Any mention of Japan instantly conjures up images of its diverse tapestry of culture, from cutting-edge urban centers like Tokyo and Osaka, or the traditional streetscapes of Kyoto — both common fixtures on many first-time visits to Japan. But this country is also home to incredible nature and diverse environments.
Beginning in 1993 with the forested and mountainous region of Shirakami-Sanchi (Aomori and Akita) and Kagoshima’s remote island of Yakushima, the first inscribed sites to the UNESCO Natural World Heritage list were later joined by Shiretoko in Hokkaido (2005), Tokyo’s Ogasawara Islands (2011) and most recently the Amami-Okinawa area (2021), which includes Iriomote and the northern part of Okinawa, as well as Kagoshima’s Amami-Oshima and Tokunoshima.
Such heritage sites, in both Japan and around the world, represent the best of nature’s gift to humanity and are not just characterized by their outstanding biodiversity, ecosystems and geology, but also serve as a reminder of the importance in protecting them through conservation and sustainable development efforts.
With our documentary series, follow our team of reporters across Japan through these stunning environments to learn directly about the importance of each of Japan’s natural regions, so you can feel inspired to both visit and raise awareness of why we should all do more to protect our planet’s natural habitats.
5 World Natural Heritages in Japan
Amami-Okinawa: Exotic Oceanside Paradises
Nestled in the Pacific Ocean, Okinawa and the Amami Islands are treasured natural wonders renowned for their endemic terrestrial and aquatic naturescapes and rich regional cultures. Thanks to these preserved blessings, Amami-Oshima, Tokunoshima, Iriomote, and Okinawa’s Yanbaru area were collectively recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2021. From Yanbaru’s evergreen forests to the cultural island songs of Amami-Oshima, learn what makes Amami-Okinawa a memorable landscape with Anna Yoshida as your guide.
Ogasawara: Explore Untouched Environments
Located about 1,000 km south of central Tokyo, the Ogasawara Islands are as far off Japan’s beaten path as it gets and feature an abundance of oceanside and terrestrial beauty. Thanks to this isolation, the subtropical islands are home to a number of endemic species and serve as essential areas for conserving biodiversity. In 2011, Ogasawara was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Join Lila Ilyas on her exploration of this island paradise.
Shiretoko: Diverse Nature and Wildlife Live in Harmony
The Shiretoko Peninsula, located off Hokkaido’s northeastern coast, is regarded as one of Japan’s most beautiful nature parks and features an unspoilt landscape of forests, cliffs, wetlands, lakes, and mountains teeming with wildlife. In 2005, Shiretoko was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and today serves as a popular getaway where visitors can disconnect from modern life and immerse themselves in nature. Join Japan Travel’s Maria Ariyama as we explore this stunning natural environment in Hokkaido.
Yakushima: Oasis of Unspoilt Nature
Yakushima, located off the southern tip of Kagoshima, is a natural haven filled with enchanting forests, rich biodiversity, and expansive oceanside views—earning it World Natural Heritage status in 1993. Said to be the inspiration for the setting of Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke, the forests’ millenia-old yakusugi trees, moss-covered rocks, and sparkling streams can lead to truly awe-inspiring memories on any visit. On the shore, Yakushima’s beaches are home to rich marine life—including treasured sea turtles—making them prime snorkeling spots. Follow Davide Capretta’s adventure on this culturally rich and beautiful island.
Shirakami-Sanchi: Forest of Gods
Shirakami-Sanchi, often referred to as the “Forest of Gods,” is a 130,000-hectare forest that stretches across the mountains of Northern Japan’s Aomori and Akita prefectures. The untouched forest is home to beech trees, the Asian black bear, and over 90 species of birds. Along with Yakushima, Shirakami-Sanchi was designated as Japan’s first UNESCO World Natural Heritage site in 1993. Let Japan Travel’s Julianna Molnar take you on a journey of this magical region.
If our World Natural Heritage videos have given you inspiration for your next nature trip, don’t forget to bookmark or share the full World Natural Heritage playlist, or visit the official World Natural Heritage in Japan website.
We hope to have inspired you when thinking about your next journey to Japan. Rather than stick to the routine ‘Golden Route’ of Tokyo-to-Kyoto, consider taking an extra step or two by adding one of these natural environments to your next visit. This will not only help channel awareness towards issues like conservation and biodiversity protection, but also help inspire you beyond your imagination with some miraculous examples of our planet’s most treasured natural destinations.
How to access
Amami-Oshima Island, Tokunoshima Island, Northern part of Okinawa Island, and Iriomote Island
Amami-Oshima Island can be accessed in two hours with flights from Haneda Airport to Amami Airport. Get to Tokunoshima Airport by flying from Haneda to Kagoshima Airport (one hour and 45 minutes) and then onto Tokushima Island. The Northern part of Okinawa Island can be reached by a flight from Haneda to Naha Aiport (two hours and 30 minutes) and then is a two hour bus ride. Access Iriomote Island by flying to Painushima Ishigaki Airport from Haneda in three hours then taking a 30 mine bus to the ferry terminal and sail to the island in 40 minutes.
Ogasawara islands are accessed by a 24-hour ferry from central Tokyo. To reach the ferry terminal, take a 10-minute train from Tokyo Station to Hamamatsucho Station using either the Keihin-Tohoku Line or Yamanote. From here, walk seven minutes to Takeshiba Pier, where the ferry departs.
The direct route from Haneda Airport would be Tokyo Monorail Haneda Airport station to Monorail Hamamatsucho station, then a seven-minute walk to Takeshiba Pier.
Shiretoko lies to the eastern part of Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island. The fastest way to access from Tokyo is to fly from Haneda Airport to Memanbetsu Airport, then drive the two hours up to the peninsula. There’s also the Shari Bus Shiretoko Airport Liner that takes around 2 hours 15 minutes from Memanbetsu to the town of Utoro. Another option is to fly from Haneda to Nakashibetsu Airport and drive just over an hour up to Shiretoko.
Yakushima Airport can be reached directly from Fukuoka Airport in northern Kyushu (55 minutes), or Kagoshima Airport in southern Kyushu (40 minutes). If you fly from Tokyo, changing at Kagoshima is the easiest way to access. You can also take ferries and high-speed ship from Kagoshima port.
Reaching Shirakami-Sanchi is easiest by car due to the remote forest location. You can fly from Haneda Airport in Tokyo to an airport in the Tohoku region (e.g. Akita Airport, Odate-Noshiro Airport or Aomori Airport), then pick up a hire car and continue the drive. There are also train and bus connections from Aomori Airport to the world natural heritage site.