Mountaineering vs Mountain Climbing

登山 & 山登り are both given the meaning “Mountain climbing”. I found this odd, and “Mountaineering” a more appropriate translation for the act of climbing mountains.

This thread discusses the difference in meaning:

  • 登山 is high mountains, with technical gear - “Mountaineering” definitely seems like an appropriate and better translation for this
  • 山登り is more casual, recreational - I still wouldn’t call this “Mountain Climbing” but “Hillwalking” (British English) or “Hiking”.

Anyone have thoughts on this? As someone who’s passionate about mountain sports, these nuances matter as I try to learn enough to practice them with locals in Japan.

Thanks, Ian.


山登り: 山に登ること。登山。

登山: 山に登ること。山登り。

So at least the dictionary definition says they are the same thing.

Google images shows similar results for both words, though 登山 does perhaps show more serious climbing/mountains on average? It’s hard to say just by quickly looking through a few dozen pictures.

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This thesaurus entry does say that typically 山登り is a more relaxed, enjoyable activity. It’s just important to keep in mind that even relatively small geological structures can be called 山. As someone who has never approached a mountain with the intent of moving toward the summit, I can’t say I have strong thoughts about the glosses, but I don’t think there’s really any huge problem with including “mountain climbing” in both, given that both can involve… well… climbing mountains.

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@Leebo - thanks for the insight into what can be considered a 山 - very helpful. My concern about “Mountain Climbing” isn’t that it’s an incorrect description or what the word represnets, but that it’s not a good translation, because people don’t use that term, they use “Mountaineering” or other terms instead.

(e.g. the English language page for登山 is

Mountaineering and mountain climbing are the same thing, right? Is the only difference that mountaineering is the more formal way of saying it?

If that’s the case, it makes sense that 登山 would be the better word to use for mountaineering. Generally if there are two Japanese words with the same meaning, the one that uses the on’yomi reading will sound more formal.

Yup, pretty much. Your translations are in agreement with what I know, from what I got when I did the research for this myself. 登山 (Mountaineering) is the more technical term (and by default more formal). It includes all types of climbing, from just going up a hill/mountain to using actual gear. 山登り (mountain climbing, hillwalking, whatever u wanna call it) is the typical thing a newb like me would do \o\ : walk on a mountain.

Using google images for both words somehow helps a bit.

I’ve no prior knowledge on mountain climbing vocab, but and easy way to check this kind of doubts (on the spot) could be simply adding yomichan and a couple of frequency lists on it.

So here:

So, apparently both seem to be fairly frequent words (in the 20k range in shows anyway). Almost used with the same frequency in anime and drama, with 登山 been used a lot more in novels (Innocent Corpus list). You can notice too that 山登り gets the “news” sign, meaning that appears frequently in the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper :wink:.

At least you can be confident that both will be familiar terms to most people.

All this info with one click!!

From talking with people in Japan, 山登り and 登山 seem pretty interchangeable. When I talk with people who are not into the sport or outdoors, I usually use yamanobori or hiking when talking about my hobby, but when I’m talking with people on a trail or at a hiking store, people seem to use the word tozan more even if there’s no technical gear involved.
Actually, I only got into it after coming to Japan so I’m more confused about the English terms :sweat_smile:


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