When you think of Japan, visions of neon cities, breathtaking temples, mouth-watering sushi, memorable cultural experiences, and even robot restaurants is probably what springs to mind. But what many Australian travellers don’t know, is that there is another side to Japan – the Great Outdoors – filled with natural beauty, wild adventures and things to see and do that most have never seen or done. In fact, Japan is home to 34 national parks waiting to be explored. Here, you’ll discover majestic mountain peaks, sea caves, waterfalls, ancient forests, active volcanoes, emerald blue oceans, wow-worthy wildlife and even traditional craft experiences.
Intrigued? Us to. We’ve round up 15 surprising experiences you can enjoy across three of Japan’s most remarkable national parks:
- Setonaikai National Park – the ‘artsy’ park, perfect for oyster lovers and those who love a dose of arts and culture with their nature fix.
- Ashizuri-Uwakai National Park – this one is for the ocean and seafood lovers; take a deep dive into Japan’s marine life and explore its costal culture.
- Daisen-Oki National Park – the inspiration behind Japanese mythology, this park is brimming with magical experiences and otherworldly sights.
Japan National Parks See and Do – Our Top 15 Picks:
- Explore the geologically and culturally unique Oki Islands by e-bike, taking in the abundant natural beauty, varied terrain and historical and cultural spots. The Oki Islands are a cluster of small islands in the Sea of Japan, offering spectacular coastal scenery, pristine beaches, fascinating shrines and delicious food, including the world-famous premium Oki Beef. Location: Daisen-Oki National Park.
- If you prefer to explore from the water, you can experience the natural beauty of the Oki Islands by sea kayak. Recognised as a “UNESCO Global Geopark”, the Oki Islands’ dramatic coastline, rock formations and sea caves, lay waiting to be discovered by sea kayakers. The tours take place under the guidance of an instructor. Location: Daisen-Oki National Park.
- Immerse yourself in oyster harvesting season and see a 10 metre long Suikaren (hanging rope off a crane) filled with oysters – it’s a sight to behold. Following the unloading operation, see the oyster shellers in action and enjoy a fisherman’s style oyster porridge made with fresh oysters. Location: Setonaikai National Park.
- Be wowed by a mind-blowing dance performance based on myths and legends, Izumo Kagura, which takes place in Hinomisaki Shrine. This traditional performance is inspired by Izumo mythology. It is said that Amaterasu, the Goddess of Light, was upset by her brother and sulked in a cave, plunging the world into darkness. The other gods coaxed her out of her hiding place with an irresistable celebration of dance and music outside the entrance to the cave. Pretty cool! Location: Daisen Oki National Park.
- Team up with traditional craftsmen and try your hand at making authentic Bizen Property – an art form created by clay and fire without using any glaze. Your masterpiece will be fired in a traditional climbing kiln next to the studio. Location: Setonaikai National Park.
- Take a leisurely bike ride to breathtaking lemon groves in the Lemon Valley of Setoda, the largest lemon producer in Japan. Here, visit a farmer who has been growing lemons using natural farming methods for more than 40 years, and take home your own refreshing lemons as a souvenir. Location: Setonaikai National Park.
- Take a guided mountain hike of Mount Misan and find out why this magical primeval forest is called ‘the sacred place for lovers’. Pat yourself on the back and soak up with inspiring views of Miyajima and the Seto Island Sea from the top. Location: Setonaikai National Park.
- For an exhilarating adventure in nature, why not try canyoning in Nametoko Valley in Ehime, one of the best canyoning spots in Japan?! Not for the faint hearted, canyoning involves sliding down natural chutes, jumping into waterfalls and descending gorges by rope. There is no more thrilling experience than sliding down superb scenery such as Yukiwa Falls, recently named one of the best 100 waterfalls in Japan. Location: Ashizuri-Uwakai National Park.
- If you live in your jeans, then why not stay the night at a hostel dedicated to your favourite wardrobe staple? Kojima, Kurashiki City, is famous as a town of jeans. At the “Denim Hostel Float,” operated by the denim brand “ITONAMI” located in a place overlooking the Seto-ohashi Bridge, you can make old jeans feel new with an indigo dyeing experience – a sustainable fashion initiative unique to the area. Location: Setonaikai National Park.
- Snorkel to a mysterious shrine that can only be reached by boat. The curious distance between the sea and the torii gate, and the approach to the shrine that leads to the crystal clear sea make this a mystical spot to see. The ocean stretches out in front of the shrine, offering a great snorkelling environment abundant with coral reefs and colourful fish. Location: Ashizuri Uwakai National Park.
- Experience two famous ‘art islands’ on a charter yacht cruise to Naoshima and Teshima, sacred art sites in the Seto Inland Sea. Location: Setonaikai National Park.
- Become a fisherman for the day in Bizen City’s Hinase area, which has long been known as the “Hinase Senken Fisherman’s Town” with oyster farming, bottom trawling, and other fishing activities flourishing. The Seto Inland Sea is an inland sea where nutrients flowing in from the mountains of the mainland through rivers circulate and provide a rich habitat for fish and shellfish. Here, you can experience live bottom trawling, which allows you to catch a wide variety of fish in one fishing trip. Location: Setonaikai National Park.
- The coast of Kodomari Bay, surrounded by beautiful mountains in the Seto Inland Sea, is the perfect place to SUP because the waves are calm and it is as quiet as a lake. You can peek at the fish under the surface of the sea, or just float around on the water. Location: Setonaikai National Park.
- The Seto Inland Sea National Park, which consists of the four peaks of Mount Bunju, Mount Kano, Mount Genmei, and Mount Dake, is nicknamed the “Setouchi Alps”. Popular as a trekking course for panoramic views of the mountain ranges and islands, the “Setouchi Alps Traverse” is a hike not to be forgotten. The route takes about five hours from Monju-do to the top of Mount Monju. Location: Setonaikai National Park.
- Take a tour of Tosa-Shimizu, the city of fish. Tosa’s Shimizu mackerel is the pride and joy of Tosashimizu, and is a brand of fresh, fatty pacific mackerel that is landed at the Shimizu Branch of the Kochi Prefectural Fisheries Cooperative. Visit the fish market, learn the history of the fisherman’s town and sample fresh sashimi. Location: Ashizuri-Uwakai National Park.
For more information about Japan’s National Parks visit here.