Hidden in the mountains that border the four prefectures of Gunma, Fukushima, Tochigi, and Niigata sits the Oze National Park, a rare highland marsh and grassland that has remained untouched to development.
Created by lava flow from a nearby volcano, the wetland area is home to abundant natural life and wide-open spaces that are unimaginable so close to Tokyo.
Oze is a sight to behold year-round, with lush plant life from late Spring through summer, and incredible autumn colours in the fall. Winter months bring deep snow, and limited access, so we don’t suggest planning to visit outside of the official opening times. You’ll find Japanese skunk cabbage called mizubaso with their beautiful flowers in the spring, and yellow alpine lillies in the summer.
While it can be enjoyed as an ambitious day trip from Tokyo, we suggest taking it a bit slower and staying at one of the mountain huts to divide your day. The oldest hut, Chozo Goya, was built in 1890 on Oze Pond, and the scenery hasn’t changed much since then. We definitely recommend staying at least one night in Oze unless you already happen to be in the area. Otherwise, the transport time from Tokyo (3~4 hours) will make your trip too rushed to enjoy.
Our trip was in the autumn when the leaves were peaking. We divided our hike into two parts, walking through the marshlands for an afternoon and then stopping at the Miharashi area to relax, have dinner, and stay at the Ozegoya mountain hut.
Hiking the area is almost too easy, as much of the walk is completely flat and moves across the more than 400 shallow pools that form the marshlands. However, more challenging hikes are available for those interested.
Keep in mind that staying at a mountain hut in Japan often comes with rules that might surprise you. Given limitations on water and electricity there are very specific bathing times and even a strict lights-out rule, meaning that you end up going to bed quite early, especially in the autumn months. However, it’s a really nice atmosphere with other hikers and worth doing. Lodges usually cost about 8,500 yen per night (including dinner and breakfast), and there are several to choose from. It’s advised to book in advance however.
The next day we set out for the the Oze Pond, and despite the damp weather it was still a perfect day. The benefit of hiking Oze is that, due to the marshland, much of your journey is on wooden planks that crisscross the area. Even in the more hilly areas the walk isn’t difficult, albeit with a few obstacles to move around. The only limitation we’d see is for bringing small children who might get too curious and tumble into the wetland.
Regardless of when you go you’ll see nature in full bloom, and with an elevation over 1,400 meters Oze is perfect to beat the summer heat in Tokyo. The Nikko National Park is also nearby, so you could combine the two for a perfect 3-day trip out of the city.