Japan excels in the art of healthy fast food, hot cuisine gastronomy, skyscrapers, and cutting edge innovation but have you heard of the national parks? Japan has more than 30 national parks separated by regional environment office, all preserved in their own most precious way.
#1. Shiretoko National Park – Hokkaido
Shiretoko National Park is one of the most famous national park in Hokkaido inscribed in the World Natural Heritage in July 2005. Inhabited by sea eagles, fish-owls, and bears, Shiretoko National Park kept its primeval form throughout the years. The view of the mountain chain surrounded by the five famous Shiretoko lakes is splendid.
Do not be scared of the bears: the park is well-managed to preserve the beauty and the natural habitat of the bears. If bears are seen on a certain day, some trails may be closed for the time being.
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Shiretoko National Park
Location: Menashi District, Hokkaido Prefecture
Access: Renting a car in Hokkaido is recommended
Directions from Memanbetsu Airport:
Memanbetsu Airport Line Bus (30 minutes) to Abashiri Station, JR Senmo Main Line (40 minutes) to Shiretokoshari Station, expressway bus (60 minutes) to Utoro
Shiretoko World Heritage Conservation Center Hours:
8:30 AM – 5:30 PM (April 20 – October 20)
9:00 AM – 4:30 PM (October 21 – April 19)
Website: Shiretoko National Park
#2. Nikko National Park – Kanto
Nikko National Park is fairly close to Tokyo and is accessible within an hour long drive. Located in the volcanic mountains of the Nasu volcanic belt, Nikko National Park contains various aspects on a very large territory (114,908 hectares). From volcanoes, wetlands, falls, reservoirs, and lakes, Nikko National Park is a perfect combination to experience Japanese nature and culture while stimulating the five senses. Nikko includes several falls, such as the one above called Kegon no Taki, connected to the Chuzenji lake.
Oku-nikko is part of the Nikko National Park and shows a different scenery the volcanic area. Oku-nikko litereally means “profound Nikko” and is mostly made comprised of wetlands and beautiful autumn colored mountains can be explored via wooden footpaths. Furthermore, with all the volcanoes surrounding the Nikko area, a number of hot spring spots can be found.
In Nikko city, there is the famous Shinto shrine, Nikko Toshogu, that was built in 1617 in memory of Tokugawa Iyeyasu, ruler of the Tokugawa Shogunate. The entrance of the shrine is decorated by three wise monkeys that accompanies the proverb “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”. There has been several interpretations of the meaning of each monkey but it overall goes along the line of being of good mind, speech and action.
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Nikko National Park
Location: Straddled on Fukushima, Gunma and Tochigi
Access: Renting a car is recommended
Directions from Tokyo:
Shinkansen (50 minutes) to Utsunomiya Station, JR Nikko Line (50 minutes) to Nikko Station
Nikko Yumoto Visitor Center Hours:
9:00 AM – 4:30 PM (April – November)
8:30 AM – 5:30 PM (July – August)
Website: Nikko National Park
#3. Oze National Park – Kanto
While Oze is a beautiful park to do mountain climbing and enjoy impressive landscapes from a high altitude, it is recommended for experienced climbers and people fully equipped depending on the season. It is not advised for families with young children or people with disabilities to tackle the mountainous part of Oze. For young children and the elderly, the plateau part of the park is more recommended and it is important to be prepared to walk, a lot. Ozegahara Plateau counts 650 hectares and is the longest wooden footpaths in Japan.
Enjoy the magnificent ecosystem developing around, while heading towards the shadow of Mount Hiuchigatake. Apart from the wooden paths, there is not a single trace of civilization, this makes people dive into the deepest and most stunning nature of Japan. The landscapes change over the seasons and can be visited all year long. The park also accommodates camping grounds and mountain lodges for hikers willing to spend a few days traveling the site.
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Oze National Park
Location: Tokura, Katashina, Tone District, Gunma Prefecture
Access: Renting a car is recommended
Directions from Tokyo Station: Shinkansen (1 hour) to Joumoukogen Station, bus (2 hours) to Tokura, bus (25 minutes) to Hatomachi Pass
*Service suspended from November to April (between Tokura and Hatomachi Pass)
Lake Ozenuma Visitor Center Hours: 7:30 AM – 4:00 PM
Website: Oze National Park
#4. Ashizuri-Uwakai National Park – Shikoku
This park has the particularity of being on the coast of Ehime and Kochi and is more of a marine park than anything else. Ashizuri Uwakai National Park consists of two different areas, Ashizuri being the subtropical area and Uwakai being the seascapes with soft corals area. The coral reefs were gradually formed throughout time thanks to the Japanese current and the park also accommodates an inland area with a few mountains. Underwater seascapes can be seen through various activities such as snorkeling. Camping is strongly recommended as the park offers several campsites.
A few highlights of the park demonstrates the extraordinary and unusual shapes of the rocks such as this one above showing the “Kannon-iwa” rock.
The beautiful curvature of the rocks thanks to the current is worth the extraordinary view and the picture. Some of them have such big holes, people can easily sit in it and appear small compared to the size of the rock.
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Ashizuri Uwakai National Park
Location: Straddled on Ehime and Kochi, on the peninsula of Shikoku
Access: Renting a car is recommended
Directions from Matsuyama Airport:
Airport Shuttle (15 minutes ) to Matsuyama Station, JR Limited Express (85 minutes) to Uwajima Station, Uwajima Bus (15 minutes) to Narukawa
Most Ashizuri and Uwakai Campsites open daily throughout the year
Website: Ashizuri Uwakai National Park
#5. Unzen Amakusa National Park – Kyushu
Unzen Amakusa National Park is Japan first’s national park, established in 1934. The landscapes are composed of volcanic mountains, cows striding large green valleys and archipelagic seascapes from Mount Takabuto or Mount Jiromaru.
Mount Unzen, that can be seen on the picture below, viewed from the sea is worth the boat ride, with over 20 other mountains in the Unzen area. The highlight of the Unzen area is definitely the “Jigoku Onsen” which literally means “Devils hot spring” and can be seen in its spectacular form. The view from Mount Unzen covered by rhododendron flowers is priceless.
Mount Unzen is located in the center of Shimabara Peninsula which was formed due to a volcanic eruption.
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Unzen Amakusa National Park
Location: Straddled on Nagasaki, Kumamoto and Kagoshima
Directions from Amakusa airport:
Amakusa Airport Shuttle Bus (15 minutes) to Hondo Bus Center, Sanko Bus’ Rapid Bus Service (55 minutes) to Nigokyoiriguchi
*Nigokyoiriguchi is the bus stop closest to Amakusa Visitor Center
Mount Unzen Visitor Center Hours: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
*Closed on Thursdays
Website: Unzen Amakusa National Park