National parks. They can be a refuge for those weary of crowded city life or a welcome escape from the monotony of an office job. Or, perhaps you have simply grown tired of the view coming from your daily commute and wish to travel across Japan’s less beaten paths.
You’re in the right place. Here we present five of Japan’s 34 national parks for you to check out.
The first two are in the Kanto-Koushinetsu area. To represent Japan’s northern and southernmost regions, our third and fourth parks are in Hokkaido and Okinawa, respectively. And finally, to round out our list, we’ve chosen a park with scenic views on the eastern side of the Kii Peninsula.
1. Take in the views at Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park
Mount Fuji, Japan’s iconic cone-shaped volcano, is the centerpiece of this dynamic national park, but many other incredible sights are to behold here. Shiraito Falls, for example, offers a breathtaking wraparound view of a choir of waterfalls. Nearby is yet another waterfall, Otodome Falls. The falls are strongest in the late spring and early summer, as it channels the rush of melting snow from the peak of Fuji-san.
Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park has also prepared a five-day, four-night itinerary for you to explore the Izu Peninsula. The trip, which includes sea kayaking, hiking and swimming, could be a welcome break from crowded city life.
And, of course, there is the challenging two-night, three-day adventure of climbing Mount Fuji. Typically open between July and mid-September, the climb provides chances to stamp your hiking stick as you move past different stations. A small post office is open near the top of the mountain, where you can mail a humblebrag postcard to friends and family. You can use this itinerary to see Shiraito Falls and the mountain’s summit.
2. Save time and head to Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park
If you live in the Tokyo area and don’t have enough time to venture far from home, try out the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, a two-hour train ride away from Tokyo station. Use the JR Chuo/Ome lines all the way to Oku-Tama station.
From there, you have many options. For example, you could hike within the Hikawa Gorge and follow the Tama River. However, before settling at the Hikawa Camp Site, test your wasabi (Japanese horseradish) love at one of the many wasabi shops in Okutama.
If you only have a short amount of time off from work and want to hike for a day, you could stop at Hinatawada station and take the 21-kilometer Mount Mimuro-Mount Mitake Trail. The difficulty level is moderate, and there are a few stops along the way to take a rest. You can enjoy a view of the mountains from a distance as you pass the Gennokonpira Shrine and perhaps spot some of the park’s wildlife, such as the Japanese serow (the flying squirrel normally moves at night).
You can discover other hikes by checking out the National Parks of Japan website.
3. Travel north and experience Akan-Mashu National Park
Eastern Hokkaido has a rich and complex history stretching back thousands of years. There, Akan-Mashu National Park, with its historic sites, is a great place to begin understanding Japan’s northernmost prefecture.
Near Lake Akan is the Akanko Ainu Kotan, a small village dedicated to preserving indigenous Ainu traditions and culture. Nearby is the Ainu Theater Ikor (ikor means “treasure” in Ainu), a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage site that offers traditional classical Ainu dance performances.
The park also offers mountain climbing, hiking, scenic car trips and canoeing. One lovely spot is the Kushiro River Canoe Course, a 90-minute guided trip down the Kushiro waterway. As you paddle, you might spot red-crowned cranes, Yezo deer and rare white-tailed eagles.
There is the Mount O-akan Mountain Climbing Course if you’re up to the challenge. This hike and climb takes nearly six hours and concludes with a majestic 1,370-meter view atop Mount O-akan, where you’ll be able to take in the immensity of the park all at once—its forests, lakes and active volcanoes.
The fastest way to reach this secluded park is to fly into Kushiro Airport. From there, you have a scenic 70-minute bus trip to Akanko Bus Center, where you’ll be able to walk to the Ainu Kotan.
4. Go south and explore Keramashoto National Park
For those of you more inclined to stay warm, the Keramashoto National Park is a swift 50-minute high-speed boat ride from Naha—and yes, there are whales (depending on the season).
Between December and April each year, Keramashoto National Park visitors can witness the immensity of humpback whales breaching the waters of the Pacific. However, if you’d rather stay on the island and see them—highly recommended is the Inazaki Observatory—you have a chance to view the whales in a more panoramic setting.
Zamami Island is known for its clear waters, so a three-hour combo trip of paddleboarding and snorkeling is highly recommended for the water lovers out there. Catering to any level, visitors can try paddle boarding and then take a quick jump underwater to marvel at sea turtles and a variety of colorful fish.
If you prefer to step back into history, try heading over to the Takara Residence on Geruma Island. Preserved to give a visitor a sense of what life was like on the isle in the late 19th century, this historic home can be seen along with an enjoyable walking tour of Zamami village.
5. Discover hidden gems at Ise-Shima National Park
Located mainly in Mie Prefecture, Ise-Shima National Park contains the 125 jinja (Shinto shrines) of Ise Jingu, a sacred location spread across a wide area. An excellent place to start would be the Sengukan Museum near Ise-Jingu’s Outer Shrine.
Also on the coast are a variety of cultural activities. One unique opportunity between May and October is traveling to seaside facilities and tasting local cuisine prepared by the ama freedivers. You’ll have the opportunity to meet and talk with the local divers to experience more of their culture and customs. These famous divers use traditional techniques and little to no equipment to dive as deep as 18 meters to collect sea cucumber, shellfish and other delicacies.
One luxurious outdoor experience is glamping at Ise-Shima’s Strawberry Beach, where you can enjoy local barbecued seafood inside a fully equipped and spacious tent. For those who can brave the heights, a helicopter ride along the Ria Coast provides ample photo opportunities as well.
These are just five of the 34 National Parks of Japan ready for you to discover! Which one will you visit first?