Islands, Mountains, and Sea: The National Parks of Chūgoku and Shikoku
1. Daisen-Oki National Park (Tottori, Shimane, and Okayama Prefectures)
The area around 1,729-meter Mount Daisen was designated a national park in 1936. In 1963, the park was expanded to include Mount Hiruzen, on the border with Okayama Prefecture, and Shimane Prefecture’s Okinoshima, the Shimane Peninsula, and Mount Sanbe, forming Daisen-Oki National Park. It was later further enlarged to add Mount Kenashi and Mount Hōbutsu, in the Daisen-Hiruzen region, and Mount Mitoku and its surroundings. Its attractions include splendid peaks, diverse vegetation, the rugged Sea of Japan coastline, and historic shrines and temples.
In contrast to its craggy northern and southern faces, the graceful silhouette of Mount Daisen viewed from the city of Yonago to the west has earned it the name “Hōki Fuji” after Japan’s most famous peak. Forests of Japanese beech rise midway up its flanks, with colonies of Daisen kyaraboku (Japanese yew), an evergreen shrub designated a natural monument, growing above the elevation of 1,300 meters.
Along with Mount Daisen, the neighboring pinnacles Mount Senjō and Mount Mitoku are traditionally known as the “three peaks of Hōki” (the old name for the province) and are where shugendō ascetic mountain worship has long been practiced. On Mount Mitoku, the Nageiredō Hall, a national treasure, at Buddhist temple Sanbutsuji is especially well known.
To the east of Mount Daisen, the trio of volcanic peaks that comprise Mount Hiruzen are Kami-Hiruzen (1,202 meters), Naka-Hiruzen (1,125 meters), and Shimo-Hiruzen (1,100 meters). Jersey cattle graze peacefully on the Hiruzen Highlands, 500 to 600 meters above sea level, a popular destination for visitors throughout the year.
The slopes of Mount Kenashi and Mount Sanbe are home to beech forests. The view from Mount Kenashi takes in Mount Daisen and the Hiruzen peaks and stretches all the way to Yumigahama, a picturesque beach on the Sea of Japan. Mount Kenashi’s forests of beech and huge cedars are popular with forest-bathing enthusiasts, and higher up the mountain, colonies of katakuri (dogtooth violets) are in full bloom in early May.
On the north shore of the Shimane Peninsula, the park extends from Hinomisaki at the western tip east to include the area from the Kaka-no-kukedo marine caves to Jizōmisaki. It is home to many Shintō shrines, including Izumo Taisha Shrine, associated with myths connected to the creation of Japan and located in the city of Izumo in the west, and Miho Shrine in Matsue in the east. Scenic spots abound, including the rugged shores of the Sea of Japan and the Hinomisaki lighthouse.
The Okinoshima area consists of over 180 islands of differing sizes stretching north of the Shimane Peninsula. They are divided into two groups: Dōzen to the southwest and Dōgo to the northeast. Natural attractions include the Jōdogaura beach, the Shirashima and Kuniga coasts, and Rōsokujima. The islands are renowned for their flowers, particularly the Oki rhododendron. Mount Daimanji, towering 608 meters over the sea, is famous for its old-growth cedars.
(Date of designation: February 1, 1936. Area: 35,353 ha.)
2. Ashizuri-Uwakai National Park (Ehime and Kōchi Prefectures)
The park covers the area from Kōchi Prefecture’s Cape Ashizuri, the southernmost point of Shikoku at the southwestern end of the island, to the coastal areas of the Uwakai Sea in Ehime Prefecture. It was created in 1972 by amalgamating the existing Ashizuri Quasi-National Park, established in 1955, with the marine park zones and other coastal areas of the Uwakai Sea. Inland areas include Ehime’s Nametoko Gorge and Mount Sasa.
The eastern part of Cape Ashizuri consists of deeply ridged coastline, with 80-meter-tall cliffs a distinguishing feature of the area. Blessed by the warm Kuroshio current, it is rich in sub-tropical vegetation like Chinese fan palm, ubame oak, and camellias. The sea is filled with beautiful coral reefs and colorful tropical fish.
Fifteen kilometers west of Cape Ashizuri, Tatsugushi is a scenic area with interesting rock formations whose raised ridges resemble bamboo. This area is also designated a marine park, and visitors can ride glass-bottomed boats running between Chihiromisaki and Minokoshi for a look at the Cape’s rock formations and the wonders of the underwater world.
To the west, the coast consists of headlands, cliffs, and rocky shoals. On the southern coastline at Ōdō, granite cliffs over 100 meters tall are an impressive sight. In addition to the 30-meter sea stack Kannon-iwa, many other notable sights can be observed from lookouts in the area.
At the tip of the Ōtsuki Peninsula lies Kashiwajima, and five kilometers further offshore to the southwest, Okinoshima. These islands are popular among outdoor types who enjoy diving or fishing.
The Uwakai Sea offers a varied panorama of deeply-ridged coastline and islands large and small. The clear waters are home to extensive colonies of soft coral. Beauty abounds in the waters around Kashima, home to wild deer and macaques, where visitors can enjoy snorkeling and other underwater excursions.
Inland, the park’s sights include 1,065-meter Mount Sasa and the Nametoko Gorge up the Shimanto River. Mount Sasa is a sacred spot with Sasayama Shrine near the summit. In spring, climbers flock to the mountain to view Shikoku rhododendron in full bloom. At Nametoko, the waterfalls and the clear waters flowing over massive granite slabs eroded silky-smooth present a unique sight.
(Date of designation: November 10, 1972. Area: 11,345 ha.)
3. Setonaikai National Park (Okayama, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Kagawa, Tokushima, and Ehime Prefectures)
Setonaikai National Park, Japan’s largest, initially encompassed only Hiroshima, Okayama, and Kagawa Prefectures. It was later expanded to include 11 prefectures bordering the Inland Sea, stretching from Osaka and Wakayama Prefectures in the east to Ōita and Fukuoka in the west. Including the sea portion, the park covers an area of 900,000 hectares.
In the Chūgoku region, the Hinase Islands and the pinnacles of Ushimado, Kinkōzan, Ōjigatake, and Mount Washū in Okayama Prefecture are popular with visitors. In Hiroshima Prefecture, choice sites include Tomonoura, Mount Noro, Mount Yasumi, and Miyajima. Farther west, Yamaguchi Prefecture’s Suō-ōshima and the Kanmon Strait beckon.
Portions of the park on Shikoku include the Naruto Strait in Tokushima Prefecture and Shōdoshima, the Naoshima Islands, Yashima, and the Goshikidai Plateau in Kagawa Prefecture. Further to the west, Ehime Prefecture’s Cape Sada and the Hōyo Strait are among the many sights in the area. The Shimanami Kaidō linking Hiroshima Prefecture’s Onomichi and Imabari in Ehime Prefecture is also an appealing attraction.
(Date of designation: March 16, 1934. Area: 66,934 ha.)
(Originally published in Japanese. Banner photo: Autumn foliage and Mount Daisen. Courtesy Tottori Prefecture.)