Walking in Japan without Google Maps on your smart phone can be a bit of an adventure. You can’t read the signs, nobody speaks English, your Japanese sucks. With a pocket wifi (or a data sim card), Google Maps will guide your way. Even the public transport suggestions that Google Maps provide are useful and reliable. The last time I was in Kyoto, where public transport isn’t as logical as it is in Tokyo, I was able to cross the city without problems. Jumping on buses and local trains I very easily found my way from one shrine to the other.
Trails and walks
But if you want to get to know an area a little better, Google Maps may not be enough. How do you know the route you choose is the most interesting? What you want is a mapped out hiking trail or city walk. JNTO (Japan National Tourism Organization) can help you with that.
Walking guides of Japan
The walking guides by JNTO are written in English and have one or more little maps. They explain all the sights you’ll encounter on your way. Some of them have extra information. The Tokyo walking guides have a list of all the antique and flea markets. The Kyoto guide contains the opening hours of all the temples.
What’s in a walking guide
To give you an idea of what you get: the Tokyo walking guide is 10 pages, with 7 walks in 7 different areas.
Walks in Tokyo
- Imperial Palace and Kitanomaru
- Ueno-Onshi Park and vicinity
- Shiba & Roppongi
- Shibuya Koen-dori to Meiji Shrine
- Rinkai-Fukotoshin (Odaiba)
Every neighbourhood has its own map with a route marked on it and a legend that tells you what you will see. It even tells you how long it takes to walk from one point on the route to the next. There’s a description for every sight and some information: its history, opening hours, ticket price, links to websites, etc.
As mentioned earlier, this Tokyo guide also has a list of all the antique and flea markets, and how to get there, as well as a list of all the local tourist information offices.
Download free walking guides
With these walking guides, hiking and walking in Japan is easy and educational. You can download them from the JNTO website. They are free. A4 formatted (pdf) so you can print them yourself. But it’s not easy to find them on the website. So here are two tips on how to find them:
- Download de walking guide of your choice:
Go to the JNTO Practical Travel Guide-archive. In this archive you will find all of there walking and travel guides and brochures. There are over 60 of them. This is a good option if you don’t know where you want to go for a walk, you may find some inspiration in seeing all the titles. If you already know what you are looking for, use option 2:
- Google the place where you want to walk like this:
[name of location] walks pdf
- Example: Kyoto walks pdf
- In your results, look for the url www.jnto.go.jp. It usually is the first result you get.
Have fun walking in Japan!