Exploring Setonaikai National Park: Japan’s Largest National Park With Over 1,000 Islands!

Within the Seto Inland Sea, the largest of its kind in Japan, lie the thousands of islands of Setonaikai National Park. Boasting an abundance of wonderful sights, including islands with terraced rice fields, the Naruto whirlpools, charming port towns overflowing with history, and the World Heritage Site of Itsukushima Shrine, the park offers something for everyone! In this article, we will introduce our recommended spots around Setonaikai National Park and ways to best enjoy them!

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All About Japan's National Parks - The Best of Japan's Nature!

An area can only be designated a Japanese national park if it meets very strict criteria of natural beauty, accessibility, and more. As such, national parks are considered the country’s top tourist destinations. Interestingly, although the Japanese government manages and protects these areas, they don’t necessarily own the land, and there are often numerous locals living within national park boundaries. This is very different from national parks in countries like the United States, where the federal government owns most of the land and is responsible for protecting its resources.

Japan's national parks are amazing destinations dedicated to the protection of nature and wildlife while allowing visitors to enjoy beautiful nature landscapes, hot springs, hiking, and other outdoor activities alongside the history and culture of the area. In this article, we will introduce Setonaikai National Park along with recommended spots around it and ways to properly enjoy them. We hope that this guide will help you plan the adventure of a lifetime!

Stretching Over 11 Prefectures, Setonaikai National Park Is the Biggest in Japan!

●Area: 66,934 ha (land only) / Annual visitors: approx. 42.92 million

Setonaikai, Unzen, and Kirishima were the first national parks in Japan, designated as such in 1934. Consisting of a large coastal area overlooking vast stretches of the sea dotted with islands, Setonaikai National Park covers 11 different prefectures: Osaka, Hyogo, Wakayama, Okayama, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Tokushima, Kagawa, Ehime, Fukuoka, and Oita. Counting both its land and sea area, it’s Japan’s largest national park.

The park’s most distinctive feature is its inland seascape, which is comprised of roughly 1,000 islands of all shapes and sizes. Additionally, the Seto Inland Sea region has long been a flourishing cultural center where people coexist with nature, and where you can enjoy incredible scenes of island rice terraces, old port towns, and streetscapes bursting with historical charm.

Recommended Spots Within Setonaikai National Park

The Kanmon Straits (Kitakyushu, Fukuoka/Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi)

The Kanmon Straits separate the Japanese mainland of Honshu with the island of Kyushu. On clear days, the lookout points at Hinoyama Park, Mimosusogawa Park, and Mekari Park offer expansive, panoramic views of the straits. Kanmon Bridge, which crosses the Kanmon Straits, is illuminated at night, creating beautiful nightscapes that anyone can enjoy. The illumination time may change depending on the season or other factors, so please confirm it in advance.

[World Heritage Site] Miyajima‘s Itsukushima Shrine and Mount Misen (Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima)

The Hiroshima side of Setonaikai National Park includes the World Heritage Site of Miyajima’s Itsukushima Shrine and Mount Misen. The great vermilion torii (shrine gate) standing in the Seto Inland Sea and the rows of the shrine’s wooden buildings are an absolute wonder to behold, and are now rightfully recognized as one of Japan’s leading tourist attractions. Since long ago, the island of Miyajima itself and Mount Misen have been objects of worship, with the latter being a popular hiking spot today due to its primeval forests untouched by the hand of man.

*The torii gate is currently under restoration work (as of August 2021).

Mt. Washu (Kurashiki, Okayama)

Mt. Washu resembles an eagle spreading its wings, hence its name in Japanese (鷲 = eagle, 羽 = wings). The island-dotted seascape seen from this landmark is one of Setonaikai National Park’s most iconic views. The 133-meter-tall Washu summit, known as “Shoshuho,” offers amazing views of up to 50 islands of all shapes and sizes, along with the Great Seto Bridge. The best time to enjoy these sights is during the evening.

Karani Islands (Tatsuno, Hyogo)

The uninhabited Karani Islands sit in the southwestern region of Hyogo Prefecture. The name actually refers to three small islands off the coast of Murotsu, which thrived during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868) as a post town. During spring tide season when the waters recede, two of the islands become connected by land, allowing people to walk between them. The sunset scenery is utterly breathtaking, and the islands offer a range of fun sightseeing opportunities, making them a popular tourist spot.

Oshima’s Mt. Karei and Shimanami Kaido (Imabari, Ehime)

From the observation deck atop the 232-meter-tall Mt. Karei, you can admire sprawling seascapes dotted with islands, including Hakata Island, Omishima Island, and Noshima Island, which was once the base of the famous Murakami pirate navy. In the surrounding area, you’ll also find campsites, walking paths, and more. It’s the perfect place to relax while cycling the Shimanami Kaido trail.

Mt. Sekizen (Kamijima, Ehime)

On the summit of Mt. Sekizen in the center of Iwagi Island, there is a viewing platform offering 360° panoramic views of the area, which are as breathtaking during the day as in the evening. During spring, the mountain is dyed pink by roughly 3,000 blooming cherry trees, turning it into one of Japan’s leading cherry blossom spots. Nowhere else can you admire a beautiful pink cherry mountain ridge together with a spectacular island-filled seascape.

