Located 150 kilometers north of Tokyo, Oze National Park is one of the closest national parks to the capital. The national park is a wonderful hiking destination centered around a large highland marshland, the Ozegahara Marsh.

Much of Oze remains snow-covered into May, but from late May to early June, the hiking season starts with a highlight: the blooming of the mizubasho flowers, known in English under the rather unfortunate name of skunk cabbage. The past winter saw more snow than usual, and the timing of the flowers was slightly delayed compared to the average year.

Oze can be entered via a large number of trailheads. The easiest and most popular - especially when visiting the marshland - is the Hatomachitoge trailhead on the Gunma side of the park. Because the capacity of the parking lot at Hatomachitoge is limited, visitors need to use a shuttle bus (1000 yen one way) for the final twelve kilometers of the journey to the trailhead during most of the hiking season. Read more on how to get to Oze.

From the trailhead, the path leads about one hour downhill through the forest into the marshland. Most trails in the national park are elevated wooden walkways to protect the natural surrounding; however, the wood can be rather slippery when it is wet.

About 30-40 minutes into the hike, a first field of mizubasho flowers delighted visitors. At the end of the descent, a small collection of mountain lodges stands at the entrance of the marshland around the Yamanohana Visitor Center. A public toilet is available.

Just next to the small village leads a circular path (20-40 minutes) through the Oze Research Botanical Garden which is one of the best places to see mizubasho flowers, not at last because they are protected from their predators, Japanese deer, by a surrounding fence.

From the visitor center a separate trail leads over five kilometers through the Ozegahara Marshland with no man-made structures in sight apart from the elevated wooden trail and a couple of huts. Mizubasho flowers can be spotted in smaller numbers along the way. Today, I walked about three kilometers into the marshland as far as the Ryugu area where there is another enclosed area with many mizubasho flowers before making my way back home.