Links of interest for

Japan : Yakushima Island


Japan is a nation of 6,852 islands. The four largest in descending order from north to south are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu that together account for 97% of Japan’s land area. Kagoshima is one of the seven prefectures of Kyushu located at its southwest tip. Some 60 km SSW from Kyushu lie the Osumi archipelago comprising 3 main islands – Tanegashima, Yakushima and Kuchinoerabujima – that are of volcanic origin. During World War II the islands were occupied in the spring of 1945 by the US who administered them up to 1953 when they were returned to Japanese administration. In 1969 the Tanegashima Space Centre was established when the original National Space Development Agency was formed.

Yakushima is approximately 505 and it has a relatively circular perimeter of 132 km. The population is around 14,000. In the central part of the island, there is a mountain range that contains over 45 peaks including Mt. Miyanoura-dake 1,935 m above sea level, the highest mountain in Kyushu region. There are many rivers running down these mountains, creating deep valleys. The average annual temperature in the plains is 19.1C and the annual precipitation is estimated to be over 4,000 mm in the plain areas, and 10,000 mm in the mountainous areas. This climate pattern has resulted in dense forest noted especially for old growth cedar trees and magnificent rhododendrons. Yakushima’s unique remnant of a warm temperate ancient forest has been inscribed as World Natural Heritage Site since 1993 and this island is the focus of our case study.

Renewable Energy & Eco Housing

Yakushima has been studied as a model area where material recycling and indigenous energy systems could be realized based on the zero-emission concept. Currently, the major energy source for electricity on Yakushima is hydroelectric. The amount of electricity consumed is 58,400 MWh/y (or 211,000 GJ/y). This renewable energy accounts for about 30% of the island’s total energy supply. The rest of the energy consumed on the island is mainly fossil fuels including LPG, kerosene, gasoline diesel oil and heavy oil. The amount is 530,000 GJ/y. On this island, hydroelectric, wind, photovoltaic, solar thermal, biomass and waste energy sources are available as renewable energy sources. However, various academic papers have concluded Yakushima possesses enough potential hydropower alone to substitute all energy demands without impacting the environment on the island.

There are four hydroelectric power stations on the island. Three of them belong to a private company, Yakushima Denko Co. Ltd that consumes most of the generated electric energy in the production of silicon carbide. The company also sells some portion of its energy generation to commercial and residential sectors on the island. In 2002 a project called "Yakushima Clean Energy Partners" (Y-CEP) was begun and promoted by Denko. It aimed to create the world's first complete "hydrogen society" that uses only renewable, clean energy by between 2020 and 2030. The Y-CEP project had several main components that will use surplus hydro-electricity, including the production of hydrogen, compression, storage, and transportation to supply facilities on the island, and this hydrogen would be used for test driving fuel cell and hydrogen-powered vehicles.

In 2004, a hydrogen fueling station was constructed in the town of Miyanoura. This demonstration project was carried out by a collaboration involving a joint university team, Denko and Honda. The university team researched the efficiency of the hydrogen production, the design of an energy supply network on the island, and the public acceptance of a hydrogen society. Denko maintained and operated the station. Hydrogen was produced by on-site water electrolysis and stored as a compressed gas. Honda carried out the driving test runs using their FCX fuel cell vehicle. The produced hydrogen was supplied to the fuel cell vehicles for their testing.

In August 2010, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd and Kagoshima prefecture signed a Zero-Emission partnership to jointly embark on the “Development of a CO2-Free Island” project to create an advanced low-carbon society on Yakushima. The partnership will primarily focus on promoting the widespread adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) on the island and creating an environment where people can safely drive EVs and utilize renewable energy. Already, the prefecture has offered a purchase incentive for EVs by providing subsidies for installation of chargers, while Nissan has started to analyze how to install chargers using drive data analysis technology. The widely varied topography of Yakushima will also offer an ideal setting to conduct studies on further refining the navigation system for EVs to more precisely factor in road gradient.

Waste Minimisation & Recycling

In Yakushima, where currently flammable wastes are burned and non-flammable and large waste is buried underground for disposal, there has been an increase in the latter such as furniture, electric products and vehicles. Furthermore the disposal of waste left by the increasing number of tourists is becoming a problem. Whilst some separation and recycling does take place it has a long way to go to reach the standards of Kamikatsu village &   on Shikoku island. In Yakushima there was an experimental plant to produce methane by fermenting kitchen garbage and other organic waste but it is surprising this island has not yet introduced semi-aerobic landfill technology. This solid waste management system is a standard for municipal disposal sites elsewhere in Japan and has been replicated in other Pacific island countries like Palau, Vanuatu and FSM.

