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Monday, September 12, 2016

Japan’s National Parks: Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park


Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park (富士箱根伊豆国立公園, Fuji-Hakone-Izu Kokuritsu Kōen) isn’t one of those Japanese national parks that one can visit and easily access all its points of interest, as its 1,227 square kilometers (474 square miles) of territory is spread out over a bunch of separate areas.

From Mt. Fuji, for example, THE main feature of the park, the farthest point south is the compounded volcanic island of Hachijō-jima, located 287 kilometers (178 miles) south of the Tokyo area.

Spread out over the entirety of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park are a plethora of natural hot springs, coastlines, mountains, lakes and some 1,000 volcanic islands, with flora consisting of stuff from the subtropical to the mountainous.

Established on February 2, 1936 as Fuji-Hakone National Park, it was one of four first set up to be a national park in Japan. The Izu islands were added to the mix in 1950, with the name altered to reflect the change.

There are four main areas of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park:
1) Mount Fuji area
  • Mount Fuji (富士山, Fujisan) at 3,776.24 meters (12,389 feet) high;
  • Shiraito Falls (白糸の滝, Shiraito-no-taki) a 20-meter high waterfall that made Japan’s list of Top 100 waterfalls… impressive in that there are well over 100 waterfalls in Japan. They are pretty, however;
  • Fuji Five Lakes (富士五湖, Fuji-goko), located at the base of Mt. Fuji - Image at very top is of Mt. Fuji and the Five Lakes, photo by 名古屋太郎;
  • Aokigahara (青木ヶ原) - you know it better as the Suicide Forest, a 35-square mile (14-square mile) patch of forest and rocky caverns where people go to kill themselves. See HERE for more;
  • Lake Tanuki (田貫湖, Tanuki-ko) - in damn near every photo taken of Mt. Fuji, this is the lake right in front of it. This is actually a man-made lake - despite the mythical-sounding name (A tanuki is a real racoon-like creature). Created in 1935 by diverting waters from Shiba River, it was done to create a water reservoir for irrigation purposes. 
Aokigajara - photo by ajari
2) Hakone area
  • Old Tokaido Road is part of the 53 stations of the Tōkaidō (東海道五十三次, Tōkaidō Gojūsan-tsugi) that ran from Tokyo to Kyoto (you’ll notice that To and Kyo and reversed in Kyo and To. Famous for its portrayal in 53 parts by ukiyo-e artist Hiroshige Ando;
  • Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands (箱根湿生花園, Hakone Shisseikaen) has 1,700 different plant types. (pop! That was me putting my index finger in the follow of my cheek to make a bubble popping sound, though I can also do it by pushing open my lips);
  • Lake Ashi (芦ノ湖, Ashi-no-ko) is a crater lake near Mt. Hakone, a volcano that last erupted in 1170 - so it is still considered to be active. There are boat tours;
  • Great Boiling Valley (大涌谷 , Ōwakudani) sounds like someplace you might want to skip, but it’s a sulfuric valley of active hot springs and steam vents. Watching an active volcanic area vents its deadly contents is actually pretty cool for those of us who have lived no where near an active volcano.  
Eating blackened eggs cooked over the sulfuric vents at Ōwakudani is supposed to add seven years to your life. I believe that's a one-time only dealio - Photo by David Monniaux
3) Izu Penninsula
  • Mount Amagi (天城山, Amagi-san - a range of pretty volcanic mountains;
  • Atami Hot Springs… most of the city of Atami is within the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Atami means ‘hot ocean’, and the place is famous for its hot springs (onsen);
  • Atagawa Tropical & Alligator Garden (熱川バナナワニ園, Atagawa Banana Wani En) - a botanical garden with alligators, a total of 29 different species (349 specimens)... yes... banana. But yes, there are no bananas. I believe 'banana' is representative of 'tropical', in this case, which I am unsure if is a coincidence or not;
  • Jogasaki Coast (城ヶ崎海岸, Jōgasaki Kaigan) is a beautiful section of coastline along the Izu Peninsula's eastern coast. 
Jogasaki coastline. Photo by Tomo
4) Izu Islands - all volcanic islands, lovely coastlines, plenty of trees, few people... Both 'shima' and 'jima' mean 'island'
  • Izu Ōshima (伊豆大島, Izu-ōshima) is an inhabited island (8179 people as of October 2015) in the Izu archipelago in the Philippine Sea, approximately 120 kilometers (75 mi) southeast of Honshu (the main Japanese island);
  • To-shima (利島?) is the smallest of the inhabited islands (309 people as of May 2008), on 4.12 square kilometers (1.59 square miles);
  • Nii-jima (新島) located 163 kilometers (101 miles) south of Tokyo. It is 23.87 square kilometers (9.22 square miles) and hosts 2,700 people as of September 2009;
  • Shikine-jima (式根島), it’s 160 kilometers (99 miles) south of Tokyo, consists of 3,900,000 square meters (42,000,000 square feet) and has 600 people on it, as of September 2009;
  • Kōzu-shima (神津島) has a population of 8,363 and covers an area of 18.48 square kilometers (7.14 square miles);
  • Miyake-jima (三宅島) has a population of 2,415 as of June 1, 2016 and an area of 55.44 kilometers (21.41 square miles);
  • Mikura-jima (御蔵島) is 200 kilometers (120 miles) south of Tokyo, has an area of 20.58 square kilometers (7.95 square miles) and is home to a whopping 351 people - as of September 2009;
  • Hachijō-jima (八丈島), is the southernmost and most isolated of the island chain and is (see the first paragraph). It’s area consists of 65.52 square kilometers (24.14 square miles) with 8,363 people on it as of September of 2009.

