiful and tranquil atmosphere! Those looking for an added challenge can run down the trail towards Kori station afterwards – the unique bonus being that you might just see a wild stag there as I did in 2018.

Distances: 20KM +600m (in reality, it’s about 12km +600m)

Approximate costs: ¥8,000
• One day return from Tokyo (¥2,500) + entry (¥5,500)

Entry Language: English through Samurai Sports

runner during mt mitake trail race
© KFC Triathlon
© KFC Triathlon

Taiki Seaside

Trail Race

Nature Scene • February • 23KM • +1600m

I love every race from this organiser, so to pick just one from the series is very difficult. The Taiki Seaside Trail stands out for its unique location in a small, remote fishing town in Mie prefecture. 

The course itself is nicely varied with village roads, wild trails, sandy beaches and well-groomed hiking paths rising up and down between the heights of 450m to sea level. But as this is done three times in total, it’s much harder than it sounds. 

The beauty of this race also lies in that strong runners from both the east and west of Japan come here to compete, making for a highly competitive field to test yourself against! 

Recommendations: Matsuzaka castle area (a beautiful town en-route by train); if you are able to do more in Taiki itself try the local fisherman’s market (and boat trip), the local shrines which have a close ascetic and spiritual connection with Ise-Jingu, and the local home stays – which are all very enjoyable. A tour package to run these trails is soon due to be unveiled by the town.  You can check out tour packages here and learn more about Taiki accommodations here.

Distances: 23KM +1600m | 14KM +860m

Approximate cost: ¥45,000
• Two-day trip by Shinkansen (¥30,000) + race entry (¥7,200) + home stay (¥8,000). A cheaper option of a night bus is also available.

Entry Language: Japanese, with some English speaking staff

© Sho Fujimaki / Nature Scene
© Sho Fujimaki / Nature Scene
runner during trail race
© Sho Fujimaki / Nature Scene

Mount Fuji Summit Race

Japan Sky Running Association • July • 21KM • +3000m

© Sho Fujimaki

The most iconic of the races listed here, the Fuji Tozan mountain race, or the Mount Fuji Summit race, is the crowning event of the Japan Sky Running series. 

Wonderfully (or perhaps worryingly) international registrants can enter directly into the full summit race, whereas Japanese nationals must qualify first in the race to the fifth station (the halfway point) in a previous year. Until the fifth station, the course is almost entirely on paved roads. However, for the full race, the second half is essentially a technical climb to the peak of Mt. Fuji. There is a strict cut off time to the summit of 4.5 hours. 

Depending on weather conditions at the summit, the summit race is sometimes converted into a race to the fifth station. However, if you can power your way to the summit in good weather,  a finish line full of spectators at the highest point in Japan awaits – any sky runner’s dream! 

Recommendations: stay at either ‘Hostel Mt Fuji – Fukuya’, to stay with an entire hostel of Japanese runners, or 3776D, cabin accommodation targeted for international runners. Beforehand why not head to a local shrine dedicated to Mt. Fuji to pray for success. I recommend the Kitaguchi-hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine, which you will run past during the race. 

Distances: 21KM +3000m | 15KM +1480m

Approximate cost: ¥45,000
• 2 day trip from Tokyo by train (¥25,000), race entry (¥15,000), hostel (¥5,000). 
There are cheaper ways to access Fuji by highway bus. 

Entry Language: English available

runners during Mt. Fuji Summit race
© Japan Skyrunning Association
runners during Mt. Fuji Summit race
© Sho Fujimaki

Three Peaks Yatsugatake Race

Three Peaks Executive Committee • June • 41KM • +3,000m

Among my trail running friends, the Three Peaks Yatsugatake event, set in Yamanashi Prefecture, is considered one of the best races in Japan, and also one of the trendiest.

When I went there it didn’t disappoint at all, with its cool graphic design, party-like vibes across the weekend, an emphasis on sustainability and the opportunity to mingle with the who’s who of the Japan trail running world. 

© Sho Fujimaki / Trail 38
runner during Three Peaks Yatsugatake race
© Sho Fujimaki / Trail 38
start of Three Peaks Yatsugatake race
© Sho Fujimaki / Trail 38

The entry gifts are also well considered, a slickly branded stainless steel hikers cup and embroidered ‘drymax’ socks. All in all this is an event with an exquisite sense of style. 

As for the race itself the terrain is both beautiful and technical. On clear days there are amazing views out into the South Alps; although it was foggy when I ran in 2019 the forests still held their own mysterious charm. As you can tell from the race statistics there is obviously a fair amount of climbing! 

Note that to qualify for the longer distance, you must list some trail-related charity work on your entry form. 

Recommendations: The exposition stalls and cafe at the start are great. With more time, it’s easy to head up the valley to see Chino or Suwa before or afterwards. Highlights include the Lake Suwa itself, the magnificent Suwa Taisha Shrine, the quirky Jinchōkan Moriya Historical Museum and the Meiji period Katakurakan onsen.

Distances: 23KM +1600m | 14KM +860m.

Approximate cost: ¥45,000
• Two-day trip by Shinkansen (¥30,000) + race entry (¥7,200) + home stay (¥8,000). A cheaper option of a night bus is also available.

Entry Language: Japanese, with some English speaking staff

 I hope these recommendations have inspired you to go out and race. Take the chance to explore Japan, and I look forward to seeing you at the next start line!

About the Author

tom on running trail course
© Takeshi M. from TTR

A relative newcomer to the trail running scene in Japan, Tom’s love of the mountains has intensified since coming to Japan in 2016. He blends his interests in architecture, photography and running by exploring Japan’s varied mountain trails and remote religious architecture. Some of his most memorable experiences have been getting lost on obscure and unmarked mountain sides, often while leading friends up steep tree-lined slopes in the belief that the actual trail really is ‘just there’. 

Since he started running in the UK in 2015 he has gradually progressed from 5KM Parkrun to road marathons, and finally on into ultra running distances up to 70KM. He currently has set his eyes on one day becoming a ‘hyaku maila-’ (the Japanese title for any finisher of a 100-mile race). 

Tom is a proud member of Tokyo Trail Running

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