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Friday, September 23, 2016

Japan's National Parks: Jōshin'etsu-kōgen National Park

From the tropical islands that make up the Ogasawara National Park (see HERE), to the swampy bogs of Oze National Park (HERE), the splendor of the temples and shrines of Nikkō National Park (HERE), and the almost believable existence of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park (HERE), we go now to the mountainous grandeur of the Jōshin'etsu-kōgen National Park (上信越高原国立公園 Jōshin'etsu-kōgen Kokuritsu Kōen).

All of these parks mentioned above are located in the Kanto area of Japan, with the Jōshin'etsu-kōgen National Park situated around the active and dormant volcanoes in the mountainous part of Gunma-ken, Nagano-ken and Niigata-ken, with the name of the park derived from the two mountain ranges that physically make up the park.

Jōshin'etsu represents the old names of the prefectures (provinces/states) in the area:
  • Kōzuke-ken (上野国) in present-day Gunma-ken;
  • Shinano-ken (信濃国) in present-day Nagano-ken;
  • Echigo-ken (越後国) in present-day Niigata-ken;
  • Kōgen, means plateau, or mesa.
Established in 1949, and expanded in 1956 to include the mountainous Myōkō-Togakushi area, Jōshin'etsu-kōgen National Park covers an expansive area of 1,890.62 square kilometers (729.97 square miles).

What is there to see at Jōshin'etsu-kōgen National Park? Well, assuming you like hiking, there are plenty of mountainous areas to explore. Hiking not your bag? Try mountain climbing… or skiing… or to rest those weary muscles, lots of onsen (hot springs) to settle into.

Mountains to see include:

Southern Niigata/North Nagano Area (新潟南西部・長野北部, Niigata Nanseibu, Nagano Hokubu area:
  • Mount Myōkō (妙高山, Myōkō-san, at 2,454 meters (8,051 feet) high, the active volcano is one of the 100 Famous Japanese Mountains;
  • Mount Kurohime is 2,053 meters (6,736 feet) high;
  • Mount Iizuna (飯縄山, Iizuna-yama) is 1,917 meters (6,289 feet) high, and legend has it that there is a strange edible sand somewhere there that the tengu would give to the hungry people during times of poor harvest. It was also the site for the 1998 Winter Olympics’ bobsled and luge track events;
  • Mount Togakushi is 1,911 meters (6,270 feet) high. At the base, ther's the Togakushi Shrine (戸隠神社, Togakushi Jinja) shinto shrine—a melange of five shrines located about two kilometers apart for each other.
Mount Myōkō from the northeast - in the winter, obviously.
 Southwest Mikuni Mountain Range Area (三国山脈南西部 Mikuni Sanmyaku Nanseibu area:
  • Mount Tanigawa (谷川岳, Tanigawa-dake) is 1,963 meters (6,440 feet) high, and it is part of the 100 Famous Mountains of Japan, and has had 805 people die upon it since the 1930s. For reference’s sake, just over 200 people have died while climbing Mt. Everest since then);
  • Mount Kusatsu-Shirane (草津白根山, Kusatsu Shirane-san) is a 2160-meter (7,093-feet) high active volcano featuring a series of overlapping volcanic cones with three crater lakes, the largest—Yu-gama—is an acidic, tourquoise-colored lake with yellow sulphur floating on it. It is beautiful, despite its grossness. That's a photo of it at the very top of this blog;
  • Mount Asama (浅間山, Asama-yama) is an active complex volcano, and the most active volcano in the Honshu area. It is 2,550 meters (8,3705 feet) high, and last had a big eruption (Auto Correct changed it to “erection”) in February of 2009, but continues to have small eruptions and shakes even now. It is one of the 100 Famous Japanese Mountains.   
The triple cone threat of Mount Kusatsu-Shirane.
 While I am sure I would enjoy visiting the Jōshin'etsu-kōgen National Park for a chance to find and eat some mythical edible sand and capture a tengu, I would settle for a chance to view that acidic Yu-gama lake up on Mount Kusatsu-Shirane.

Jōshin'etsu-kōgen National Park is rife with active volcanoes, and having climbed a much smaller one near my hometown, even ignoring the fact that it was a tiring climb—I was in shape then and ready to impress my girlfriend who had obviously invoked the spirit of a mountain goat for that trip—the hot venting steam, the quick weather changes from warm sunshine to blinding, dense fog in minutes is both worrisome and cool.

Jōshin'etsu-kōgen National Park sounds like a thrill-seeker's Japanese paradise.

FYI, you may have noticed that sometimes these mountains are called 'yama' (山 in Japanese), and other times 'san'. Yama is indeed the Japanese term for 'mountain', but the special mountains are provided with an honorific of 'san'...

While the Japanese do indeed add 'san' to names implying an honorific of Mister or Mrs., in this case it can be traced back to 山... which in Chinese, is pronounced "san".

Confused? All of those damn mountains have the kanji symbol of 山, except when they have the original Chinese symbol (from which kanji was borrowed/stolen from) of 山. San in Japanese, Yama in the Chinese language. I am unsure WHICH Chinese language, however.
I don't know about any edible sand on Mount Iizuna, but that is the second-largest swan I have ever seen swimming upon
Lake Daizahoushi.
Andrew Joseph

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