Shima Peninsula juts out into the Pacific Ocean from eastern Mie Prefecture and its surrounding area is a vast national park covering approximately 60,000 hectares (148,000 acers). The area which includes Ise City, Toba City, Shima City, and Minami-Ise Town was designated as a national park in 1946. The park can be roughly divided into two areas providing a wide variety of sites to see and things to do. The Ise/Toba area in the northern part of the park is more inland with a rich forest environment and is home to popular sites such as Ise Jingu Shrine and Toba Aquarium. The southern area of Shima and Minami Ise is a seaside area with an archipelago creating numerous inlets from the scenic ria coastline. It features many attractions such as Yokoyama Observatory, marine sports, and fishing spots making it an area that everyone can enjoy.
Ise Jingu Shire, aka Ise Grand Shrine, with its 2,000 years of history is considered by many Japanese as the most important shrine in Japan and is visited annually by the emperor of Japan. Among the many deities that appear in Japanese mythology, Amaterasu Omikami, the ancestor of the imperial family, is seen as the highest and most precious deity of the Japanese people and is enshrined at Ise Jingu Shrine giving it its highly revered status. The shrine occupies a vast area and is dominated by towering trees. The architecture of the main shrine is noticeably plain and simple, and although it is not very fancy when compared to Kinkakuji Temple or other buildings in Kyoto, it has a powerful and sacred atmosphere. It is also highly protected by the government, and entering the interior of the shrine itself is closed to the general public which is standard practice for shrines. In the hot summer months, it is very pleasant to walk around the grounds and admire the colony of giant 100-year-old trees. Also, admission and parking are free, so if you are going to Ise, be sure to visit this icon of Japan.
From this very sacred and spiritual place it is just a short drive to the coastal area where many wonders await. Ago Bay, with its 60 islets and many small peninsulas, is one of the most beautiful ria coastlines in Japan. The Yokoyama Observatory offers a panoramic view of the beautiful sea and greenery that characterize the Ise-Shima area.
Compared to other national parks, a higher percentage of the land is privately owned, which allows visitors to experience not only the enchanting beauty of nature, but also the relationship between the local people and their surroundings. Interacting with the local people is an attraction in and of itself as you learn about how they have lived in harmony with the natural environment and the unique practices of the ama divers (female free divers) and pearl cultivation.
Aso-Kuju National Park
The island of Kyushu, in western Japan, is worth visiting on any trip to Japan and Aso-Kuju National Park in one of the highlights. Located in central Kyushu and straddling the border of Kumamoto and Oita Prefectures, Aso-Kuju is a highland area with rolling grasslands, volcanic mountain peaks, marshlands, river gorges and Mt. Nakadake, an active volcano.
Aso refers to Mt. Aso which is in the southern part of the park. Mt. Aso is actually made up of five peaks with Mt. Nakadake being the most visited due to the smoking volcanic crater. In addition to Mt. Nakadake, there is the beautiful cone-shaped Komezuka mound, and the vast Kusasenri-ga-hama, a grassland filled crater with two ponds.
In the central part of the park, the Kuju mountain range is dotted with scenic volcanic spots where the smell of sulfur in the air creates an otherworldly atmosphere. Also, in this area are the vast grasslands of the Hisazumi and Iida Plateaus and Tadehara and Bogatsuru Marshes which are wetlands/intermediate moors that have a wide range of animal and plant life.
In the northern part of the park are Mt.Tsurumidake and Mt.Yufudake which are the source of the world-famous hot springs in Beppu and Yufuin. From these beautiful mountains you can enjoy panoramic views that reach to Beppu Bay, the Yufuin basin and the Kuju mountain range.
With all the variety that Aso-Kuju National Park has to offer, it is best enjoyed via private vehicle so you can leisurely enjoy the mountains of Aso, the vast grassland and the cows and horses grazing peacefully in them. Then at the end of the day, journey into Beppu or Yufuin and enjoy one of the amazing hot springs that are blessed with amazing water from the local mountains.
Nikko National Park
Nikko is a very popular first destination for many of our campervan clients. Reachable in only about 3 hours via the expressway, it is a great first stop as you embark upon your time in Japan. The park is rich in nature with majestic waterfalls, beautiful mountains, and scenic wetlands and cultural sites such as the World Heritage listed Nikko Toshogu Shrine. Nikko Toshogu is one of the three major Toshogu shrines and the headquarters of all Toshogu shrines in Japan. One of the most attractive features of this park is the magnificent fusion of historical buildings, including shrines and temples registered as World Heritage sites, and the surrounding natural scenery. The cultural sites are endless with many buildings designated as National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties offering a sense of traditional Japanese architectural techniques and culture. Additionally, Nikko is cherished for its good air, camping, hiking, and hot springs! Spring is lovely as the area transitions out of winter. Summer is excellent as it is cooler and Lake Chuzenji and the beautiful Kegon, Yudaki, and Kirifuri waterfalls are perfect for summer sightseeing. We also recommend hiking in the marshlands of Nikko and Nasu Highlands. In autumn, it attracts many people as a prime location for viewing the brilliant autumn leaves in Japan, and winter offers skiing and pristine winter landscapes. It truly is a four-season wonderland. For more on Nikko, be sure to visit our blog Tokyo Area Road Trip | Travellers Autobarn Japan (travellers-autobarn.co.jp)
No matter where you travel is Japan, our campervans are an excellent way to get around. As they are modified Toyota Hiaces, our campervans are designed to be driven in Japan providing you with convenience and peace of mind that will help make your time in Japan full of fond memories.
About the Author
I have been travelling by campervan to various areas all over Japan for more than 5 years. My goal is to visit all 47 prefectures in Japan! Just 12 more prefectures to go and I'll have accomplished it! I hope I can share some of information of wonderful places in Japan.