A hiking trip to Oze National Park (尾瀬国立公園, Oze Kokuritsu Kōen) quickly disabused me of any misconceptions I had about marshlands. After finishing the hike through the forest and emerging from the trees, one can see the vast blue sky reach down to touch the mountains surrounding the rich Ozegahara wetland.
Oze, which spans Gunma, Fukushima, Niigata, and Tochigi Prefectures, was named Japan’s 29th national park in 2007 and includes several areas with hiking trails, such as the Ozegahara Marshland, Lake Ozenuma, and several mountains and volcanoes overlooking the marshes. The Japanese National Tourism Organization (JNTO) states that Oze, at over 1,700 meters above sea level in places, is the largest highland marsh in Japan and is thought to have been created when nearby Mt. Hiuchigatake exploded thousands of years ago.
The rich plant-life is one of the highlights of the park. Perhaps the most famous flowers, the mizubashō (ミズバショウ, white skunk cabbage), bloom May to June. A few weeks after the white blossoms of the mizubashō have wilted, the cheerful yellow nikkōkisuge (ニッコウキスゲ, daylilies) spring up across the highland throughout July and August. Even after the nikkōkisuge season is over, the autumn golds of the marsh grasses, called kusamomiji (草紅葉), and fiery reds and yellows of the trees bring in hikers from across Japan from September to October. On my trip in late June, the mizubashō season had just ended and the nikkōkisuge season was barely starting, but patches of watasuge (ワタスゲ, watasuge) were in full bloom.
The elevated wooden boardwalk system crisscrossing the marshland protects the marsh from trampling and affords an up-close look at both the flora and fauna of Oze. With a glance down into the waters, you might spot a Japanese fire belly newt (アカハライモリ, akaharaimori) or one of many unique varieties of dragonflies and butterflies taking a rest on a marsh plant. If you’re lucky, you may also come across a stoat (オコジョ, okojo) or a Japanese serow (カモシカ, kamoshika; a type of goat-antelope) on your walk.
The trails are numerous and varied, so travelers from Tokyo should allow for a full day of hiking, if not an overnight trip at one of the campgrounds or lodges, to fully experience the marshland. If I have the chance to go again, a night under the stars in Oze will without a doubt be included in the travel plans.
Open: Mid-May to October (closed during winter)
Directions from Tokyo:
1h 20 min to Jomo-Kogen Station by JR Joetsu Shinkansen, and 2h 10 min from the station to Oshimizu by bus.
Parking (personal car): free to 2500 yen/day, depending on lot
Camping: from 500 yen a person/day for tent camping to 7,000 yen/day for a bungalow
Lodging (at 山小屋, yamagoya/mountain lodges): from 3,150 yen a person/day to over 9,000 yen a person/day