Blessed with predominantly temperate climate unique to its location along the Pacific Ring of Fire, Japan – with its 6,800 islands – has many geographical wonders that display the grandeur of nature.
From its coastlines to its lush forests and volcanic islands, the Land of the Rising Sun is so unique for its vibrancy in any given season.
There are 34 national parks in the whole Japan. Each park has different individual characteristics condensed with the variety of natural scenery and local's life, culture and history which travelers can enjoy Japan's unique experiences.
Three of these parks are inscribed on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage List for their outstanding value as natural heritage – Yakushima, Kagoshima Prefecture for its warm temperate ancient forest; Shiretoko, Hokkaido Prefecture for its peninsula and marine area; and Ogasawara Islands for its chain of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean.
Of Japan's national parks, Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park is the most visited. Famous for the snow-capped Mt. Fuji, which is located just a minimum of two-and-a-half hours by express train from Tokyo, the volcano is considered not just as one of the country's most beautiful mountains but also revered where deities reside.
The northwestern slope of Mt. Fuji is home to a virgin forest known as Aokigahara Jukai or "Sea of Trees," which formed after the volcano erupted some 1,200 years ago.
With so many specific places and activities to do – including the religious and spiritual meaning in climbing Mt. Fuji and praying to the sun while in the mountain, as how the Japanese hold their perspective on nature and culture – five of these are suggested as "must" when visiting the area.
These specific activities include:
-- Leisurely cycle around the rural landscape of the satoyama woodlands on an electric-assist bicycle with Mt. Fuji as backdrop. Marvel at the abundant spring water flowing through the area and visit the spectacular Shiraito Waterfalls, which is part of the Mt. Fuji World Heritage site, before sitting down to a meal of handmade soba noodles served with deep-fried tempura of locally-grown seasonal vegetables.
-- The guided tour concludes with a visit to a sake brewery that has been using local spring water in its brewing for more than 300 years where an 18th-generation master brewer shares knowledge of Japanese sake-making. Get acquainted with life in the spring-water-blessed satoyama woodlands that include traditional Japanese horseradish wasabi cultivation and trout farming.
-- Feel the breath of the Earth in an out-of-this-world geo-tour of Izu Oshima Geopark. Enjoy a visit to Mt. Mihara, the "backland desert," to experience the magnificence of nature unique to a volcanic island that includes observing tenacious creatures that have survived under fierce conditions.
-- Hiking along the Hakone Hachiri Route heritage site for a nostalgic Edo experience; head to Hakone Sekisho checkpoint via the banks of Lake Ashi and other scenic paths and enjoy Hakone's vibrant nature, history and culture to the fullest. Walk 400 years of history along the Old Tōkaidō and Hakone Pass.
-- A story of 400,000 years of volcanic activity through a guided tour of an area full of natural history. Enjoy a volcanic experience in Hakone Geopark, with circular tour reserved for international visitors only.
-- Explore Aokigahara's dense sea of trees and the area's mysterious caves accompanied with commentary from a local guide bringing the visit closer to the importance of nature in Japanese culture, particularly about Mt. Fuji and the impact of the nature on the culture of the Japanese people.
Know more about Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park at https://www.tripadvisor.com/InfoCenter-a_ctr.Stories_to_Experience_2#FujiHakoneIzu.
Feel the Earth breathe at Shikotsu-Toya National Park
Located in southwestern Hokkaido, Shikotsu-Toya National Park offers a diverse landscape with two large caldera lakes – Lake Shikotsu and Lake Toya; volcanoes such as Mt. Yotei, Mt. Usu and Mt. Tarumae; and a variety of other volcanic terrain.
The picturesque hot spring regions of Noboribetsu, Lake Toya and Jozankei contrast with jigoku (hell in Japanese Buddhism) volcano scapes emitting sulfur-containing gases, and volcanic activity everywhere that created the many natural wonders in the surroundings.
With lake, forest and volcano intertwining. the majestic landscape soothes heart and soul – especially in the park's east side, where the ice-free Lake Shikotsu mesmerizes with its extraordinary blue and deep waters.
With the heart of the park close to both central Sapporo and New Chitose Airport, extraordinary encounters with the great outdoors are within easy reach, such as extremely gratifying hike along the terrain and alpine plant-viewing.
Roughly divided in the five areas, adventure in the Shikotsu-Toya National Park can be experienced at the Mt. Yotei area; around Lake Toya, Mt. Usu and Showa-shinzan (Toya-Usu UNESCO Gloal Geopark); around the hot springs of Noboribetsu, Orofure Pass and Lake Kuttara; Lake Shikotsu, Mt. Tarumae and Mt. Eniwa; and around Jozan-kei, Toyohira Gorge and Nakayama Pass.
Suggested specific activities include:
-- Go on a Canadian canoe tour in the Jozankei Onsen Hot Spring area, Sapporo's hidden nature resort, while enjoying dark greens in the summer and rustic reds in the fall. Forest bathing in the great outdoors and canoeing through Jozankei Valley
-- Horse-riding on the foothills of Mt. Hakken at any season and dip into the natural hot springs of Jozankei Onsen after.
-- Pick a wide variety of seasonal fruit at Jozankei Farm from the bounty of nature in one of the largest tree adventure areas in Hokkaido, featuring fruit-picking, fishing, and much more. A fruit wonderland forever etched in the memory.
-- Climb the rugged Mt. Tarumae and see the national park from the summit – either from the East Peak Piston Course or the Around-the-Somma Course, which is along the hillsides of the somma, a type of caldera crater.
-- Walk the crater hiking trail at the foot of Mt. Nishiyama, and observe how natural phenomenon damaged human habitation, including disrupted roads, upheavals of earth and ejected matter. Ponder how disaster prevention can be applied into one's own affairs with a tour of the scars of the 2000 eruption of Mt. Usu.
-- Experience seasonal scenery and encounter birds and aquatic life endemic to the area in the Tour of Lake Shikotsu Area on a Canadian canoe. Admire the sensational mountain scenery from the tranquil waters of Lake Shikotsu.
Preserved for all generations
By protecting and promoting the use of the excellent natural landscape that represents Japan, we will be able to improve the health of the people, contribute to rest and culture, as well as ensuring biodiversity.
Besides a diverse range of natural enviroments, Japan's national parks also contain scenic spots that blend traditional lifestyles, allowing visitors to have a gratifying experience of Japanese culture and history.
Know more about Shikotsu-Toya National Park at https://www.tripadvisor.com/InfoCenter-a_ctr.Stories_to_Experience_2#ShikotsuToya.
Looking for more unique experiences? Check out the Ministry of the Environment of Japan's TripAdvisor site for more exciting activities and to discover "Stories to Experience" at https://www.tripadvisor.com/InfoCenter-a_ctr.Stories_to_Experience.
(Note: The activities introduced are subject to change due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Please check the official website for the latest information.)