Conservation and nature restoration initiatives help keep Japan’s national parks beautiful and biodiverse. Learn how the Ministry of the Environment and local communities collaborate to preserve these precious natural habitats.
Japan is home to over 7,000 types of plants, 1,000 species of animals, and more than 70,000 species of insects. The country’s forests, wetlands, mountains, and coral reefs are complex and interdependent ecosystems inhabited by rare and endemic creatures such as the red-crowned crane and Hokuriku salamander. The national parks were established to preserve Japan’s representative natural scenery and precious flora and fauna, while giving people a chance to appreciate and deepen their knowledge about nature.
Japan is home to over 7,000 types of plants, 1,000 species of animals, and more than 70,000 species of insects. The country’s forests, wetlands, mountains, and coral reefs are complex and interdependent ecosystems inhabited by rare and endemic creatures such as the red-crowned crane and Hokuriku salamander. The national parks were established to preserve Japan’s representative natural scenery and precious flora and fauna, while giving people a chance to appreciate and deepen their knowledge about nature. Japan's Ministry of the Environment (MOE), along with local organizations, carries out a wide range of activities to protect and preserve the natural environment, landscape and wildlife in the national parks. MOE also coordinates with communities who live and work in the parks on how to appropriately make use of park land and resources. These are just some of their initiatives:
- Cooperating with local governments and volunteers to organize clean ups.
- Designating "restricted use" areas through limited entry, etc.
- Working with local residents to conserve wildlife, clear invasive species, and clean areas that are difficult to access.
- Restricting entry of vehicles at designated locations.
- Establishing and maintaining facilities that make the parks safe for visitors to use while preserving the integrity of the environment.
- Raising awareness about nature and conservation through field activities, workshops, and other programs.
Since many rare and endemic species inhabit the national parks, there are restrictions on collecting plants and capturing and hunting animals. The Ministry of the Environment, local governments, academics, and NGOs work together to protect endangered species such as the Japanese crested ibis, rock ptarmigan, Blakiston’s fish owl, Japanese crane and Amami rabbit (Pentalagus furnessi). Their initiatives include artificial breeding and habitat-improvement programs.
Alien species from abroad can drive away native species, prey on rare species, and threaten native habitats. Stakeholders at national parks actively monitor or eradicate foreign plants and invasive species. There are also laws in place that prohibit the import and cultivation of alien species, such as the Invasive Alien Species Act of 2004.
Alien fish species at Onneto Yunotaki Falls
Onneto Yunotaki Falls is a hot spring waterfall in Akan-Mashu National Park. Tropical fish such as tilapias and guppies were released into pools near the waterfall in the 1980s. Their population grew to over 15,000 in 2009. They fed on native algae communities that are essential for the local ecosystem, so the Ministry of the Environment decided to take action.
Warm water essential for the survival of tropical fish is provided all year round by Yunotaki Falls. In an effort to eradicate the fish, the Ministry of the Environment set up pipes to divert warm water away from the pools, and bring in cold water. The drop in water temperature led to the decline and eventual eradication of all alien fish species in recent years.
Asiatic black bear conservation
Picchio, a wildlife research organization that collaborates with the Ministry of the Environment, works to protect the Asiatic black bear and reduce human-bear conflict in Karuizawa, a mountainous region in Joshin’etsukogen National Park. The community recognizes the importance of coexisting with wild animals and protecting their habitat. Rather than exterminating bears that make their way into residential areas, Picchio Wildlife Research Center has developed ways to protect bears while keeping them safe distances from people. These efforts include tracking bears’ behavior with radio collars, catch and release, bear-proof trash receptacles, and chasing bears off with specially trained Karelian bear dogs. To learn more about these methods and the use of bear dogs for conservation, read our story about Karuizawa’s wild side.
Coral reef conservation
Protecting and preserving Japan’s coral reefs is an important concern for Japan's Ministry of the Environment. Coral reefs are home to more species per square meter than any other habitat. Reefs also support human life by providing food, a source of income through fisheries and tourism, and protection from natural disasters; they act as buffers against waves, storms, and floods, helping to prevent property damage, erosion and loss of life. The Sekisei Lagoon, Japan’s largest coral reef, is located at the heart of the Yaeyama Islands in Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park. It is a habitat for thousands of fish species and 360 reef-building coral species, but is under threat of disappearance due to terrestrial clay and wastewater runoff, increasing water temperatures, and the invasion of predatory crown-of-thorns starfish. The Ministry of the Environment aims to restore these reefs by eliminating negative environmental impacts, and reef regeneration projects such as culturing and transplanting coral larvae.
In 2006, a collective of fishers, agricultural and tourism organizations, scientists, and government agencies formed the Sekisei Lagoon Nature Restoration Committee. Since then, members have joined forces to preserve the precious biodiversity of Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park’s coral reefs, engaging in coral planting and other preservation activities. Watch the video and read the full story about the organization’s restoration efforts here.
The Aso Caldera in Aso-Kuju National Park was formed by volcanic eruptions in prehistoric times, and is one of the world's largest calderas. Volcanic activity prevented the growth of forests, so the area is covered in an expansive, semi-natural grassland. Local populations have maintained the grasslands for more than a thousand years through prescribed burning, grass harvesting, and cattle ranching. Due to the decline in the livestock industry, an aging population, and a lack of resources, preserving this diverse grassland ecosystem has been a great challenge. The loss of grass cover has increased rapidly since the 1940s, causing a decline in biodiversity and dangers associated with erosion. Rare plant and animal species that thrive in this environment are threatened, including the Shijimi large blue, a rare grass-eating butterfly, and flowers like the thistle-like Echinops setifer and Siebold’s catchfly (Lychinis sieboldii).
The Aso Grassland Restoration Committee, supported by MOE, has been working to preserve and restore the grasslands of the Aso Caldera since 2005. One of its main activities is carrying out low-intensity fires, or controlled burns known as “noyaki.” Volunteers help with these annual controlled burns from mid-February to late March, and the burning of fields promotes grass growth and prevents land erosion. Other activities include constructing firebreaks around patches of forest, grass harvesting, and rehabilitating small wetlands within the Aso Grassland. To learn more, stop by the Aso Grassland Conservation Center during your visit to the park.
Hiking trail maintenance at Daisetsuzan National Park
Another important activity of the Ministry of the Environment is to make sure that facilities in national parks are safe and do not damage the environment. Hiking trails and wooden promenades in Daisetsuzan National Park are often damaged by snowmelt and rainfall, and park rangers must regularly repair them to ensure the safety of visitors. A large number of other authorized personnel help the park rangers carry out such tasks, in addition to daily monitoring activities, maintenance of the facilities, and ensuring climber safety. They also carry out restoration work following strict guidelines. When repairing wooden promenades, for instance, workers make sure not to damage the surrounding vegetation or landscape.
Park Rangers play a vital role in the conservation of national parks. Thanks to the passionate work of these individuals, a vast array of environmental preservation projects and activities take place. Learn more about Japan's park rangers and their jobs, from controlling invasive species and protecting native plants and animals to collaborating with local communities on sustainable development goals and helping visitors fully enjoy Japan’s beautiful nature.