Photo: Deep in the forest in Yakushima
There are 25 World Heritage Sites in Japan (as of March 2023). Of the 25 sites, 20 sites are cultural heritage sites and 5 sites are natural heritage sites. 3 sites (1 is cultural and 2 are natural) can be found in Kagoshima.
Yakushima was one of the 4 inaugural World Heritage sites recognized in Japan, being selected in 1993 and is currently one of only four Natural sites in Japan. Yakushima is an isolated mountainous island with multiple mountains over 2,000 meters high. For anybody that knows Yakushima, it is obvious how beautiful the nature is, but what makes it different is the unique ecosystem that dwells in the center of the island. While Yakushima is a primeval temperate rainforest, it also contains elements of other climate zones such as sub-tropical and cold-temperate. This creates a rare biodiversity that is made up of nearly 2,000 species and subspecies of flora. Most importantly, though, is the ancient primeval forest containing the Yakusugi cedar trees, all over 1,000 years in age. The climate and ecosystem found in the islands is one of a kind in the Northern Hemisphere. The island is relatively untouched by mankind and is highly protected for preservation.
Sites of the Meiji Industrial Revolution
This is one of the newer World Heritages of Japan, being selected in 2015. It is not one site, but a collection of components (23 in total), mostly in the Kyushu area, that had an important role in the development of industrial Japan during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Simply put, these 23 areas were where Western industrialization was successfully adopted by a non-Western nation for the first time. They include iron, steel, shipbuilding, coal mining, and other similar industries.
One of the major sites, known as Shuseikan, is located at Sengan-en, in Kagoshima City. Shuseikan is perhaps the birthplace of Western manufacturing in Japan, as it was the location of Japan’s first reverberatory furnaces in the mid-1800s, which allowed machinery to be mass produced. Lord Nariakira Shimadzu of the Satsuma Clan (present day Kagoshima) was highly intrigued by western technology and thought it essential to adopt Western technology to protect Japan from foreign threats.
Historically, Kagoshima was one of the first areas in Japan to interact and trade with Western countries. All of this history can be seen and observed at Sengan-en.
(Shuseikan is currently under renovation. It will open again in October 2024)
Amami-Oshima Island, Tokunoshima Island, the northern part of Okinawa Island and Iriomote Island
This area is listed as a Natural World Heritage Site in July 2021. It consists of these four islands which are located at the north end of the Ryukyu (around Okinawa) Islands. 2 of the islands are part of Kagoshima, Amami-Oshima Island and Tokunoshima Island. Being located between the tropical and warm-temperate zones has created a diverse ecosystem. However, what has really pushed this area to become world heritage, is rare variety of organisms that live on the islands.
Kagoshima is a wonderful places full of nature, history, and culture. Making a trip to all these sites is definitely worth it for those looking for some out of the big city adventure.
Author: Kagoshima Cameron