Save The Earth While Savouring Its Beauty

How to be an eco-tourist in Japan

Issue: Apr 2010

Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park – sitting primly at the foot of the famed Mt Fuji, little wonder that this national park is a popular weekend getaway for vacationing Tokyoites
Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park – sitting primly at the foot of the famed Mt Fuji, little wonder that this national park is a popular weekend getaway for vacationing Tokyoites.

In recent times, with people becoming more aware of environmental issues and being more affluent, the search for holidays with a difference has also intensified. Enter eco-tourism – responsible travel of a limited number of people to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of the local people. The intrepid traveller hoping to go off the beaten track can now do so while contributing to the future of Mother Earth. So, if you are thinking of seeing a side of Japan beyond sushi, seafood and shopping, eco-tourism may be the way to go.

Eco-tourist Spots not far from the City

Japan has 29 National Parks and 56 Quasi-National Parks, each offering breathtaking natural landscapes that epitomises the best that Japan has to offer by way of pristine beauty. Visiting these protected areas heightens appreciation of Nature’s wonders, increases understanding of Japan’s environment and contributes to the economy of the areas which, in turn, contributes to the livelihood and welfare of the local people and to the continued preservation of these places. And sometimes, you don’t even have to move that far from the city to do so.

Kegon Falls, one of Japan’s finest and highest waterfalls
Kegon Falls, one of Japan’s finest and highest waterfalls.

100 kilometres northwest of Tokyo is the town of Nikko which sits at the entrance to Nikko National Park. This area, rich in history, is considered by many locals to be a pilgrimage site, being home to Japan’s most lavishly decorated Shinto shrine and the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokygawa shogunate, a feudal regime of Japan. That and the fact that the shrine is a UNESCO World Heritage site should be reasons enough to pay this place a visit. But Nikko has more distinctions to add to its reputation.

Nikko National Park offers waterfalls like Kegon Falls which is one of Japan’s finest and highest waterfalls at 97m and Ryuzu Falls; lakes such as Lake Chuzenji and Senjo-gahara which is an important habitat to colonies of alpine plants, spectacular fields of flowers like snake lilies, cotton grass, and several species of flora, many of which, such as the Japanese azaleas, Japanese crab trees, and Japanese buttercups, are indigenous to the land. The area is also known for gorges like Kinugawa and Shiobara as well as the very beautiful Mt Nasu-dake, a collection of volcanoes in the northern part of Tochigi Prefecture. Some volcanoes like Mt Chausu-dake are still active and continue to spew significant amounts of volcanic vapour and gas. Hiking trails are best explored between October and November when the colours of autumn are at its richest. Spy wild monkeys as you trek and take a dip in the many hot springs in the area and soak your aches away.

Cosmopolitan Appeal Amidst Industrial Growth

Just west of Tokyo is the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park which consists of Mt Fuji, Fuji Five Lakes, Hakone, the Izu Peninsula and the Izu Islands. Each of these areas has its unique features and attractions for the eco-tourist in you.

Mt Fuji is best visited during the mountaineering season of July and August. There are four trails you can try out that have been built from the Shizuoka and Yamanashi sides of the mountain.

Indigenous Japanese azaleas and Japanese buttercups one can find at Nikko National Park
Indigenous Japanese azaleas and Japanese buttercups one can find at Nikko National Park.

Hakone has several species of flora that have been designated protected species by the local municipality like the Hakone kometsutsuji, the Hakone giku and Hakone’s official flower the Hakone bara. The area is also home to the Japanese clawed salamander, an endemic species of salamander indigenous to Japan. Surviving only in clear mountain streams, the town of Hakone has identified it as a protected species.

For those who want something on land and in the sea, the Izu Peninsular allows you to scuba dive in its waters or scale Mt Amagi. The main diving season is between July and November when the waters are at its warmest. The Izu Peninsular, a beautiful neck of mountainous land where north- and south-flowing currents meet, brings both tropical and cold-water fish to the waters around its rocky shores. In addition to superior fish and coral watching, Izu also offers cave diving and shipwreck exploration.

Don’t forget to indulge in an onsen bath after your nature trips, an essential of any visit to this National Park.

Green Abode

If you truly want to go all the way in being an eco-friendly tourist, try living in Nature. Just two hours from central Tokyo is the Boso Peninsula in Chiba and right in the middle of it is the Gankoyama Tree House Village. The 12,000-square metre lower mountainous camping ground teaches you how to build your very own tree house in just two days. The only tree-house building tour in the world, Gankoyama uses energy tapped from solar panels and a wind generator. No electricity is ever used. You can also sign up for outdoor workshop skills to get you back to Nature or join eco-tours to acquaint yourself with the Japanese forest. The programme, established in 1998, aims to get people to incorporate Nature into every aspect of their lives and to enjoy Nature as generations past used to do and, hopefully, become more Earth-conscious because of their understanding of the detrimental effects of deforestation.

So when you plan your next trip, why not opt for a travel plan that allows you to immerse yourself in Nature and learn what you can do to protect and preserve a piece of the Earth for the people to come.

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