Forget the ice ax and $500 climbing boots. The mode du jour for today’s female mountain hikers in Japan is a miniskirt and leggings.
The North Face, a maker of Gore-Tex waterproof jackets, and Alpine Tour Service Co. are targeting “yama girls,” or mountain girls, the nickname for the growing number of women who are taking to the hills of Japan wearing short pants or fleece skirts with leggings and designer trekking boots.
“I want to wear something cute like a skirt,” said Machiko Miyauchi, 25, who made her first ascent of Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest peak, earlier this year after buying new equipment and shoes. “Climbing is healing. You can breathe fresh, clean air.”
Visitors to Mount Fuji in the two months ended Aug. 31, the busiest climbing season, were the most since the government began tracking traffic using infrared sensors in 2005. The number of women applying for Alpine’s treks jumped sixfold from last year, prompting the Tokyo-based company to increase women- only tours to 13 this year from six in 2009, spokesman Yasushi Kodama said.
Clothing companies have hired mountain fashion pioneers such as Yuri Yosumi to promote new women’s lines for mountaineers. Yosumi’s “Love Trek” website includes red mini dresses and pink bush hats from Paris-based Aigle.
Berghaus Ltd., a U.K. outdoor wear maker, introduced skirts jointly developed with Yosumi in 2009, while Jarden Corp.’s Marmot Mountain LLC, a U.S. outdoor clothing company, followed this year, according to Yosumi’s husband Daisuke.
“We’re giving an option to the market where only pants were available before,” Daisuke Yosumi said. He said his wife wasn’t available to comment.
Japan’s fashion scene has a record of establishing cult trends that sweep the industry, typically for a few years, such as the “ganguro” look that mixed deep fake tans with white lipstick, brightly colored clothes and orange-to-blond hair. Tokyo ranked 14th this year in Global Language Monitor’s annual list of world fashion capitals, trailing Hong Kong and Shanghai in Asia.
The nation’s top climbing spot is the 3,776 meters-high (12,388 feet) Mount Fuji, within sight of Tokyo, where the number of trekkers rose 9.9 percent to 320,975 in July and August, according to a report by the Environment Ministry. About 12.3 million people hiked Japan’s mountains last year, compared with 590,000 in 2008, according to a 2010 Japan Productivity Center White Paper on Leisure, published in July.
“Mount Fuji seems to be a catalyst for many people,” said Machiko Ito, who plans trekking tours at Yama-kei Publishers Co. “It’s like going to Tokyo Disneyland -- people get this feeling that everyone else is going, so they will too.”
Alpine Tour and Yama-kei offered a women-only tour to Fuji for 28,000 yen ($347) in July, and plan two more all-female tours to other locations in December.
“Single women are spending their spare time on something fashionable and good for their health, as they can’t do it once they get married,” said Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist at Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute in Tokyo. “Mountaineering is luring in female fans.”
Yamato International Inc., which sells the Aigle brand in Japan, attributed its profit gain to the “yama girls,” President Tomoki Hannya said on Oct. 15, when the company posted net income of 522 million yen in the nine months ended Aug. 31, beating its estimate by 19 percent.
Shares of Yamato rose 2.6 percent to close at 352 yen in Osaka trading today, extending their gain this year to 7 percent. That compares with an 8 percent decline by the benchmark Topix index in the same period. Tokyo-based Goldwin Inc., which has a licensing agreement to sell The North Face’s clothing in Japan, advanced 2.5 percent to 164 yen, trimming its loss to 4.7 percent in 2010.
With more women remaining in the workforce, the trend may continue. The average age for Japanese women to get married for the first time rose to 28.6 last year from 26.3 in 1995, while the birth rate dropped to 1.37 from 1.42 in the same period, according to Japan’s health ministry.
“It was amazing when we saw the sun rise at the top of Mount Fuji,” said Yumiko Hongo, 25, who works at a recruiting company and spent almost $500 on a climbing jacket and shoes for the hike. “I could really enjoy the nature.”
Sales of The North Face’s women’s apparel rose to 35 percent of total revenue this year from less than 30 percent a couple of years ago, said Hikari Mori, general manager for the brand at Goldwin. Sales have risen at least 10 percent so far this fiscal year, he said.
“Mountaineering is a real trend now, tapping into a flow from yoga and running, and this is only happening in Japan,” said Mori. “We want to make outdoor activities a lifetime sport, not just a one-time boom.”