Japan is not only the neon signs and bustling streets of Tokyo. One of this country’s best charms is the breathtakingly beautiful nature that offers unique experiences during the different seasons throughout the year.
From pristine clear blue oceans that home tropical fish and coral reefs to unparalleled landscapes, Japan proudly has 32 national parks throughout the country. Each offering its own unique ambience and experience, these national parks are extremely well preserved and nothing short of magnificent. Here are 10 of the best ones to peak your interest.
1. Ogasawara National Park
A UNESCO World Heritage Site located 1,000 kilometers south of Tokyo, the Ogasawara Islands are more widely known as the Bonin Islands. These subtropical islands are only accessible by boat, with stunning coves and secluded beaches making up the beautiful scenery. Home to many faunas, flora and mammals in the turquoise waters framing the islands, this secluded beauty is nothing short of an adventure.
Hiking and scuba diving aren’t the only activities available on the Bonin Islands. Dolphin and whale watching is an extremely popular activity, alongside kayaking and other fun water sports. With much to see and do, Ogasawara National Park is a golden gem of all national parks in Japan.
2. Nikko National Park
Home to the stunning and designated World Heritage shrine, Toshogu Shrine, Nikko National Park is one of the most beautiful national parks in the country. As such, it is definitely worth visiting and witnessing the autumn colors during the season. History abounds this park, with countless of shrines and temples nestled in the landscapes. Another must-see shrine here is the Buddhist temple of Rinno-ji.
Natural wonders such as the famously known onsens and waterfalls beautifully decorated this phenomenal park. The water of Kegon Falls plunges into the pool below with thick forests on either side of it. Mountains and lakes frame the landscape of Nikko National Park, with the mesmerizing Lake Chuzenji lying between them. Located near Tokyo in the Kanto region, this park makes a good day trip or overnight trip from the bustling city.
3. Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park
Anyone would know of Mount Fuji, and this famous mountain is located in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Argumentatively the most visited parks in all of Japan due to its extremely iconic mountain and its close proximity to the capital city, this park comprises a vast array of natural wonders. With over a thousand volcanic islands dispersed along its shores and waterways snaking around the hills, valleys and mountains, every corner here is picturesque.
The famous hot springs activity is scattered all around this area, more prominently in the Hakone vicinity which is a go-to destination for locals and tourists alike for their onsen fix. Other activities like diving are also available at the Izu Islands, which is what they’re famously known for. Old lava fields, waterfalls and ancient forests fill up the in-betweens of this stunning national park.
4. Shiretoko National Park
Another World Heritage site, the Shiretoko National Park still has traces of untouched nature in its midst. Located right in the northeastern bit of Hokkaido, the vast areas that comprise the national park is filled with undiscovered, untamed and unimaginable beauty. The main draw to this national park is the five lakes, known as the Shiretoko Five Lakes, that dot the primeval forest. Roads only cover about one-third of the park, while the rest is reserved for the adventurers ready to explore the area by foot or boat.
Another highlight of this park is its large population of brown bears. During the summer season, an extremely popular activity to do here is bear watching from sightseeing boats. A fair number of rare, endangered wild species homes in this vicinity too. This well-preserved national park is definitely a must-visit to experience its unparalleled beauty first-hand.
5. Kerama Shoto National Park
Lying off of Okinawa are a bedazzling archipelago of islands that are so majestic and dreamlike due to their appearance. The most well-known and often visited are the Zamami Island and Tokashiki Island, two of the number of islands that comprises the Kerama Islands. Not short of the tropical nature, the pristine and turquoise waters surrounding the islands gently crashes onto the creamy white sand, making the beaches so enticing to lounge upon.
Depending on the time of the year, whale watching activity is offered as tours. The “Kerama Blue”, which is the crystal clear waters that extends out, attract numerous divers and snorkelers to revel in the electric colors of the coral reefs. If you’re lucky, you might even see some sea turtles lazing onshore or floating around.
6. San’in Kaigan National Park
The San’in Kaigan National Park hugs the Sea of Japan, and is largely known for its enormous Tottori Sand Dunes, hills of loose sand that can only be found in the part of Japan. During winter, the Tottori Sand Dunes is layered in thick snow, making them a fascinating and unique scenery of snowy hills by the shore.
