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Friday, September 9, 2016

Japan’s National Parks - Introduction

Any country worth it’s weight, has designated land to be a national park, and Japan is no exception, with 32 National Parks (国立公園, Kokuritsu Kōen) scattered over the islands.

There are 32 national parks, and 57 quasi-national parks ((国定公園, Kokutei Kōen) - you can tell that the Japanese word for ‘park’ is ‘kōen’—as well as 314 prefectural parks.

As of April 2014 the land area is:
  • National Parks: 20,996 km² (5.6% of the land area of Japan);
  • Quasi-National Parks: 13,592 km² (3.6% of the land area of Japan);
  • Prefecture Parks: 19,726 km² (5.2% of the land area of Japan)
That’s 14.4% of Japan’s land taken up by parks - an impressive number.

However, these numbers are not necessarily correct (in Japan’s favor) as the 57th Quasi-National Park was added on March 25, 2016 in Kyoto with the Kyoto Tamba Kogen Quasi National Park, plus another (32nd) National Park on March 27, 2015 as the Myōkō-Togakushi Renzan National Park.

This is a primer for a little series on each of the National Parks… and Buddha help me, the other types of park, should I feel so inclined.

I was actually looking through the one and only stamp catalogue I purchased while in Japan, a 1994 Sakura postage stamp price guide (like the American Scott’s guide). Some of the headlines and descriptions are in both English and Japanese, but it is a 99% Japanese-language guide book.

Anyhow, I spotted multiple series of stamps devoted to the National and Quasi-National parks, and it got me curious. This is what people did before the Internet would lead one down a proverbial rabbit hole, right Alice?

First off… what the fug is the difference between a National and Quasi-National park?

Well… a National Park is so designated and managed by the Japan Ministry of the Environment.

Quasi-National Parks are considered to be less beautiful, smaller in size, diversity OR (not “and”) state of preservation, and are managed by their Prefecture (Province/State) under the supervision of the Japan Ministry of the Environment.

The first kōen (public park) in Japan was established in 1873 with: Asakusa Park, Asukayama Park, Fukugawa Park, Shiba Park, and Ueno Park.

Nikko’s shrines and forest were placed under protection in 1911, thanks to local citizens petitioning for it.

Japan’s National Parks Association was formed in 1929.

1931 saw the first National Parks Law passed, with the first truly official National Parks established in March of 1934 with Setonaikai, Unzen and Kirishima, with five more added later that year. By that time, Japan was also quite busy invading China, so nobody’s perfect.

In 1957. the Natural Parks Law was enacted to replace the National Parks Law, which now includes the National Parks, Quasi-National and Prefectural parks. 

As for what follows, hmm… what National park should we look at first? Nikkō… because it’s in my old stomping grounds of Tochigi-ken (Tochigi Prefecture), and while I visited the city of Nikkō some 25 times over the course of 36 months traveling 30 minutes by bicycle, then 45 minutes south to Utsunomiya, then 40 minutes northwest to Nikkō (and return)… and included in those visits maybe 10 trips to the actual Nikkō National Park (日光国立公園 Nikkō Kokuritsu Kōen).

I will admit right now, that I had no freaking idea that I was visiting a National Park. Maybe I knew, but it didn’t mean anything to me. I was just looking for Lake Chuzenji-ko or Kegon Falls or Ryuzu Falls. Yeah… Nikkō.

I am going to eventually cover all the National Parks

Andrew Joseph
PS: What have I gotten myself into, this time?

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