A trip to one of East Asia's largest native beech forests, home to a rich forest ecosystem
- World Natural Heritage in Japan -
A trip to one of East Asia's largest native beech forests, home to a rich forest ecosystem
Travel to the world's lowest latitude sea ice, which nature's ecosystems and a treasure trove of diverse organisms
A journey to an island enveloped in rain, bringing out the beauty of a huge cedar forest that condenses Japanese vegetation
A trip to ocean islands that are making progress in nurturing their own distinctive ecosystem.
Incredible views beyond imagining, an environment with a miraculous balance, plants and animals robustly living in that environment. The nature in each "World Natural Heritage" site is unique to and nurtured in that site and cannot be replaced or changed.
There are various World Natural Heritage sites across the globe, such as Yellowstone National Park, and the Great Barrier Reef, but in Japan, an island country surrounded by the sea, a country where approx. 70% of the land is occupied by forests, there are also four World Natural Heritage sites: Shiretoko, Shirakami Sanchi, the Ogasawara Islands, and Yakushima.
These Natural Heritage sites are humanity's irreplaceable property and should be protected for the next generation, so rules and manners are in place, but these rules and manners are not to keep people away from Natural Heritage sites. Because these are irreplaceable sites, it is important for people to visit, touch, feel, and communicate something to the next generation.
A trip to Japan's World Natural Heritage sites is to experience nature beyond imagining, to trigger an update of your awareness of nature and your behavior. Choosing a trip to a Natural Heritage site leads to protecting the destination and the planet's future. Why not take the first step towards adventure at a World Natural Heritage site?
Ponhoro Pool is known as the “mystery swamp” of the Shiretoko Peninsula, a range of volcanic peaks jutting into the North Pacific. The pool appears quietly between May and early July only, the final destination for meltwater from the snowy mountains after a long winter. Ponhoro Pool and the hiking trail that leads to it are enveloped by virgin mizunara oak and birch forest. Under the light of early summer, their verdant color reflects on the surface of the pool. On misty days, the line between water and air is obscured, creating a mysterious, otherworldly scene. In midsummer, the pool dries up and turns into a lush green field of grass. In autumn, the grass takes on red and yellow hues. This miraculous beauty spot is like an art gallery that is transformed every time you visit.
Off the east coast of the Shiretoko Peninsula is the Nemuro Strait. This stretch of water is rich in plankton due to the sea ice that drifts in between January and March. From aboard boats, visitors enjoy watching whales that come in search of this plankton. From late July to October, giant sperm whales of around 18m appear in these waters, offering breathtaking views as they breach, flip and spout water through their blowholes. Other species to look out for are the Steller’s and white-tailed sea eagles from January to March, fur seals from late April to June. Orcas and dolphins can be seen between May and early July. Be awed by the dynamism and size of the mammals that survive in this great ocean.
Off the Shiretoko Peninsula every year between January and March, sea ice drifts in from the Okhotsk Sea, covering the entire surface. This creates the conditions for a very complex ecosystem, because the large volume of plankton generated by this sea ice is the start of a large food chain. Diving is possible under this dynamic sea ice, the source of life for the Shiretoko Peninsula, in February and March. Looking up toward the surface through the crystal clear waters, an otherworldly sight unfolds as the sunlight gleams off the cloud-like sea ice in blue and green gradations. It is also exciting to encounter mysterious sea creatures such as the Clionidae (the sea ice angel).
The Aoike Pond is one of the 12 lakes nestled amid one of the biggest virgin beech forests in East Asia, in the west of Shirakami-Sanchi. The Juniko Lakes are the name given to the collection of 33 lakes and ponds dotted throughout the virgin beech forest. Right at the end of the walking trail is the shining cobalt-blue Aoike Pond. The pond has a blue tint and is extremely clear, giving it a distinctive aura that those who view it find mesmerizing. The tint of the pond changes with the angle of the sun. It is an especially gorgeous sight around midday between June and August. Nobody has yet discovered the definitive reason why the pond has a blue tint. Peering into the brilliantly clear waters reveals small fish swimming and a depth of some 9 meters.