Extensive Agriculture & Organic Food Production

The main agricultural crops of Yakushima are sugarcane, sweet potatoes, green tea, turmeric, Ponkan oranges and tankan, a fruit that is juicier and sweeter than a Ponkan orange. Several of the fruit orchard growers use OrganicEM products and farming methods. Effective Microorganisms, or EM is one of the most popular microbial technologies being used worldwide now. EM was first discovered by Dr. Teruo Higa, professor of horticulture at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa and its products have been on the market since 1983. The ideal form of agriculture, as stated by Dr Higa, is to achieve not only food production but also to protect the environment, resources and human health while being economically successful.  


Flights to Yakushima operated by JAC take 35 minutes from Kagoshima airport. There are two ferry operators from Kagoshima arriving at Miyanoura Port. One prefectural road encompasses the island and it takes roughly 3 hours to drive around. Transportation within the island is by taxi and bus, with buses coming around once every hour. A part of the road on the western side of the island is so narrow and has so many twists and turns that local buses do not operate there. You have to come back along the same road or use a taxi to go through.

Sustainable Tourism & Niche Marketing

Yakushima attracts visitors wanting to see red-faced monkeys, sea turtles, 3,000-year-old shamanist traditions, abundant waterfalls, tidal pools, hot springs, banyan trees, and undertake hikes through dripping rain forests with giant 1,000-year-old moss-covered cedars. One particularly famous cedar, the Jomon cedar, has a 28-meter circumference and may be 7,200 year old, making it possibly the oldest living thing on the planet. Great efforts have been made to preserve the old tree. In the summer a guard is posted around it. Even though much of the island is inaccessible by road, there is a large network of hiking trails. One of the most popular routes is a three-day trek through the middle of the island. Popular destinations include the Jomon cedar, 88-meter-high Oko waterfall and 60-meter-high Senbiro waterfall, which tumbles down a massive granite cliff, and Shiranti Unsuikyo, a gorge with many waterfalls and mossy forests.

The Yakushima forest is visited by 300,00 tourists every year. It is said to have inspired the forest setting in Hayao Miyazaki’s film Princess Mononoke. The Yakusugi museum  is composed of two cylindrical buildings that pay tribute to the history of this beautiful forest. Various handicraft items like flower vases, urns, plates and dolls are made from cedar wood that has fallen on the forest floor and has not rotted. The best English guide to Yakushima is Yakumonkey and the Yakushima Nature Activity Centre offers many type of eco-tours and Quest Japan  a longer trip.

Yakushima has been described as a gastronomic delight with many specialities like flying fish, mackerel, cuttlefish, crab, kamenote and yomegasa that are types of shellfish. Accomodation ranges from the eco-luxurious Sankara hotel and spa  to Jerry’s campsite and guest house whose German owner keeps bees and sells honey to Sankara. Mango farms and rainforests lead you to Sankara’s entrance where guests are welcomed in the glass-walled library upon arrival and are escorted through the resort via carts. Hybrid Prius cars are available to rent. The hotel has its own herb garden and the menu focuses on local, fresh, organic ingredients. Room amenities abound, from boar-bristled biodegradable toothbrushes to organic herbal teas. There’s natural bamboo toothpaste, eco-beauty products and biodegradable trash bags. Tea cups from Kyoto’s famous Oku café delight guests, as does Sankara’s own spring water. In support of Yakushima and the local community guests are asked to donate ¥500 to an environmental fund, and all Sankara staff are registered residents and pay local tax.

Biodiversity & Protected Areas

Vegetation is significantly different from the mainland. Vertical vegetation distribution is distinct, with subtropical vegetation near the coastline, and warm temperate, temperate, cool temperate and subalpine species further inland as altitude increases. Cool temperate zone coniferous forest occurs, rather than the cool temperate beech forests typical of the mainland. Warm temperate broad leaved forest previously covered extensive areas of south Japan. This has largely been removed, due to high human population pressure, and the warm temperate forest trees in Yakushima are thus some of the few remaining in Japan.

