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2021.11 Travel Sustainably by Visiting One of Japan’s Green Destinations Sustainability recognized: Japan’s designated Green Destinations

Japan has long been a favored destination because of the fantastic variety it offers – ancient castles and traditional tea ceremonies for history and culture buffs, anime and video game hotspots to satisfy any otaku and fashions, foods and festivals to suit all tastes.

Now add eco-friendly travel to the list of reasons to visit. In 2020, six of Japan’s localities were selected as Green Destination’s top 100 Destination Sustainability Stories. Whether it’s introducing renewable energy sources or offering shared transport services, the continued eco efforts of Kamaishi, Kyoto City, Miura Peninsula, Niseko Town, Okinawa Prefecture and Shirakawa Village are reducing the environmental footprint visitors and locals leave behind.

Both Kamaishi and Niseko should already be high on your list of places to visit for other qualities. Kamaishi is relatively unknown to visitors to Japan but offers an opportunity to experience authentic Japanese culture. Niseko, while internationally famous as a winter destination, also has a myriad of family-friendly through the rest of the year.

 

Kamaishi: Rebuilding the sharing city with renewable energy sources

 

Located on the Sanriku Coast to the northeast of Japan’s main island is Kamaishi. This stretch of coastline makes up part of the Michinoku Coastal Trail, created to show off the region’s beautiful ocean and forest views and situated entirely within the Sanriku Fukko National Park.

 

The Michinoku Coastal Trail offers some truly breathtaking coastline views.

 

Its steep cliffs create four separate bays, each with its own charms. Get a full panoramic view of Kamaishi Bay not far from the town center by visiting Daikannon, a towering statue of the goddess of mercy who watches over the sailors and fishermen there. In her arms she holds a giant fish, which does double-duty as an observation deck for visitors.

 

This statue of Daikannon watches over Kamaishi Bay and has an observation deck inside.
Photo credit: Kamaishi Daikannon

 

If you’re feeling adventurous and up to the task of hiking up the tallest peak in the Kitakami Highlands, another spectacular view awaits. The trek up Mt. Goyo takes roughly two hours and, depending on the time of year, beautiful flora and fauna is plentiful, including azaleas, rhododendrons, deer and macaques.

 

Kamaishi was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011, but the city turned the tragedy into an opportunity to rebuild the town along more ecological and sustainable lines. The town has now turned its sights to renewable energy sources including solar panels on unused company land, wave-based power generation in Kamaishi Bay and wind farms, but it’s still proud of its industrial history. A trip to the Iron and Steel History Museum will tell you all you need to know, after which you can make your way to the Hashino Iron Mining and Smelting Site ruins to see where it all took place.

 

Displays and 3D exhibits at Kamaishi's Iron and Steel History Museum tell the history of steelmaking in the area. 
Photo credit: Iron and Steel History Museum

 

The promotion of a sharing economy in Kamaishi has also helped its goal of sustainable tourism with easier online access to shared ride and accommodation services. These efforts were recognized in 2017 by the Sharing Economy Association Japan when it made Kamaishi a certified Sharing City. Visitors to Kamaishi can count on easily finding good accommodation and convenient, eco-friendly transport.

 

Kamaishi is proud of all its cultural heritage, including traditional music and dancing at the Kamaishi festival held at the end of October and sport, with rugby being the most popular. After the tsunami, the Kamaishi Unosumai Memorial Stadium was built as an important symbol of hope and a place for the community to gather for events. Any visitor to Kamaishi is welcome to join.

 

Kamaishi Unosumai Memorial Stadium hosts numerous community events and hosted some matches during the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Photo credit: Kamaishi Unosumai Memorial Stadium

 

Despite being just a five-hour train ride from Tokyo, few tourists to Japan make the trip here, making it a rare path-less-traveled experience in an area that values its inherited culture and is striving to build a better, more sustainable future.

 

Niseko Town: An Eco-Model and SDGs Future City

 

Skiers and snowboarders will be keenly aware of Hokkaido – and the world-famous Niseko ski resorts  in particular – for its perfect powder snow. But if you’re an active person looking for outdoor adventure, Niseko Town provides exciting activities and promotes sustainable tourism in the warmer months too. The whole town is involved in self-governance through participation and information sharing, with many initiatives put in place to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The town was selected as an Eco-Model City by the Japanese government, as well as an SDGs Future City, a Model Municipality for Sustainable Tourism and a Top 100 Green Destination in 2021, so you can travel there to ski, snowboard, hike, climb, raft and more at any time of year while minimizing your carbon footprint.

