Japan is home to 34 national parks — from Hokkaido in the north to tropical Okinawa in the south — all of which boast incredibly diverse landscapes, climates and natural phenomena. All national parks in the country are managed through a region-centric natural park system meaning local residents, governments and private organizations come together to preserve the natural environment and maintain visitor facilities of each park. This is led through a variety of local initiatives including the annual nationwide Natural Parks Clean-up Day, to maintain parks and keep them trash-free, a Junior Park Ranger program which educates young people about the importance of these lands, and Green Worker programs that educate the community about nature preservation. Below are a few of Japan’s dreamiest national parks which offer incredible national attractions throughout the year.
Akan-Mashu National Park, Hokkaido Region
A beautiful snapshot of thousands of years of natural forces at work, the extraordinary landscape of Akan-Mashu has been molded by millennia of volcanic upheaval. Dotted with multiple serene caldera lakes, the park offers visitors guided canoe tours to quietly explore Lake Kussharo and Lake Akan, and row upstream along the Kushiro River while watching for local fauna. Because of the area’s volcanic activity, several hot springs are located throughout the area, including Kawayu Onsen and Akanko Onsen. The largest Ainu settlement is located in Akanko Onsen and travelers can learn about the indigenous group at the Ainu Theater Ikor. There, visitors can watch a traditional Ainu dance that has been designated as intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.
Towada-Hachimantai National Park, Tohoku Region
A diverse landscape full of contrasting imagery, Towada-Hachimantai National Park’s ecosystem has been shaped by ancient volcanic activity and bitter winters, making it a premier destination for ski lovers. The park is split into two regions which both offer an incredible array of activities, including a boat tour of Lake Towada, snowshoe trekking to Oyunuma Pond, and hiking across the Yakehashiri Lava Flow. Mount Hakkoda also offers a variety of activities, including skiing, hiking and the Hakkoda Ropeway, an aerial lift line which gives travelers ease of access throughout the area’s mountain range and offers exquisite winterscape views of the land. After an incredibly long day of exploring the snow-covered landscapes of this park, the region has a variety of onsen towns for travelers to unwind and relax, such as Tsuta Onsen and Nyuto Onsen.
Nikko National Park, Kanto Region
A two-hour train ride from Tokyo, Nikko National Park offers a serene escape from the city. Along with its incredible diversity in landscapes, ranging from valleys to highlands and canyons, the national park is also home to many UNESCO Heritage sites including Toshogu Shrine, Futarasan-jinja Shrine and Rinno-ji Temple. For guided experiences, guests can try stand-up paddleboarding on Lake Chuzenji, cruise down the Kinugawa River in a gondola, hike to the secluded Sukkansawa Waterfall, and practice Zen meditation and waterfall purification rituals in Kirifuri Highland. However, travelers who prefer to go their own way will find no shortage of hiking trails and nature paths, including many that go through the Nasu Heisei-no-Mori Forest, the Numappara Marshland, and Mount Nikko-Shirane.
Daisen-Oki National Park, Chugoku Region
A massive area spanning three prefectures, mountains, forests, coastlands and islands makes up the Daisen-Oki National Park’s varied landscape. The region is so diverse in its geography that many stories from Japanese mythology were directly inspired by this park. In the Okinoshima Area, visitors can get incredible views of the coastline and the Oki Islands from Jodogaura Beach and take a walk along the coastline to see how it was sculpted by the sea and by ancient volcanic activity. Mount Sanbe and its surrounding areas are a great place to hike and the three ponds around the mountain provide an excellent opportunity to learn about marshland wildlife. The true crown jewel of the Daisen-Oki National Park is the Oki Islands Archipelago. Consisting of 180 islands created from volcanoes, the islands can be explored by boat, canoe or cruise with plenty of opportunities for snorkeling to meet oceanic fauna.
Aso-Kuju National Park, Kyushu Region
Filled with lush green fields, caldera lakes and towering mountains, Aso-Kuju National Park gives visitors a special place to relax. The landscape allows travelers to have unique experiences in the park, including paragliding around Mount Aso, horseback riding and a helicopter ride to see an active volcano. The Mount Aso area is home to the Aso Caldera, one of the largest calderas in the world and within its central crater is a bubbling acidic turquoise pool surrounded by a rocky area. Surrounding the caldera is the Kuju Plateau, a vast green field often used by farmers as a pasture for their livestock. Other natural attractions in the area include Kikuchi Gorge, which is home to various waterfalls and streams, Komatsu Jigoku, a natural fumarole zone near the volcano, and the Shirakawa Headspring, one of the water sources of the Shirakawa River.
For more information on the national parks of Japan, JNTO has a database including information on 34 parks on their website at www.japan.travel/national-parks.
For updates on travel restrictions to Japan, please visit https://www.japan.travel/en/coronavirus/.
ABOUT JAPAN NATIONAL TOURISM ORGANIZATION (JNTO)
As the official tourism board of Japan, JNTO is involved in a wide range of promotional activities to encourage international travelers to visit Japan. Through a variety of campaigns and initiatives, JNTO is inspiring more American travelers to visit Tokyo, Kyoto and beyond.
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