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World Heritage / Shirakami-Sanchi

Criteria: (ix) | Date of Inscription: 1993 | Location: Aomori and Akita Prefectures | Justification for Inscription



The hidden charm of Shirakami-sanchi is in it being home to one of the largest beech forests in Japan as well as a number of wild animals living in peace and tranquility.

Beech forest
Beech forest
Beech trees
Beech trees
The Shirakami Mountain Range runs along the Akita and Aomori prefectural border and occupies some 1300sq km making it about twice as large as Lake Biwa, the nation's largest lake. Home to several 1000m plus mountains, its highest peak is the 1243m Mt. Mukaishirakamidake. Humans have lived around the Shirakami Mountain Range for eons and have had much interaction with the virgin beech forest they are blessed with. Forest road construction started in the mountain range in 1982 but due to concern over the original planned route - straight through the central part of the range and along the ridge - this plan was countered by nature lovers under the conservation banner. After the rare kumagera (black woodpecker) was given natural monument status and was found to be living in the beech wood in 1983, the conservation work took on a new degree of importance and construction in the area was finally terminated in 1989. Four years later, the Shirakami Mountain Range was first inscribed on the World Heritage List along with Yakushima Island and various other sites in Japan. Today though, it is not only black woodpeckers that inhabit the forest but also wild animals and birds including the Japanese serow and golden eagles whose number nationwide is under constant threat.
Beech forest
Beech forests could be seen throughout Japan (except for in Okinawa) in the past. Nowadays, however, the majority have vanished having been removed for land development in the era of high economic growth. That such a beech forest remains in the Shirakami Mountain Range and that some of its trees are actually over 200-years-old is therefore all the more amazing.
Alpine flora
Despite an altitude of around 1200m many types of alpine floras can be seen atop and around the peaks in the area benefiting from the required northerly latitude and the cool winds so prevalent over the mountain range.
The Shirakami Mountain Range is located at a latitude of approximately 40 degrees north putting it close to being on equal footing with New York, Madrid and Naples.
Hidden Scenic Spots
The main waterways flowing from the Shirakami Mountain Range are the Akaishigawa, Oirasegawa, Anmongawa (Okawa) and Kasugegawa rivers. These rivers all contain clear water with many waterfalls along their route and large numbers of bread leaf trees, the beeches, the oak (Quercus mongolica var. grosseserrata), maples (Acer pictum) and walnuts (Pterocarya rhoifolia) lining their banks. Especially so around the head of the Akaishi River, itself said to be the most beautiful water scene in Japan and known as a place char fishermen enjoy to chuck in a rod.
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