Of great significance to the area is the presence of indigenous Japanese cedar, known colloquially as 'sugi'. Sugi can reach more than 1,000 years of age on stable sites under the climate of the island: specimens younger than 1,000 years are known as 'Kosugi'; older specimens, which may reach 3,000 years, are known as 'Yakusugi' and are found between 600 m and 1,800 m. Traditionally, the island mountains have been considered to have a spiritual value and the 'Yakusugi' were revered as sacred trees.

The flora is very diverse for such a small island, comprising more than 1900 species and subspecies. Of these, 94 are endemic, mostly concentrated in the central high mountains. More than 200 species are at the southern limit of their natural distribution and a number are at their northern limit. A distinctive characteristic of the vegetation is the exuberance of epiphytes, particularly at higher elevations.

The fauna of the island is diverse, with 16 mammal species. Four mammal subspecies, including Japanese macaque and sika deer, are endemic to the island. A further four subspecies are endemic to both Yakushima Island and the neighbouring island of Tanegashima. Among the 150 bird species present, four, including Ryukyu robin and Japanese wood pigeon, have been designated as Natural Monuments. There are also 15 species of reptiles, 8 species of amphibians  and approximately 1,900 species of insects which are confirmed to inhabit the island.

Yakushima and Tanegashima islands are the two main turtle egg-laying areas in Japan. Yakushima is the largest nesting site for loggerhead turtle in the North Pacific and the northernmost landfall in Japan for green turtles. The egg-laying season for the sea turtles is from late April to July with hatchlings making their way to the sea from July to September. About 100 people show up every night to observe the females come ashore and lay their eggs. Sometimes they create a disturbance with car lights and noise. There have been cases of turtles coming ashore and not laying any eggs and baby turtles not being able to emerge from their holes because the sand had been disturbed. The Yakushima Umigame Kan  &  is non-profit organization run by volunteers that is dedicated to helping the turtles.

The nature conservation system of the island is extremely complex. Kirishima-Yaku National Park was gazetted in 1964 under the National Parks Law, comprising land on Yakushima Island and Kirishima National Park on Kyushu mainland. A wilderness area designated under the Nature Conservation Law in 1975 forms a small part of the central World Heritage Site. Under the Law of Protection of Cultural Properties, 4,300ha was established as a special natural monument area and lies entirely within the World Heritage property. A forest ecosystem reserve was established in 1991, and comprises the World Heritage area and various adjacent blocks of land. The centre of Yakushima Island, and parts of the island's southern and western coastal lowlands were internationally recognized as a Biosphere Reserve under UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme in 1980. Yakushima was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1993 but the real battle to save the island’s forests had been fought – and won – a decade earlier as described in this article.

The problems of preserving Yakushima’s natural environment are also multifold. They include the maintenance of mountain trails, improvement of facilities for treating sewage at mountain shelters, countermeasures against over-usage of the area, and appropriate eco-tourism operations. In order to implement solutions to these problems financial resources were needed. Since 1993, a fee has been collected at the entrance of each site as ‘Forest Environment Maintenance Promotion Cooperation Fees’ by members of local organizations commissioned by the Forestry Agency to undertake remedial work as detailed in this good practice publication.  Nevertheless, as discussed in this paper, Yakushima still needs clear management practices to ensure cumulative damage from improved access does not destroy what is a unique area of wilderness.

Integrated Development Planning

Before Yakushima was inscribed as a World Natural Heritage Site, Kagoshima prefecture had designated the island a model area for community development in symbiosis with nature in the Yakushima Environmental Cultural Village Concept. A master plan was formulated as a guideline for regional development. This plan was created on the basis of discussion held in three study groups at the national, prefectural and island level, which included involvement of eminent scholars, relevant institutions and local residents. As a result of this plan the Yakushima Environmental Culture Foundation was established as the parent body for promotion of the whole concept. This included construction of the Yakushima Environmental Culture Village Center (YECVC) and the Yakushima Environmental Culture Learning Centre (YECLC) to serve as core facilities for environmental studies and education.

Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation Measures

The international community has recognised the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050. In order to achieve this target, it is imperative to develop low-carbon societies in Asia, which integrate robust scientific knowledge, and are sensitive to the multi-faceted needs and values of different Asian countries as they account for more than half the global population and greenhouse gas emissions. This project aims to develop comprehensive methodologies to design, calculate and evaluate the mid to long term policy options towards Low-Carbon Societies in Asia as well as formulate policy roadmaps and disseminate these for implementation.