Multi-day hiking in Japan is considerably more convenient than other western countries due to the common presence of mountain huts called yamagoya. Yamagoya is used as a catch-all term for all types of mountain huts, they are situated throughout the alps and are essentially divided into 3 categories based on their size and level of amenities:
Mountain Lodges, called Sansou (山荘) - The largest and most equipped, sometimes having vending machines and hot springs.
Mountain Huts, called Yama-goya (山小屋) - Somewhat smaller but still offering basic necessities like water and food.
Refuge huts, called Hunan-goya (避難小屋) - These huts are usually free and serve as a simple refuge for hikers, however, water is not a standard feature. Some of them can be very nice, but some of them can be a bit rough.
For any hiking during weekends or public holidays, it is highly recommended to call the huts ahead of time and make a reservation, as they can become very busy during peak periods. This is absolutely essential if you intend to stay in one of the beds. However, if you're using a tent, then you can can usually get a tent site without a reservation - but beware that if you're visiting one of the very popular locations during peak times, such as Kamikochi, then you might even need to make a reservation for a tent site.
The cost to stay at the huts will vary, but mostly it's around a similar price:
¥6000 - ¥9000: Bed without meals
¥9000 - ¥13000: Bed with 2 meals (optional bento for hiking)
¥1000 - ¥2000: Tent without meals
¥1500 - ¥2000: Additional bento or dinner (some huts don't allow dinner with tent sites)
How to reserve?
Unfortunately, there's usually no website for online reservations, so you will need to call them or send an email. English will be limited at many of the huts, so just be polite when you call and ask if English is okay, if you have trouble, kindly ask someone to help you make a reservation. The Japan Alps website provides a full list of the mountain huts and their phone numbers.
Etiquette and what to expect
A view of the Daitenso hut on the panorama trail
Common courtesy and etiquette in Japan is a little different than most countries, so it's important to be aware of some behavioural expectations for spending the night at mountain huts.
No loud talking after 9pm, please be quiet and considerate at night.
You often need to pay extra for water, and donations are encouraged for the use of some toilets.
Meals are served between 5-7pm, there are no special meal requests for dietary requirements.
Some mountain huts do not have campsites.
Staying in a tent
Register and pay upon arrival.
Tents must be setup within the designated camping areas.
If you would like dinner, enquire when you register your camp site.
Some huts don't serve dinner for tent sites.
There are no garbage bins, you must take all your trash.
Staying in a mountain hut
Reservations need to be made in advance, by phone or email.
Arriving by 3pm is ideal. After 5pm is considered poor etiquette.
Lights out is usually around 8:30/9pm, emergency lighting will remain on.
You will be sharing a dorm style room with others, so ear plugs are recommended.
Mountain huts in Japan are a convenient and reassuring way to enhance your multi-day hikes, providing food, water, and saving you a few kilograms from your backpack. Although they lead to busier trails, the benefits and safety they provide is worth it in most cases. Advanced booking is required for busy weekends and holidays, but even if you're bringing a tent you will be able to save some weight on water and food by using them as a supply point. When choosing which hut to stay at, Google maps provides an insight into the nuances of each hut, including the attitude of the owners, the facilities and food, and some useful photos. Although most owners and staff are friendly and polite, it's not always the case, so it's worth checking the google reviews to ensure you choose the right hut.
Yatsugatake Oren Lodge