Exploring the Daisen-Oki National Park
In 2019, I traveled to the Sanin area of Japan to film a TV show with NHK WORLD about the Daisen-Oki National Park – "One with Nature, National Parks of Japan". Almost exactly one year later, I was back in the Daisen Oki National Park. This is an area of Japan I really love and this time I was sharing the experience with YouTuber John Daub from Only in Japan.
During my previous visit I had been fortunate to see so much, in so little time. This trip, I was able to retrace my footsteps and explore a little more. For this adventure, we didn’t plan to summit Mount Daisen so we had time to explore the streets at the base of Mount Daisen more thoroughly. Many of the streets and shops here have a long and interesting history. They also offer amazing street foods that we wanted to indulge in! This is a beautiful reminder of how many towns, shrines and man-made elements are often inside the national parks in Japan and are a big part of the attraction!
All of the foods we ate as we strolled along were very affordable and very delicious. As I told John in the video, Daisen has some of the cleanest water in all of Japan, and therefore has delicious fresh produce like apples, so I had to get us some. We were excited to eat the dango from a local vendor, but they were sold out by the time we arrived, so instead we opted for Gelato! We of course had to try a unique flavor that we had never tried before - charcoal gelato! We originally thought it was wood charcoal, but later found out it was bamboo! This gives the gelato a dark black colour you don’t often see with ice cream, but it still tastes mostly like vanilla! It was so delicious and easy to eat. John had purchased kurimanju, basically a pancake stuffed with chestnut paste, before we met up and was nice enough to share one with me. I even dipped my kurimanju into the charcoal gelato for a unique and delicious bite! I also shared a bit of Japanese culture in regard to food consumption. Did you know that you are not supposed to walk and eat in Japan? It is like an unwritten law. If you have food or drink, you are meant to be stationary while you consume it. Even when you buy drinks from a vending machine, what you’re supposed to do is buy it, drink it, and recycle it all at the same station. Although many people, including myself, break that rule because I want the drink for later. John and I think the only time it’s ok to break that rule is when you’re at a festival because you’ll see lots of people walking and eating.
In Japan, 'Kouyou' or 'autumn leaves', is a special time of the year. A lot of Japanese will travel to nature at this time and it’s also when the many travelers make their way to Daisen. The cool weather and exciting colors attract lots and lots of visitors. Expect full hotels and full restaurants during this peak season. The mountain and the surrounding area look almost like a painting at this time of year. As we toured around, I was able to share my experience from the year prior where I was able to explore and summit Mount Daisen. I shared with John a story about the conservation effort of those summiting Mount Daisen. It is so easy to get involved in helping to maintain the health of the mountaintop. Each hiker is asked to bring one stone of their choosing (can be big or small) to the top of the mountain and place it to help restore the stones that erode from the number of visitors the mountain receives each year. This conservation effort paired with other protective measures has brought the top of the mountain back to a healthy state. We did not hike Daisen today, we instead took a more leisurely approach, resting on a grassy area under the view of the mountain and enjoyed some local Daisen drinkable yogurt and a Daisen-ji beer (for the non-driver). It was the perfect place to enjoy our snacks and close out our first day in Daisen Oki National Park. The next day we would be visiting Mihonoseki, a small fishing town nearby.
Mihonoseki is still part of Daisen Oki National Park and according to Japanese mythology, Ebi-su, the deity of the sea, was from here. This small fishing village is very quaint and quiet offering another beautiful view of Mount Daisen.
We started our day by walking to the Miho Shrine and experiencing the morning ritual. Miho Shrine is especially impressive as you walk in, no matter if you have visited there before or not. Miho shrine is one of the few shrines in Japan that still continues this daily ritual, so you have to take advantage of the rare chance to experience it. Each chant and each part of the ritual is a mixture of gratitude to the gods for another day and wishing for happiness for everyone. After experiencing the chanting, drums, and beautiful dancing we headed back into the town and down a nearby cobblestone street.
We enjoyed the magic of the small street that looks like a picture from a history book as we made our way to Mihokan, a famous ryokan or guesthouse in Mihonoseki. Entering the Mihokan was quite the experience. The front desk is all the way from the Meiji period so that makes it about 120 years old. There are plenty of artifacts in the Mihokan and it is almost a blend of a museum and guesthouse in one. It is conveniently located near the ichiba, fish market, and they will actually cook the fish from the morning market for you for dinner. How cool is it, that you can pick out the fish you want, buy it freshly caught and have it cooked to perfection for your dinner at your guesthouse? Just down the street from the ryokan, there’s an old sake shop that sells Miho’s original sake and just a little further down from that there’s an old shoyu or soy sauce shop. They have been making soy sauce there since the Edo period! This town is a rare glimpse of what Japan once looked like and even felt like.
For our final adventure, I drove us to the nearby Miho lighthouse. This lighthouse was built in 1898 and is one of the ‘Top 100 Historical Lighthouses’ in the world! Designed by a French architect, the lighthouse has a strong Western influence which is visually noticeable. These days the other crazy thing is that you are actually able to eat in a restaurant connected to the lighthouse. John tells me it’s very good food too!
From the lighthouse since it was a clear, beautiful day we could see the Oki Islands. I took this opportunity to share not only about my adventure with "One with Nature, National Parks of Japan", but also about when I kayaked to the Oki Islands as part of the series I made called ‘runAway Japan’. It was crazy to think that I had kayaked almost 9 hours to make it that far! Don’t do what I did though! I recommend the 2-hour ferry as the safer and better option when visiting the Oki Islands, and it’s well worth the trip! From a path close to the lighthouse, we were offered the perfect view to end our adventure in Daisen Oki National Park, with an incredible view of Mount Daisen over Miho Bay. Picture perfect.