Tourist sites

Ways of Enjoying the Highland: Shiga Highland UNESCO Eco Park


Ways of Enjoying the Highland:
Shiga Highland UNESCO Eco Park

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Shiga Highland is well-known as a skiing mecca; it was a venue for alpine events during the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998. And in recent years, the sight of Japanese macaques bathing in an outdoor hot spring to beat the freezing cold (“snow monkeys”) has become a popular attraction among tourists from around the world. Despite this wintry image, however, the area also has another side. In 1980 Shiga Highland was listed as a biosphere reserve (or “eco park” in Japanese) by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The core area of the Shiga Highland reserve consists of untouched virgin forest, ponds, marshland, and so on and attracts many trekkers in summer and autumn. I visited the area in search of ways to enjoy Shiga Highland.


What Is a UNESCO Eco Park?

Before writing about Shiga Highland UNESCO Eco Park, though, let me first of all explain what a UNESCO eco park is. In 1976 UNESCO launched a project, called the Man and the Biosphere Programme, aimed at conserving the ecosystem and achieving harmony between nature and sustainable development. Listed sites are officially called biosphere reserves; in Japan they are known as eco parks. At present there are seven designated eco parks in Japan, including Shiga Highland in Nagano Prefecture and Yakushima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture. Around the world there are more than 600 listed biosphere reserves, including Yellowstone National Park in the United States, Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) in Australia, and the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. The major difference with UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites is that while these place priority on nature conservation, the biosphere reserves aim to realize a symbiosis between nature and human society. For this reason, listed sites are divided into three zones: the core area, where biodiversity is rigorously preserved; the buffer zone, where activities focus on scientific research and education; and the transition zone, where efforts are made to develop the local community as a residential area.

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