About World Natural Heritage

What are World Natural Heritage Sites?

The “World Heritage Convention,” adopted in 1972 by the UNESCO General Assembly, resulted in the “World Heritage” registration, values that should be shared not only with the present population, but also with the next generation.

World Heritage sites are roughly divided into “Cultural Heritage” and “Natural Heritage,” and a site must fulfill one of the criteria for “natural beauty,” “geography and geology,” “ecosystems,” and “biodiversity” in order to be registered as a natural heritage site.

World Natural Heritage sites are precious and fragile treasures, but is it enough just to look at and protect them from a distance? By doing so they may disappear from people’s memories.

Because they are precious and fragile treasures, it is important to pay attention to the environment while visiting, to experience the value of nature in person, and to convey that experience to people who follow. Now, let’s go on a journey to meet “World Natural Heritage Sites.”

World Natural Heritage Sites in Japan

The first two World Natural Heritage sites in Japan were registered in 1993. They were the remote “Yakushima” island in Kagoshima Prefecture and “Shirokami Sanchi,” a vast, primal beech forest that spans Aomori and Akita Prefectures. The Shiretoko peninsula, which protrudes into the Sea of Okhotsk in the northeastern part of Hokkaido, was registered in 2005, and the Ogasawara Islands, oceanic islands about 1,000 km away from central Tokyo, were registered in 2011. Most recently, the area consisting of Amami-Oshima Island, Tokunoshima Island, Northern part of Okinawa Island, and Iriomote Island were registered in 2021, for a total of five World Natural Heritage sites in Japan. Japan’s natural heritage is a place where all of its rich and unique ecosystems are valued and you can feel the circle of life, including rare plants and animals.


Year of registration: 1993
Recognized evaluation criteria: Ecosystem


Year of registration: 2005
Recognized evaluation criteria: Ecosystem, biodiversity


Year of registration: 1993
Recognized evaluation criteria: Natural beauty, ecosystem

Ogasawara Islands

Year of registration: 2011
Recognized evaluation criteria: Ecosystem


Year of registration:2021
Recognized evaluation criteria:biodiversity

Registration conditions

It is necessary for a site to have a “notable universal value,” which is judged by whether the following three conditions are met, in order to be recognized as a World Natural Heritage site, as an important area with a unique and exclusive value in the world.

*The following is quoted from the “Japan World Natural Heritage Site” by the Ministry of the Environment

  1. 4 The property must meet one or more of the four criteria (see table).

    Criteria for World Heritage

    • (vii) Natural Beauty

      Contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.

    • (viii) Geology and Geomorphology

      Be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features.

    • (ix) Ecosystem

      Be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals.

      Shiretoko Shirakami-Sanchi Ogasawara Islands Yakushima
    • (x) Biodiversity

      Contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of Outstanding Universal Value from the point of view of science or conservation.

      Shiretoko Amami・Okinawa
  2. The property must fulfill the condition of integrity (e.g. include all the elements necessary to demonstrate outstanding universal value; contain adequate areas; show little influence of development; and maintain its primary natural value).

  3. The property must be adequately protected and managed in order to maintain its outstanding universal value over the long term.

Manners at World Natural Heritage Sites

1. Do not approach or feed wildlife
Wild animals that remember the taste of human food can not only change their living places/living style and disrupt ecosystems, but can also cause crop damage in remote areas.


2. Stay on the promenades and mountain trails
Vegetation, once trampled, does not recover easily. We ask that you move, photograph, etc. only on established roads and trails so as to protect the moss, plants, and animals that create landscapes and ecosystems, and also to prevent destruction.
Some areas on mountain trails may be muddy, so equipment such as boots and outerwear are recommended.


3. Do not collect animals and plants
Natural Heritage sites are home to many unique flora and fauna, and each one carries the rich ecosystem of a Natural Heritage site and creates a beautiful landscape. The capture, collection, and damage of plants and animals is strictly prohibited.


4. Do not pollute the water of the mountains, rivers and ocean
Washing dishes or using water, other than in toilet areas, will contaminate the water of the mountains, rivers and ocean in the Natural Heritage site. When entering the Natural Heritage site, bring a portable toilet, wipe out dirty dishes with paper, and take all trash with you.


5. Take trash with you
From the beginning, reduce your amount of garbage as much as possible. Don’t forget trash bags, and be sure to take out all of the trash that you generated while within the Natural Heritage site.


6. Don’t introduce foreign species
Please take special care not to bring in any foreign species as it may affect the ecosystem of the Natural Heritage site.
In particular, the Ogasawara Islands, which boast an extremely high endemic species rate, are an ecosystem that is susceptible to external influences. Make sure that there is no dirt on your shoes that your clothes and bags are free of seeds and insects.

Back to NATURE

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.

Special Contents We will introduce the story of each world natural heritage from various themes.
Select the theme you are interested in.

Traditional food / local cuisine
In Japan's World Natural Heritage area, the culture of "traditional food and local cuisine" by the people who have lived there is rooted. Knowing the "food culture" created by the activities of people who live in harmony with the precious natural environment will not only make your trip more attractive but will also be an experience of thinking about the future.

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