Not just another tourist site, immerse yourself in a culture which reveres nature, and feel the Japanese spirituality hidden deep within.
As I further explored and got to know Japan's national parks, I was often amazed by the wide diversity of natural attractions to be found across the country. Particularly striking was this one time when I took some of my friends on a cross country trip from Okinawa to Hokkaido. We started out the journey by lounging on the beach and snorkeling through the coral reefs of Miyako, which has some of the warmest, clearest waters that you can imagine and are just teeming with colorful fish and sea life. Just a few days later, having had our fill of sun and surf, we moved on to Hokkaido to hike around the Daisetsuzan mountains in search of autumn colors. In addition to the autumn leaves, we saw a Hokkaido red fox, brown bear, Hokkaido sika deer, as well as a Japanese crane. Trekking around in the cool mountain air was already a striking contrast to our previous week's activities, yet became almost surreal when we were blanketed in a sudden, early snow. To be able to have such polar opposite experiences on one trip was fully unexpected and truly amazing.
After a while, I became more aware of the spiritual level on which nature exists in Japanese culture. Maybe that was from learning about Shinto and how everything exists with a god of its own: the god of the mountain, the god of the forest, the water, the sky. Afterwards, I began to understand this raw spirituality when visiting the Ise Shrines, which are simple and elegant constructions made almost exclusively of wood and stone. The shrines seem to merge seamlessly into the forest, their gravel pathways winding among the enormous, ancient trees that tower above like a cathedral, and blurring the lines between nature and the shrine themselves.
The national parks have become my playground, and some of the truly memorable adventures that I've had in them will stay with me forever. Probably the most unforgettable experience was kayaking through the uninhabited, mangrove-lined rivers of Iriomote Island in Okinawa. We followed the river into the wild interior of the mountain, each paddle stroke taking us further and further away from civilization, until we were completely alone in nature. I had never felt so isolated before and in such unfamiliar territory. Eventually the river shrank down to a stream, so we beached our boats and continued upstream on foot. The going was tough and tiring, but just as we were about to turn back, we came across an undiscovered swimming hole deep in the jungle where we ended up spending hours cooling off in the clear blue water. To this day I continue to think to myself: "I can't believe this is really still Japan".
After all these years, Japan's national parks still offer me something new yet to be discovered. Hopefully one day you'll come to Japan and explore some of these hidden beauties for yourself. I'm quite certain that you'll find something there that is unique; something that you can't find anywhere else.
Japanese tradition and culture are intrinsically linked to nature and the changing of the seasons, to the extent that it could be said that the four seasons are the bedrock of Japanese culture. The National Parks of Japan represent the essence of this cultural link to nature. "Japan National Park Expedition" has been set up to serve the aims of; spreading recognition of the National Parks of Japan to the world; attracting foreign tourists to visit the National Parks of Japan; examining methods to promote the National Parks of Japan. This project is carried out through the collaboration between local key persons and foreign directors.