Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on January 2011

Photos courtesy of Aigle

2009 was the undisputed year of the mori (forest) girl in Japan, with legions of young women cultivating a look that seemed to be torn from the pages of a Scandinavian fairy tale. Come 2010, they were leaving the forest and heading for higher land. The yama (mountain) girl was born.

Broadly defined, a yama girl is a young urban woman who enjoys doing outdoor activities in her free time, but wants to look good while doing so. Their numbers are growing, and apparel makers have been quick to respond to the trend. American outdoor brand The North Face, for example, increased the floor space devoted to women’s apparel at its flagship Harajuku branch, and has extended the options for women in its waterproof Gore-Tex line while offering new Japan-exclusive products.

As with any subculture in Japan, a crop of magazines has also sprung up to cater to the crowd, with titles such as Randonnée and OF Girl giving readers tips on how to coordinate outfits that are as functional as they are attractive.

Aigle reversible skirt ¥12,600

But there’s more to being a mountain girl than just looking cute in outdoor gear. Visits to Mt. Fuji during the 2010 climbing season were the highest since the government began keeping statistics in 2005, and Alpine Tour Service reported that the number of women booking hiking excursions increased sixfold last year.

Sharing information about equipment and hiking trails—as well as photos and experiences from previous adventures—is an integral part of the yama girl lifestyle. The movement made an overnight celebrity of blogger Yuri Yosumi, who writes about her treks and gives advice to women on choosing the best gear and apparel.

“My life really changed by becoming acquainted with the outdoors,” says Yosumi (above right), who single-handedly made leggings and skirts acceptable attire for mountain climbing. “While maintaining my respect for nature, I want to help women who are not familiar with the outdoors to experience the wonders of nature.
I use the concept of ‘enjoying the outdoors in a skirt’ as
a tool toward that goal.”

Aigle tech dress ¥14,700

Yosumi’s popularity seems to know no bounds. Her odyssey through the mountains of New Zealand with her husband last year was followed by a series of lectures at outdoor clothing shops around Japan, where she shared slides and memories of her experience. She was also tapped by UK outdoor wear maker Berghaus to help develop hiking skirts especially for the Japanese market, and is currently serving as spokesperson for French brand Aigle. Yosumi acted as creative director for Aigle’s new “Love Trek” line, choosing colors and designs as well as battle testing the apparel at the Karasawa Mountain Festival last August.

Fashion trends in Japan come and go, with few lasting more than a year or two, but yama girls might be different. Since they seem to adhere to a pervasive lifestyle rather than simply a look, we can probably expect them to be around for many more climbing seasons to come.

Magazine Rack

Randonnée That’s French for “trekking,” natch. The style bible of the outdoor girl crowd offers fashion photo spreads as well as more practical tips, such as how to cook at a camp site.

OF Girl The “OF” stands for “Outdoor Fashion,” and this monthly helps readers coordinate outfits that define the yama girl look.

Falo Though it also focuses on outdoor wear, the slant of this quarterly is towards more practical clothing that still looks good.

Peaks A magazine that takes the bold step of including real information on mountain climbing each month—though much of it is geared towards dedicated beginners.

Garrrv This monthly doesn’t fuss so much over fashion, preferring practical info on camping and barbeque gear.

Address Book

The North Face: 6-10-1 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-5466-9278. Open daily 11am-8pm. www.goldwin.co.jp/tnf

Aigle: 6-27-8 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-3797-4817. Open daily 11am-8pm. www.aigle.co.jp

Berghaus is available at Davos: 3F Decks Tokyo Beach, 1-6-1 Daiba, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-5500-2850. Open daily 11am-9pm. www.davos.co.jp

Yuri Yosumi’s official website is www.respect-nature.com

Keep an eye on http://special.yamakei.co.jp/karasawa for information about the next Karasawa Mountain Festival.