A “natural planetarium” is a place where, thanks to the geographical conformation, light pollution is low and the night sky visibility allows stargazing at its finest level.
Japan is home to many natural planetariums, from Hokkaido to the remote Iriomote islands in Okinawa. But, surprisingly enough, you don’t necessarily have to jump on a plane to admire a clear starry sky if you live in the capital.
Our Top Pick: Stargazing Around Tokyo
Are you ready to visit some of the best places to see stars around Tokyo?
Nagano prefecture is home to what the Ministry of Environment has defined as “the best place to see stars in Japan” thanks to its great night sky visibility.
Achi village, with a population of just around 6,000 people, is located just on the border between the prefectures of Gifu and Yamanashi –the central mountainous area between Tokyo and Nagoya. The area is appreciated by Japanese people as a skiing destination, easy to reach from Gifu, Ishikawa, and even Kansai.
The area can be considered a natural planetarium, as it is surrounded by mountains that block out the lights from Aichi and bigger cities like Osaka.
No matter where you are, the nighttime view around the area is stunning. If you want to have a whole experience you can participate in a night sky tour organized by Heavens Sonohara. This facility is most popular during winter as a ski resort and since the region is a popular skiing destination, but from April to October Heavens Sonohara offers a night tour of the starry sky, that has gained so much popularity in recent years that it is held almost every night if the weather is nice.
A 2,549 meters long gondola ride in just 15 minutes brings you to an altitude of 1,400 meters, to the Fujimidai plateau where the view is absolutely breathtaking.
Under the star-filled sky, guides provide explanations about celestial objects and original videos are also shown. A range of events is also held to liven up this nighttime journey, such as astronomical observation with telescopes that are lined up all around the site.
Nasu, in Tochigi, located just in between Ibaraki, Gunma and Fukushima prefectures is another fantastic location to admire starts not far from Tokyo. The whole area of Nasu Onsen offers incredible starry skies but if you want to upgrade your experience you can book a night at The Key Highland Nasu, a resort complex that features an observatory that guests can use every day in the evening (booking at the front desk is required). Or you can choose a luxurious glamping night at Towa Pure Cottage. The sumptuous tents are built with a transparent dome, through which you can admire the night starry sky from the comfort of your bed.
Kozushima (Oshima, Tokyo)
Kozushima is an island part of the Izu archipelago down from the Izu peninsula.
Being approximately at a three-hour ferry ride from Tokyo, the village is easily accessible but it is isolated right enough that the level of light pollution falls sensibly and allows for clear dark skies to enjoy stargazing. On December 1st, 2020, the entire area of Kozushima Village became the first municipality in Tokyo to be recognized as a Dark Sky Place.
Kozushima doesn’t offer elegant glamping spots or an upper-scale resort experience, but if you’re looking to immerse yourself in the wilderness, camping in Kozushima would be the right experience.
Ai Ai Cape (Shizuoka)
Ai Ai Cape – Love Love Cape – is located on the farther south tip of Izu peninsula in Shizuoka prefecture. While being a very popular tourist spot that attracts visitors for its beautiful nature, scenery and beaches, it becomes an off-the-beaten-path location when it comes to stargazing. Ai Ai Cape, being hours away from big cities and therefore being less affected by light pollution, is the darkest place on the peninsula. Head over Ai Ai Cape in spring, summer and autumn to have a chance to admire the milky way just hours away from Tokyo and Shizuoka.
We have given you some of the best spots to see stars close to the capital: which one are you going to visit first?
Want to sleep under the stars? Check out this article on camping in Japan: