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
Travel to a series of islands home to endemic and rare species that have undergone a unique evolution over some two million years
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 five World Natural Heritage sites: Shiretoko, Shirakami Sanchi, the Ogasawara Islands, Yakushima, and the area consisting of Amami-Oshima Island, Tokunoshima Island, Northern part of Okinawa Island, and Iriomote Island.
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?
As we hear the stories shared by people who live in harmony with nature in these World Natural Heritage sites, we can search for hints on how to construct our relationships with nature looking ahead to the next generation.
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.
Shirakami-SanchiThe Japanese serow (Capricornis crispus)
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.
Ogasawara IslandsGaze out over the Bonin blue from the lookout
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.
Ogasawara IslandsSwimming with dolphins
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 Okinawa rail is an endemic species that can only be found in Northern Okinawa. In 1981, it was found in the evergreen broad‐leaved forests in Northern Okinawa and became famous as a flightless bird. It is about 35 cm long and its beak and feet are red. Its back is dark brown, and its chest and belly are covered in black and white bands. It likes to be near rivers, valleys, and puddles, and it lives in evergreen broad‐leaved forests that grow thick with grass and shrubs, from flat land to an altitude of no higher than 500 meters. While it is unusual for it to appear in bright places, it can sometimes be seen around cropland and farms. At the Okinawa Rail Ecology Center, you can see the bird in the wild in its observation areas.
Amami・OkinawaAmami Tip-nosed Frog
Amami Tip-nosed Frog
The Amami tip-nosed frog is an endemic species that can only be found in the mountain forests on the islands of Amami Oshima and Tokunoshima. Its numbers have decreased, and it has been designated a vulnerable species. It is thin with long legs, and it is said to be able to jump more than a meter high. It makes thin, high-pitched squeaks but lacks a vocal sac (the part that expands when making calls), and so its calls are very quiet, rarely being heard and seeming almost mystical when they are. It is easiest to spot on the forest road from spring to fall during or just after rain, when the humidity level is high. It lives in forest and along streams, and its body is green or brown to adapt to the surrounding environment like earth, rocks, and fallen leaves, or green to the brown ground.
YakushimaYakushima-midori shijimi (Neozephyrus japonicas)
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.
YakushimaTrekking Shiratani Unsuikyo Forest
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).
You’ll find a special joy in connecting to nature discovered by a guide well-versed in World Natural Heritage sites and locals who carry on traditions.
Ocean islands nurturing their own distinctive ecosystem
An ecosystem thriving on drift ice and a paradise for diverse wildlife
One of East Asia’slargestvirgin beech forests
A rain-shrouded island that dazzles with the beauty of the giant cedars
A series of islands where a wide variety of endemic and rare species co-exist
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