 

Perfect powder and the stunning scenery of Mt. Yotei make for a fulfilling action-packed ski trip.
Photo credit: Niseko Village

 

The Niseko Resort Tourist Association has made it easy for visitors to plan their activities. With information on Green Bike rental and cycling routes, the local delicacies and where to eat, as well as hot-air ballooning and trekking, you won’t be short on ideas to fill your itinerary. You can also find out about the many onsen (hot springs) in the area to help you unwind at the end of an action-packed day. The abundance of onsen is due to the hot volcanic spring water running throughout the town, which not only provides natural hot water but also helps the town reach its reduced CO2 emissions goal by using waste hot spring water and geothermal energy to heat hotels and other buildings.

 

Incredible at any time of year, climbing to Mt. Yotei’s summit offers a challenge even to experienced mountain climbers. Its enormous crater is worth the climb in both summer and winter because of the stark seasonal contrast of its scenery. From near or far, the volcano itself is picturesque, and designated bicycle and walking paths with recommended spots have been designed for you to snap the perfect photo of it. But if one volcano isn’t enough for you, Mt. Usu  lies to the south of Niseko within the Toya-Usu UNESCO Global Park and provides stunning views of Uchiura Bay in one direction and Lake Toya  in the other.

 

Mt. Yotei is beautiful from any angle and particularly from one of the many photo spots on cycle and hiking paths.
Photo credit: Niseko Resort Tourist Association

 

If you are looking for adventure, look no further! White water rafting is one of the area’s most exciting summer activities. Experience an exhilarating rafting tour along the Shiribetsu River, famous for being Japan’s cleanest river thanks to the natural purification process it undergoes and minimal agricultural and domestic waste runoff.

 

White water rafting on the Shiribetsu River is one of Niseko’s top summer activities. 
Photo credit: Niseko Resort Tourist Association

 

For other lovers of the outdoors, PURE at Niseko Village nature activity centre is one of the best ways to experience Hokkaido during the warmer summer months. Lace up your hiking shoes and trek through the countryside in search of Hokkaido's famed wildlife, hop on a mountain bike or speed along a zip line!

 

PURE at Niseko Village is filled with all kinds of equipment to let you climb in nature.
Photo credit: Niseko Village

 

Many Niseko restaurants use fresh, locally sourced ingredients. The benefits of using local produce are two-fold because the food doesn’t travel as far, making it just one more way the town is reducing carbon emissions.

 

Thanks to Niseko’s active community and dedication to future goals, the town should be a Green Destination in all seasons for years to come.

 

Minimizing your environmental footprint when you travel
 

Choosing destinations with sustainable tourism initiatives like Kamaishi and Niseko Town is a great first step in minimizing your environmental footprint when you travel. If you’re interested in trying other ways to reduce your impact, try staying in eco-friendly hotels like the ones in Niseko Town that employ various environment-conscious technologies.

 

When booking flights, look for non-stop routes as the bulk of plane emissions occur during take-off and landing. Another tip we’re sure you’ll love is to take longer vacations. One long vacation rather than multiple short ones means fewer flights, more relaxing holidays and a chance to experience everything on offer without rushing to cram it all in.
 

Instead of renting a car, plan for walking, biking or use public transport. Not only does this reduce your carbon emissions, but it also usually ends up being cheaper. 

 

Rental bikes are available at the main train station in Niseko Town.
Photo credit: Niseko Resort Tourist Association

 

So, whether you want to experience an authentic Japanese city like Kamaishi, have an active adventure in Niseko Town or visit any one of Japan’s other Green Destinations, you can enjoy your vacation more knowing you’re helping the planet.

 

Business hours


Due to measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, business hours may be subject to change; please check with the venues before visiting.

 

Information

 

Green Destinations 2020 Top 100

WEB:https://greendestinations.org/programs-and-services/top-100-destinations/2020-top-100-destinations/

Michinoku Coastal Trail

WEB:https://www.michinokutrail.com/

Sanriku Fukko National Park

WEB:https://www.env.go.jp/en/nature/nps/park/sanriku/index.html

Toya-Usu UNESCO Global Geopark

WEB:https://www.toya-usu-geopark.org/english/

 

Related Links

 

Kamaishi Daikannon (Japanese only)

WEB:http://kamaishi-daikannon.com/

Kamaishi Unosumai Memorial Stadium (Some information in English)

WEB:https://kamaishi-stadium.jp/

Niseko Resort Tourist Association

WEB:https://www.niseko-ta.jp/en/

Niseko Village

WEB:https://www.niseko-village.com/en/

Kamaishi Iron and Steel History Museum (Japanese only)

WEB:https://www.city.kamaishi.iwate.jp/docs/2016101700037/

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