Naruto Whirlpools (Naruto, Tokushima)

For many Japanese people, the Seto Inland Sea is all about the Naruto Whirlpools of Tokushima Prefecture. These treacherous, whirling tides are formed by the area’s unique topography, which consists of deep trenches, shallow shoals, and clashing fast currents from the Harima Sea and Kii Channel. During both low and high tides, numerous whirlpools can be seen across the water, with the large tides of spring and autumn bringing about monstrous vortexes with diameters of up to 20 m, often claimed to be the biggest in the world.

Kankakei Gorge (Shodo Island, Kagawa)

Shodo Island, located in the center of Setonaikai National Park, offers unparalleled views of the Seto Inland Sea from the island’s central Kankakei Ropeway. You can also hike from here to Shodo Island’s tallest peak of Mt. Hoshigajo on the Mt. Hoshigajo trail, which takes approximately 1.5 hours one way. If you’re lucky, you can even come across rare animals and plant life as you relish the unspoiled beauty of this remarkable paradise. There are many ways to enjoy the area depending on how much time you have or your stamina, like ascending via the ropeway and hiking back down.

Goshikidai (Takamatsu/Sakaide, Kagawa)

The vast mountainous terrain spanning the cities of Takamatsu and Sakaide in Kagawa Prefecture is collectively known as “Goshikidai.” The “goshiki” means “five colors”, which refers to the five peaks of Konomine (Crimson Peak), Kinomine (Yellow Peak), Kuromine (Black Peak), Aomine (Blue Peak), and Shiramine (White Peak). At the Goshikidai Visitor Center, you’ll find an adjoining “Nature Experience House,” while the nearby Kyukamura Sanuki-Goshikidai center houses sports facilities and a caravan site. Needless to say, you can easily fritter away the day here without ever getting bored! Stay until evening to witness the jaw-dropping sunset over the Bisan Seto sea and recharge your batteries after a day of fun and excitement.

Facilities Inside Setonaikai National Park

Hyogo Prefecture: Mt. Rokko Visitor Center / Mt. Rokko Guide House

At the Hyogo Prefectural Mt. Rokko Visitor Center, travelers can learn about the history of Mt. Rokko along with the local plant and animal life through a series of videos and panels. The center also offers plenty of space for relaxation, as well as beautiful panoramas of the Kobe cityscape and Kobe Airport from the observation deck.

You’ll find information boards introducing the main hiking courses on Mt. Rokko at the Mt. Rokko Guide House, along with videos and photo exhibitions showcasing the region. And during weekends and national holidays, the volunteer mountain guides hold nature watching events (subject to change due to weather and other factors; please confirm the event schedule in advance).

Hyogo Prefecture: Uzu Hill Park - Onaruto Bridge Museum

Besides learning about the whirling tides of the Naruto Strait at the Uzushio Science Museum, you can also experience the delicious bounties of the region by chowing down on gourmet Awaji Island burgers at Awajishima Onion Kitchen Uzu Hill Park, checking out products made from local ingredients like onion and seafood at Shop Uzu Hill Aji Ichiba, or by enjoying a delightful meal with a view at Tenbo Restaurant Uzu Hill. Another highlight is the 360° view you get from the 3rd floor viewing platform, which allows one to truly appreciate the boundless beauty of Awaji Island. From the sights to the great food and entertainment, there's something for everyone here!

Okayama Prefecture: Mt. Washu Visitor Center

This facility allows travelers a chance to learn more about the enchanting Mt. Washu area, including its nature, history, or famous points of interest like the Great Seto Bridge. Exhibits include a full-sized model of the bridge’s main cable, stone tools that were used in the area 20,000 years ago, and specimens and information panels showcasing the local animal and plant life. From the viewing terrace, visitors can also fully enjoy the majestic scenery of Mt. Washu.

Kagawa Prefecture: Goshikidai Visitor Center

This facility allows visitors to see, hear, and touch the nature of Goshikidai. Regular visual exhibitions include panoramic dioramas of Goshikidai and samples of Sanukitoid rocks, which produce a beautiful tone when hit against something hard. You may also enjoy photos of rare wild animals along with special exhibitions about the region. In addition, there are nature spotting tours and crafting experiences using local natural resources allowing anyone to enjoy the wonders of nature. Just make sure to confirm their schedules in advance!

Hiroshima Prefecture: Okunoshima Visitor Center

This facility seeks to provide information about the natural environment and history of Setonaikai National Park, focusing on the island of Okunoshima. It uses environmentally friendly energy solutions, such as solar power, cool tubes, and greywater purification tanks, while also allowing visitors to interact with and learn about them firsthand. Furthermore, the theme of the exhibitions regularly changes, with special exhibitions about the local environment, animal and plant life, and more, being showcased regularly.

Setonaikai National Park is Japan’s largest national park and it’s jam-packed with sightseeing spots, hiking and nature-watching opportunities, ways to explore Japanese history, activities, and more. There are so many ways to have fun here! We hope that you will use this guide to plan a relaxing adventure amongst some of Japan’s most pristine natural wonders while learning all about what makes Setonaikai National Park special!

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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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