This national park is also part of San’in Kaigan UNESCO Global Geopark as it contains geological heritages that are scientifically special, important and valuable. The Kasumi coast is often designated as a national site of scenic beauty, encompassing of oddly-shaped rocks, sea caves and cliffs that resulted from erosion of the raging waves of the Japan Sea. The picturesque Kinosaki Onsen Town is also part of this national park, a widely known area for its amazing hot springs.
7. Akan Mashu National Park
One of the oldest national parks in the country, Akan Mashu National Park and its surroundings have long been protected and well-preserved for all to enjoy. Located north of Japan in Hokkaido, the area is sprawled with forests that accompanies the volcanic craters, mountains and lakes. With diverse ecosystems and a large range of activities to do, visitors can spend weeks here without a moment of boredom.
Here you can find the three freshwater lake calderas of Akan, Kussharo and Mashu. From the Lake Akan that reflects the colors of Ainu culture, the active volcano Meakan-dake can be seen clearly with Mount O-kan and Mount Akan Fuji to complete the picture. Lake Mashu is known for its extremely clear waters and is one of the clearest lakes in the world. Nearby the vicinity of Lake Kussharo, where part of it is tempered by underground hot spring, is the most-visited Kawayu Onsen. A mysterious and fascinating experience awaits you at the Akan Mashu National Park.
8. Yoshino Kumano National Park
Located in the Kansai region, Yoshino Kumano National Park is the most famous cherry blossom viewing spot across the whole of Japan, as it homes more than 30,000 cherry trees. Rising up high into the mountain peaks and dipping down low into densely wooded alleys, this park is well-decorated with rapid rivers, pristine beaches and grand shrines. Bursting with flora and fauna along with the World Heritage sites and pilgrimage routes, this park offers an abundance of opportunities and activities for all.
One of the most iconic attractions is the Kumano-Nachi Taisha Shrine. The tallest waterfall in Japan, Nachino-Otaki Falls, is accompanied by a three-story pagoda and protected by the Nichi primeval forest surrounding it. The spiritual grounds of Kumano is no stranger to visitors, with the cobbled paths winding through the jagged mountains, have been well worn by the soles of pilgrims. A nature-filled experience awaits you at this magnificent hotspot of attractions.
9. Towada Hachimantai National Park
Tucked away in the Tohoku Region is the Towada Hachimantai National Park, centering around the Hachimantai mountains and Lake Towada. A primal viewing location of the colorful leaves during the autumn season, a myriad of colors spring forth and spring out life among the forests during summer. Traditional onsen baths can be found here as well due to the volcanic nature of the area.
The mountainous regions offer a number of lovely trails and paths for hikers to enjoy the wilderness. Mini waterfalls lined down the lakes take plunges into the pools of water below, creating a gushing calm sound that fills the area.
10. Yakushima National Park
An island of natural wonders, Yakushima National Park is heavily forested and nestles in the warm, sub-tropical waters south of Kagoshima prefecture. Best known for its extensive and hauntingly beautiful forests that oozes a moody ambience and twisted with fairytale-like trees, the extremely wet climate allows for crystal-clear rivers tumbling down the high peaks.
Home to species of deer and monkeys that cannot be found anywhere else, a hike in the Yakushima forest opens up opportunities to see the Yakushima macaque and Yaku deer. On summer days, endangered loggerhead turtles are spotted on the shores of the beaches, and snorkelers can enjoy the colorful coral reefs in the waters. Much like other parts of Japan, natural onsens are also found here. The unique Hirauchi Kaichu Onsen located on the south coast is a must-visit. It’s right by the rocky shoreline, so it’s only accessible twice a day when the tide is low. One-of-a-kind experiences await you here at this spectacular national park.
Even though Japan is home to a big number of 32 national parks, each one of them has something different and unique to offer that none of the others can. Furthermore, visiting at different times of the year also largely affects the experience as the sceneries change throughout the year.
From beautifully lush forests, high mountain peak landscapes and white sandy beaches, to heritage attractions, iconic shrines and temples, the Japan national parks, especially the top 10 above, are oozing with nature and history to offer to the world. Why not put them on your Japan bucket list?