Charms of Japan’s Natural Beauty Must Be Conveyed to The World

The Japanese archipelago is home to a number of national parks rich in nature, but it is hard to say that they are being utilized enough as tourism resources. Efforts are needed to promote their charms both domestically and internationally.

There are 34 designated national parks in Japan, from Hokkaido to Okinawa. In these parks, the beauty of nature remains, making them assets that Japan should be proud to show the world.

In 2016, the government decided on a policy to promote the use of national parks for tourism. The number of foreign tourists to Japan to visit national parks had increased to 6.67 million in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic but has since declined significantly due to the spread of the novel coronavirus infection.

To make use of national parks as tourism resources, the Environment Ministry will start a project to attract high-quality hotels to open in the parks. The goal is to elevate the national parks to a global brand. The ministry said it plans to select one or two example areas by next spring.

Many national parks in Western nations offer a variety of nature experience programs while visitors stay at luxury hotels in the vast wilderness. There is a growing trend among wealthy people to seek experiences that are unique to a particular area, rather than just visiting standard sightseeing spots.

At a resort hotel in Towada-Hachimantai National Park in Aomori Prefecture, a guided tour to explore a canyon where moss naturally grows is said to be very popular. Ingenuity will be required, but it might be possible to create new demand beyond skiing and hiking.

The circumstances of lodging facilities in national parks have changed over time. After World War II, as tourism became popular, public-run Kokumin Shukusha lodging facilities and Kyukamura resort hotels were established. In the 1990s as the number of package tours declined, business deteriorated at a succession of large-scale facilities.

In recent years, abandoned tourist hotels and inns have spoiled the landscape and become a problem in many areas. On the other hand, relatively small foreign-affiliated luxury hotels have been expanding into the countryside and succeeding in attracting guests from around the world.

In response to the changing times, administration-led initiatives to encourage the establishment of value-added hotels would be effective in the sense that it would make up for elements that have been lacking in national parks up to now. In cooperation with local communities, ideas from the private sector must be made use of to develop entire regions that host national parks.

While utilizing national parks, the original purpose of protecting nature must not be forgotten. Accommodation facilities should be designed with consideration to ensure that they do not cause environmental degradation. A mechanism must also be considered for a portion of the profits from such efforts to be used for nature conservation.

Lodging facilities should be designed so that tourists from Japan and abroad can gain greater awareness of environmental conservation through their stay.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 3, 2023)