Translated by Lester Somera
Japanese Nature Sites You Must See Once In Your Lifetime
Written by Ai Yoneda
We introduce four places in Japan that are registered UNESCO World Natural Heritage Sites: Yakushima, Shirakami-sanchi, Shiretoko and the Ogasawara Islands.
When talking about what sites they want to visit in a foreign country, a lot of people mention that country’s World Heritage Sites. There are four seasons in Japan, and the places all over the country are blessed with beautiful nature sites that change their appearance with the seasons.
This time, we would like to introduce you to several registered UNESCO natural heritage sites: Yakushima, Shirakami-sanchi, Shiretoko and the Ogasawara Islands.
Yakushima's 7200-Year-Old Cedar Trees
Yakushima was the first place in Japan to be registered as a World Natural Heritage Site. It is situated in Kagoshima, in the Kyushu region.
Photo by ajari on Flickr
Yakushima’s scenic highlight are its native Yakushima cedar trees, which live much longer than typical trees and are endemic to the area. Many tourists visit Yakushima to see the thickest tree in Japan, the Jōmon-sugi ("the cedar from the Jōmon period"*), which is said to be 7200 years old. A round-trip climb to get to the Jōmon-sugi and go back down normally takes up to 10 hours. Don’t forget to prepare well for your climb when you set off on your field trip.
*The Jōmon period is Japan's prehistorical period, spanning from around 12.000 BC until around 300 BC.
If you are not confident enough in your physical strength to attempt the climb, we recommend visiting Shiratani Unsui Kyō. This forest is said to be the setting for the Studio Ghibli film, “Princess Mononoke.” Here you can freely enjoy the splendor of vegetation which can only be seen at Yakushima.
To get to Yakushima, fly from Tokyo Haneda Airport to Kagoshima Airport (roughly an hour and 40 minutes). From the airport, you can get to Yakushima via plane, high-speed boat or by ferry. The plane is the fastest method of the three, as it takes only 30 to 50 minutes to arrive at Yakushima.
The World’s Largest Primitive Beech Forest In Aomori And Akita, Shirakami-sanchi
Photo by tangerinaok on Flickr
Shirakami-sanchi, like Yakushima, was registered as one of Japan’s World Natural Heritage Sites in 1993. Shirakami-sanchi refers to the mountainous area in Tōhoku that extends from Aomori prefecture to Akita prefecture. The world’s largest primitive beech forest spreads out inside this area. This forest, mostly undisturbed by humans, is the precious home of a diverse and untouched selection of wildlife and vegetation. That is why it was registered as a World Heritage Site.
To access Shirakami-sanchi from Aomori, you enter the mountain area via the existing walkways or the 27 designated routes. However, when using one of the designated routes to climb the mountain, you will be required to follow an entry procedure, so please be aware of this.
To get to Shirakami-sanchi from Tokyo, fly from Haneda Airport to Aomori Airport. It takes up to an hour and a half to get there. Once at the airport, take a connecting bus to Hirosaki Station. From Hirosaki, take the train to Fukaura, the closest station.
See Drift Ice At Shiretoko in Hokkaido
Photo by Alpha 2008 on Flickr
Shiretoko is located in the eastern part of Hokkaido. Its absolute number one highlight is the sight of the ice floes. Shiretoko is extremely cold, and in winter the entire surrounding area is shrouded in ice.
It is also known for being a place to see endangered species, such as Steller’s sea eagle and Blakiston’s fish owl, in the wild. Other fabulous sights to be seen at Shiretoko are the hot-water Kamuiwakka Falls, which is supplied by a hot spring, and the Oshinkoshin Falls, where you can see the magnificent waterfall currents up close.
To get to Shiretoko from Tokyo, fly from Haneda Airport to Kushiro Airport. The flight lasts about an hour and a half. From Kushiro, either use the route bus and the JR railways, or rent a car. It takes about three hours to cover the distance (250 km) from the airport to Shiretoko.
In addition, the road that connects Rausu-chō in Shiretoko and Shari-chō, Utoro—the Shiretoko Crossing Road—is shut down from November to December due to the snowfall. Remember this if you plan to go around Shiretoko in a rental car.
Tokyo’s Ogasawara Islands
Photo by Ippei & Janine Naoi
The Ogasawara Islands were the fourth World Natural Heritage Site to be registered in Japan.
The distinguishing feature of the Ogasawara Islands is the unique and abundant natural scenery. The Ogasawara Islands are small, but despite this fact, they are recognized for having a comparatively high number of endemic species that can only be seen on this group of islands. The vivid, cobalt blue sea is also an attractive sight.
You can get to the Ogasawara Islands from major city centers via ferry. Tokyo Harbor Takeshiba Ferry Terminal is close to JR Hamamatsu-chō Station and Tokyo Rinkai Kōtsū Yurikamome Takeshiba Station, and you can catch a boat from there. From the terminal, take the ferry headed to Chichijima, the central part of the Ogasawara Islands.
However, there is an extremely small number of boats that traverse this route, with only one ferry making the trip every six days. Once you leave the Takeshiba Ferry Terminal, it will be at least six days before you can return. Also, the time required for a one-way trip by ferry is around 25 and a half hours, so be aware that you are in for a long ride. Depending on ocean conditions, it can take even longer, so if you are thinking about using the ferry, check the ferry operation report in advance.
In addition, there are extravagant passenger boats and other ferry tours that make stops at the Ogasawara Islands, so you can use those as well.
We have introduced four UNESCO World Natural Heritage Sites that are registered as of December 2015. If you want to drink in some picturesque scenery, by all means, visit these Japanese nature sites.