As one of the most urbanized countries in the world, it is unsurprising that some of the most light-polluted places in the world can be found in Japan. Still, the country has many rural towns to see the stars, such as the stunning view of a starlit Mount Fuji at Lake Kawaguchi in Yamanashi (seen above).

There are, in fact, several great spots for stargazing. For example, when viewing a light pollution map of Japan, which utilizes the Bortle scale to measure the night sky’s brightness, there are plenty of blue and gray spots. Blue signifies a dark rural sky on this scale, and gray indicates a truly dark sky.

Japan even has three locations designated by the International Dark-Sky Association. So stargazers and astrophotographers can still find places in Japan to see the Big Dipper or get that perfect Milky Way shot. So with that, here are five places in Japan where you can see a dark sky full of stars.

Iriomote Ishigaki National Park (Okinawa)

Photo: iStock/ PetesphotographyA clear night sky with the bright Milky Way in Iromote.

The first International Dark Sky Park established in Japan is undoubtedly the country’s best place for stargazing. This national park is on and around the Yaeyama Islands in Okinawa prefecture. These are the southernmost islands of Japan, including the remote but tourist-attracting island of Ishigaki. Most of the park is colored gray on a light pollution map.

The park’s vast area means there are many different stargazing spots. Ishigaki, which is the easiest of these islands to reach, is home to the Ishigaki Observatory. However, for those who would like to stray off the beaten path, there are also Iriomote Island, Taketomi Island, and five other small islands in this archipelago. All of them are part of the designated Dark Sky Park, making for an abundance of stargazing spots.

Komi, Taketomi, Yaeyama District, Okinawa – Map

www.env.go.jp/en/nature/nps/park/iriomote

Kozushima (Tokyo)

Photo: iStock/ bee32Prepare for a spectacular view.

Did you know there is a place in Tokyo that has been designated as a Dark Sky Park? Kozushima, despite being quite far from the main city, is still part of Tokyo Prefecture. It is a small island located about 180 kilometers south of Tokyo and is accessible by ferry or small plane. Due to its proximity to Tokyo, it is the perfect alternative for Tokyoites who want to enjoy the beach and a starry night sky without flying to Okinawa.

Kozushima has many observation decks and designated viewing spots for stargazing. Also, the island’s inhabitants take their dark sky and light pollution very seriously. For example, the street lights on the island were recently replaced with dimmer lights designed to minimize upward-leaking light, demonstrating their commitment to keeping the skies dark.

Tenjosan, Kozushima, Tokyo – Map

kozushima-tokyo.com

Bisei Astronomical Observatory (Okayama)

Photo: Pixta/ Y.HirosanObservatory

Japan’s newest entry into the designated Dark Sky Places is Bisei, a town in southern Okayama prefecture. This town, the name of which literally means “town of beautiful stars,” was certified as the first international “Dark Sky city” in all of Asia. The efforts that contributed to this designation include enacting Japan’s first light pollution prevention ordinance in 1989 and replacing all its outdoor and public lighting fixtures with those approved by the International Dark-Sky Association.

Of course, the best place in Bisei for stargazing is at the Bisei Astronomical Observatory, an educational and research facility on top of a mountain. After visiting the observatory, stargazers can also head to the Bisei Space Guard Center and Hoshizora Park, or “star-watching park,” for more marvelous views.

Biseicho Okura 1716-3, Ibara, Okayama – Map

Night hours: 6:00 p.m. to 10 p.m. (Monday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday)

Admission: ¥300

www.bao.city.ibara.okayama.jp

Lake Mashu (Hokkaido)

Photo: iStock/ 5279210107801613A chilly but starry night on Lake Mashu.

Lake Mashu is one of Japan’s most beautiful lakes and one of the clearest lakes in the world. It is a spectacular sight and offers equally spectacular stargazing. This caldera lake is located in Akan Mashu National Park in eastern Hokkaido, far from the nearest cities and thus ensuring a sky dark enough for visitors keen on seeing the stars.

Visitors can join special stargazing tours from nearby towns to the lake. Three observation decks around the lake are easily accessible by car. And though the water is often covered by fog (also a beautiful sight), those lucky enough to be at the lake on a clear and calm night can see the starry sky reflected in the lake.

Teshikaga, Kawakami District, Hokkaido – Map

www.masyuko.or.jp/pc/english/index.html

Kawayu Visitor Center: www.kawayu-eco-museum.com/english

Achi (Nagano)

Photo: iStock/ wataru aokiA spring night sky at Achi village in Nagano.

This small town in the mountains of Nagano prefecture is the most popular place in Japan for stargazing. The town has made it accessible by offering special stargazing tours from hotels in the area.

On tour, visitors can see the stars while riding the gondola up the 1,400-meter-high mountain peak with lights off. At the top is Star Village Achi, a little village inside the Heaven Sonohara ski resort, where there is an open area with telescopes for public use, a cosmic-themed restaurant, and a gift shop.

Achi is deep in the mountains, far from big cities, and boasts a sky dark enough to see the great unknown with the naked eye. The draw and accessibility of its night tours have made it arguably the most popular stargazing destination in Japan.

Shimoina District, Nagano – Map

Night Tours: sva.jp

Have you done any stargazing in Japan? Do you know of any other good spots to see the stars? Let us know in the comments!

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