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World Heritage / Shiretoko

Criteria: (ix) (x) | Date of Inscription: 2005 | Location: Hokkaido Prefecture | Justification for Inscription



Floes of sea ice crashing into each other and wild animals living freely amidst the wide open natural spaces of Shiretoko leaves all that see it and them more than impressed.

Shiretoko in Summer
Shiretoko in Summer
Shiretoko in winter
Shiretoko in winter
Northern lights
Northern lights
The Shiretoko Peninsula is located in the northeast corner of Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. This peninsula, about 70 kilometers long and 40 kilometers across at its widest point, protrudes out into the southernmost part of the Sea of Okhotsk. Its name "Shiretoko" has its origins in an Ainu word, "sir.etok," meaning "the end of Mother Earth."
Shiretoko is the lowest latitude site in the northern hemisphere at which sea ice can be observed. The sea ice facilitates and provides for various ecosystems on both the land and in the surrounding sea. These unique features were highly appreciated by UNESCO and Shiretoko was thus designated as a World Natural Property on July 14th, 2005.
It is said that the first human inhabitants came to Shiretoko around 10,000 years ago. Some time after this, the Ainu people took up residence on the peninsula. Much later, in the Meiji era (1868-1912), the Japanese government started its program of settling Hokkaido, first attempted the settlement of Shiretoko in 1914, and made two later attempts in 1935 and 1949. However, over time this project was canceled due to the harsh natural environment of the region and all of the earlier settlers left Shiretoko with none returning until 1966.
As the Japanese conservation movement emerged and gained momentum, Shiretoko was designated as national park in 1964. In 1971, the song, "Shiretoko Ryojo," was released and became a huge hit making Shiretoko more popular than ever with tourists. The movement to restore the area's primeval forest started in 1977 and in the decades since a great many people have been making top-level efforts to preserve Shiretoko as is. The rough land formations found throughout Shiretoko has successfully prevented it from being damaged by human interaction to this point and for this reason, the peninsula retains a large number of animal and bird species in their natural habitat including the brown bear, Yezo sika deer, Steller's sea eagles, white-tailed eagles, Blakiston's fish-owls, Steller sea lions and seals.
The Inhabitants of Shiretoko
It was 1200 years ago when ocean hunters from the Asian mainland came down the coastline of the Sea of Okhotsk and set foot on Shiretoko. After merging and cohabiting with a tribe who had been living in the Hokkaido area, it is said that these people formed the origins of the Ainu people. Throughout their history, the Ainu people have always coexisted with nature and worshiped the many types of wild life found around them, particularly so the Blakiston's fish-owl, the brown bear, and the killer whale. Shiretoko contains several areas with the remains of Ainu settlements which offer a glimpse at the history and culture of the Ainu people.
"O-yatoi Gaikokujin (The Hired Foreigner)," Benjamin Lyman
The Meiji government invited many professionals from overseas to develop technology in Japan and these people were often called "O-yatoi gaikokujin (hired foreigners)." Many of these hands for hire contributed to the Hokkaido settlement project over the years and in Shiretoko, Benjamin Lyman, an American geologist implemented a geological research program on Mt. Io-dake in 1873; research that led to the mining of sulfur in Shiretoko come 1879.
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