I will freely admit  that I have never been to any part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. I never really even saw Mt. Fuji in three whole years there.

I could be right at its base zipping by on a shinkansen (bullet train), or in a small town at its foot… but looking up - fog, rain, snow, clouds - buildings… it always blocked my view of it. In fact, 100 kilometers to the north where I lived, if I climbed a mountain (Mt. Nasu) on a sunny day and peered through the ¥100 viewing telescope (or was it free? Hmm), staring south I should have been able to see Mt. Fuji. But no… some type of infernal weather over that stupid and most revered and  sacred of Japanese mountains refused to let me see it.

We all know that THAT made a better story - especially it finally granting me a glimpse as my plane was up in the air high above the clouds as I left Japan for the second and so far, last time, giving me a unique photograph of a mountain I refused to believe existed because of its ability to cloak itself from my view. Still... screw Mt. Fuji.

It’s the tallest mountain in Japan. Climbing it once is supposed to give you wisdom. The old adage is: Once a wise man, twice a fool.

Apparently if you never climb it you are also a fool, but I think that is foolish. You aren’t a fool for not climbing it - you just aren’t as wise as those who climb it once.

Considering I never climbed it, and I’ve written a blog a day for well over five years without making any money, I probably should have climbed the mountain. I might have made money from my writing, but I’m sure I would have been a damn sight unhappier. I got yer wisdom right here, Fuji-san.
Shiraito Falls - photo by InvictusOU812 from USA - Flickr. You could just picture feudal women bathing in this picturesque area... what? Just me?
There’s not much more I could add about the Shiraito Falls, but the Fuji Five Lakes?

There are indeed five lakes at the base of Mt. Fuji:
  1. Lake Kawaguchi (河口湖, Kawaguchi-ko) - it has an island in it, is lined with tourist hotels (are there any other kind?), and has been used in plenty of tourist posters showing the area; 
  2. Lake Motosu (本栖湖, Motosu-ko) is the ninth deepest lake of Japan, at 140 meters (~460 feet). This lake, along with Lake Sai and Lake Shōji were all formed by lava flow and are interconnected  by underground waterways; 
  3. Lake Sai (西湖, Sai-ko) connected with Lake Shōji and Lake Motosu via underwater chambers;
  4. Lake Shōji (精進湖, Shōji-ko) is the smallest of the five lakes. It is joined via underwater tunnels to Lakes Sai and Motosu; 
  5. Lake Yamanaka (山中湖, Yamanaka-ko) is the largest of the five lakes and is the third-highest lake in Japan at 980 meters above sea level.

The Atagawa Tropical & Alligator Garden. Photo from: http://shizuoka-guide.com/english/library/index/detail/485?city=22301
For the rest of the parts of Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, I believe that the initial descriptions I have provided should suffice.

I do regret not visiting any part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, despite three years in Japan, but I never really cared for Tokyo and its sights. For one thing, the place is so built up that you can’t even see Mt. Fuji from there like one used to be able to do 50 years ago.

As far as everything else? Well… I do like waterfalls, but other than that and Mt. Fuji… and maybe the Suicide Forest, everything else can be found at any other part of Japan.

Ahh… that’s just sour grapes from me for not having seen it.

Don’t get me wrong… as you can see from the images, the main points of Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park are extremely beautiful.
Lake Yamanaka in front of Mt. Fuji. I must be arriving in the general vicinity, as you can see the clouds rolling in to obscure my view. I like this photo a lot! Image by Valentin Saussois
Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

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