The concept of a national park first evolved in the United States where Yellowstone was made the first national in 1872. Taking the American National Park System as a model, the concept quickly spread throughout the world. The first three national parks to be designated in Japan were, Setonaikai, Unzen, and Kirishima on 19 March 1936. After the Second World War, additional national parks were created, Amamigunto was the latest-the 34th Japanese National Park.
The current Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park first came into existence on 1st February 1936, formerly called by the name of Fuji Hakone National Park, achieving the same recognition as Towada and Daisen National Parks. Subsequently, it became ‘’Fuji-Hakone-Izu-National Park’’ after a segment of the Izu Peninsula had been incorporated into an existing national park in 1955. At a later date in 1964, the Izu Islands were added, thereby consolidating their existing quasi-national park status.
The park ranges over 121,749 hectares, extending to the four prefectures of Kanagawa, Shizuoka, Yamanashi, and Tokyo, bordering on four distinctive districts of Hakone (11,166 ha), Fuji (60,645 ha), the Izu Peninsula (22,439 ha), and the Izu Islands (27,499 ha).
Fuji-Izu National Park receives the greatest number of visitors of any of the 34 Japanese national parks, seeing more than 124.26 million people in 2015. Hakone district, with its seasonal attraction, draws visitors throughout the year. In 2017, the Hakone area was visited by some 21.52 million people.
In fact, Hakone has a long history of a multitude of flocking tourists constantly arriving from both eastern and western Japan. Hakone has numerous sites of historic interest. An example is an Edo-period checkpoint called sekisho, found along the Old Tokaido Way, once one of the major highways. There are so many attractions offered to the visitor. Hakone has long been acknowledged for its many hot springs, e.g., “the Seven Springs of Hakone’’ known as Hakone no Nanayu.
The area, with its richly diverse landscape, welcomes many visitors especially as it is quite near to the capital city, Tokyo. With its ready accessibility, Hakone offers a variety of activities, including outdoor pursuits, hiking, nature exploration, and outdoor sports. As Hakone is situated at a high altitude, it is ideal for escaping from the heat of summer. Moreover, hot spring bathing, taking a drive around, and sightseeing are just a few of the many attractions, all available with excellent facilities.
Along with tourist attractions, Hakone with its varied natural surroundings, has many other unique features. A classic example of the area is its composite volcano. The mountain peaks on the outer ring of the somma volcanoes of Mt. Kintoki (1,212 m) and Mt. Myojingatake were formed by volcanic activity between 400,00 to 230,00 years ago. Mt.Kamiyama (1,438m) and Mt. Komagatake (1,356m) began to evolve from around some 40,000 years ago, thus forming part of the central cone.
Other features include Lake Ashinoko. It was formed by an accumulation of landslides, in consequence of a phreatic explosion on the northeastern slope of Mt.Kamiyama situated near present-day Owakudani some 3,000 years ago. The caldera crater floor of Sengokuhara, the eruption of Owakudani to the many hot springs are all instances of volcanic activity in the general area. The complex topography of this composite volcano was problematic for those travelers who were attempting to pass through. It, therefore, acquired a reputation for being “the most treacherous route in the realm” (tenka no ken). However, the development of railways, road improvements, and other innovations—ropeways, for instance, enabling travelers to pass through Hakone easily and making it possible to reach the varied tourist spots.
Mt.Kamiyama is home to many natural strands of beech (Fagus), tall Stewartia (Stewartia monadelpha), and Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa). Through each season of the year, Hakone sports abundant life. The slopes of mountains are colorful with fresh new buds and blossoms of Fuji cherry (Prunus incisa) in spring, this is not to mention the Kousa dogwood of early summer and the illumination provided by autumn foliage.
Indigenous to Hakone is a multitude of flora and fauna and its wildlife, for instance, the “Hakone sansho-uo” (the clawed salamander; Onychodactylus japonicus), the “Hakoneashinagakogane ” (a type of scarabaeid beetle; Hoplia (Hoplia) hakonensis Sawada); Onychodactylus japonicus), the “Hakonehosohanakamikiri “ (the flower longhorn beetle; Idiostrangalia hakonensis).
As for flora, one can see the “Hakonekometsutsuji” (a species of rhododendron; Tsusiophyllum tanakae), and the “Hakoneran “ (a species of orchid; Ephippianthus sawadanus), to name but a few. And regarding wildlife, some of these creatures attracted the attention for research by naturalists from overseas in the Edo period, notably Carl Peter Thunberg(1743–1828) and Engelbert Kaempfer(1651–1716).
In this context, one should also refer to bird watching, for the natural environment of Hakone is most suitable. The Japanese thrush (Turdus cardis), the Japanese bush warbler (Horornis diphone), the great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major), the grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea), and Japanese tit (Parus minor) can all be encountered in Hakone from spring to summer. In the months of autumn and winter, there are so many other species of wild birds to be seen. On Lake Ashinoko, there are waterfowl, including mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos), Eurasian wigeons (Anas Penelope Linnaeus), tufted ducks (Aythya Fuligula), and Eastern spot-billed ducks (Anas zonorhyncha) , not to mention many other species of wild birds.
The national parks of Japan for management purposes are divided into “Special Zones” and “Ordinary Zones.” This is in line with their inherent landscapes and qualities. Further subdivision in the Special Zones may be indicated: the Special Protection Zones, and class 1, 11, and 111 special zones that relate to their respective significance. At the heart of a Japanese National Park is the Special Protection Zone. Above and beyond this, there are those areas possessing outstanding landscapes of natural beauty in pristine condition, even by the standard of the remainder of the park. Visitor activities should conform to strict regulations. Removing but a single rock or stone as a souvenir is forbidden. Compared to the Special Zones with their formalized approach to the management, the ordinary zones have a distinctly relaxed atmosphere. However, those persons seeking to change or develop new facilities in any way require suitable planning permission.
Hakone District has each area designated into six different zones. The Special Protection Zones are Mt.Kamiyama (1,438m) and the surrounding area of Mt. Futago (1,099) and Mt.Kintoki (1,212m) together with the Sengokuhara marsh and existing miscanthus, the vicinity of Mt.Yusaka, and the source of the Sukumo River.
Though the Hakone area has been appointed as a national park, it also incorporates considerable touristic assets. Its popular appeal is strengthened in the imagination of visitors, rather than being looked upon as a mere national park. Owakudani with its picturesque scenery, Lake Ashinoko with its pleasure boats, Hakone dotted throughout with museums and art galleries, and numerous places of accommodation to choose from, all of which contribute to its marked popularity. However, this is not to say that Hakone is lacking in natural scenery, indeed as already stated, its natural abundance is manifold. And one should not fail to mention the evident enthusiasm of those who contribute to conservation.
Tree planting and the preservation of scenic sites in the Special Protection Zone, the quality of clean water in Lake Ashinoko, together with the harmonious blending of local woodlands as a natural wildlife habitat, mark activities of conservation now proceeding.
The harmonious and thoughtful relationship of human beings with nature indicates the underlying uniqueness of Hakone national park. It is often considered as a “national park with local character,” which is a rarity to be seen.
In conclusion, the essential characteristic of Hakone would be a “landscape woven out of nature and culture.” Why indeed? Simply, because it forms a magnificent blending of landscapes, each of which is woven out of its own cultural identity and natural heritage. The local residents and businessmen have a deep understanding and appreciation of Hakone’s uniqueness realized by its intrinsic nature. They are in full sympathy as to its status and necessary regulations.
The Ministry of the Environment has advanced a policy of landscape development that combines the infrastructure of tourism, with effective promotion of the rich gifts of nature in a manner not exploitive.