The Japanese serow (Capricornis crispus)
The Japanese serow, designated a Special National Monument by the Japanese government, is a unique bovine deer that lives only in the Japanese archipelago. In the Shirakami-Sanchi, a peculiar beech forest close to the Arctic Circle that has been undeveloped since its origins around 50 million years ago, is home not just to the serow but to the endangered birds such as the golden eagle and the black woodpecker, 14 species of large mammal including the Asiatic black bear, 94 bird species and around 2,000 types of insect. Due to its extreme rarity, you will not necessarily come across the serow. But do not be surprised if you do spot one.
Mt. Shirakami is the main peak of the Shirakami mountains at 1,232m and has long been known as a peak to scale right from sea level. It is also famous for its rapidly changing conditions due to the geology of the mountain – it is said to be good luck to climb Mt. Shirakami under blue skies. The track to the summit takes around 5 hours and winds up through the beech forests that characterize Shirakami-Sanchi. It is also possible to stay the night in the small shelter hut at the peak, recommended for the sensational view of the sun setting into the Japan Sea.
Gaze out over the Bonin
blue from the lookout
Surrounded by the Bonin blue (from the English for the Ogasawaras, the “Bonin Islands”) seas, covered in deep green forest, the Ogasawaras are indeed a “Pacific paradise”. The group is made up of around 30 islands, the largest of which are Chichijima and Hahajima. Both Chichijima and Hahajima have mountains and lookouts from which to enjoy the views of the sparkling Bonin blue. And the red of the sea and skies at sunset will take your breath away. At night, the Milky Way of stars above seems close enough to touch, as if you have woken to find yourself in space. This is a place to experience the natural world, as the sounds of the crashing waves, the wind, the birdsong and the call of the wild.
Semi-fossilized Hirobeso Katamaimai
Of all the endemic species in the Ogasawaras, it is the snails that are most diverse. Over 100 snail species live on the islands. More than 90% of those are endemic and protected by law. On the designated natural monument that is Minamijima Island, extinct semi-fossilized hirobeso katamaimai snails can be seen in the sand dunes from 1,000-2,000 years ago. Please note that it is expressly forbidden to take any of these off the island. In order to preserve the precious ecosystem of Minamijima, only 100 people can visit per day, and for a maximum of two hours.
Swimming with dolphins
The clear, subtropical waters of the Ogasawaras are home to coral reefs, tropical fish, whales and dolphins. Dolphins live around the islands all year round, so tours swimming with Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins are always available. For those who prefer to enter the sea in nothing more than a swimsuit, the best season is late June to mid-November. From late November, you can swim in a wetsuit. The experience of looking a dolphin in the eye while swimming will leave you speechless.
The Jomonsugi cedar
Jomonsugi, the symbolic tree of Yakushima, is a giant specimen estimated at between 2,170 and 7,200 years of age. While the average life expectancy of a cedar is typically around 500 years, there are a number of trees on Yakushima that are over 1,000 years old. This is due to the extremely slow growth of cedars on an island blessed with around 10 times the world average annual rainfall and the nutrient-poor soil of the granite mountain range. To reach the Jomonsugi requires a trek of around 22km, which takes up to 10 hours. The best season is spring. An encounter with the giant Jomonsugi, the roots of which are so spread out they appear to become one with the earth, will fill you with a sense of nature’s majesty and mystery.
Yakushima-midori shijimi (Neozephyrus japonicas)
A small butterfly of about 2cm, this is a subspecies of the Kirishima-midori shijimi. The male shines with metallic blue and green colors. It is not often seen but often appears early in the morning from spring to early summer in the low-lying areas and hillsides of Yakushima. Despite its location in the southern Japan, Yakushima has mountains of nearly 2,000 meters and lush forests. This has the effect of concentrating the wildlife from across Japan in a single location, making it comparable to living museum or field guide. The island also has a vital role as an open-air laboratory for research on flora and fauna.
※The photo shows a female butterfly.
Shiratani Unsuikyo Forest is a 424ha nature park in the northeast of Yakushima. This is a place to enjoy the beauty of a gorge thousands of years in the making, including hundreds of varieties of moss that cover the deep green forest in the ravine, giant rocks and the Yayoisugi cedar which is estimated to be over 3,000 years old. The trekking course is about 6km. The forest spreads over an area from 600m to 1,000m above sea level and requires 4-6 hours of walking. The final hurdle is the Tsuji Toge Pass, but just a little more sweat will be rewarded with a majestic panorama from atop Taikoiwa (Drum Rock).