Rural sites on Japan’s western Honshu island have launched starry night experiences to maximise the national and international recognition they have received for their beautiful night skies.
Misasa Onsen in Tottori Prefecture, which was ranked among the top locations in the country for “star visibility” in a nationwide stargazing survey conducted by the Ministry of the Environment, offers hot spring baths followed by stargazing.
Participants receive binoculars and a map of the night sky before being introduced to visible constellations and celestial bodies by expert guides.
“Visitors can enjoy both the town’s famous healing hot springs and clear night sky,” said a representative of Misasa Onsen Tourist Information Center, adding that participants can expect “a sky filled with stars and a breathtaking view of the Milky Way”.
The experience is available for groups from April to November and is held in the planetarium in the case of bad weather. Various languages, including English, traditional or simplified Chinese, and Thai are supported.
Bisei in Okayama Prefecture, a town recognised by the US-based non-profit International Dark-Sky Association as the first International Dark Sky Community in Japan and Asia, has also created new tourism experiences.
In addition to its stargazing tours and festivals held to showcase the starry skies, visitors can now use giant telescopes and enjoy a trip to space in 3D. There are also opportunities for guests to dine on local cuisine under starry skies. The experience is a collaboration between chefs, a travel agency and an advertising agency, according to Kenji Fujioka of the local tourism and exchange division.
Starry sky activities played a key role in 2022 in boosting domestic tourism to Chugoku, a region in western Honshu consisting of Tottori, Hiroshima, Shimane, Yamaguchi and Okayama prefectures, so travel agents are expecting similar interest from the international market as Japan’s tourism recovery continues.