Shirakami-sanchi (Shirakami mountains), Japan


Shirakami-sanchi (Sirakami mountains) (40°22'- 40°32'N, 140°02'-140°12'E) is a World Heritage Site in Japan. Situated in the mountains of northern Honshu, this remote and trackless site includes the last virgin remains of the cool-temperate Japanese beech forest that once covered the hills and mountain slopes of northern Japan. The black bear, the serow and 84 species of birds are found in this forest.

Geographical location

The mountains are situated in far northwestern Honshu in northern Japan, on the border between Aomori and Akita Prefectures 15 kilometers (km) inland from the Forest Ecosystem Reserve. 40°22'- 40°32'N, 140°02'-140°12'E

Date and history of establishment

  • 1975: Tsugaru Quasi-National Park established; this is a narrow strip in the north forming part of a core;
  • 1990: A Nature Conservation Law, with Nature Conservation Area and buffer zones, established across the whole area under the hectares;
  • 1992: Almost the whole National Forest area gazetted as a core, plus Tsugaru Quasi-National Park and two prefectural parks.


16,971 hectares (ha) comprising a core area of 10,139 ha; and a buffer zone of 6,832 ha.

Land tenure

The Government. Managed by the Ministry of the Environment (ME), in cooperation with the Forestry Agency and the Governers of the two local Prefectures.


300 meters (m) to 1,243 m (Mt.Mukai-shirakami).

Physical features

The remote Shirakami Mountains are a maze of steep hills with summits between 1,000 and 1,200 m, more than half of which is composed of deep interlaced valleys with slopes of more than 30 degrees. They extend over 450 square kilometers (km2) and are mainly granite with sedimentary and intrusive rocks which were rapidly uplifted during the Quaternary, resulting in a dynamic landscape with numerous faults. Many streams have their sources within the area and it is an important water catchment area.


This is a moist cool temperate climate with heavy snow during the winter due to the proximity of the Sea of Japan and cold air masses that move in from Siberia.


The site comprises the last remaining large stand of Japanese (Seibold's) beech forest Fagus crenata virtually unaffected by man. Seibold's beech formed the typical temperate climax forest of Japan. Having escaped glaciation and established itself over 8,000 years ago the forest has an undisturbed native flora of more than 500 plant species, of which 108 have specially protected status. This figure is not high compared with other Japanese mountain areas, but does include many species characteristic of Japan, and its alpine and subalpine zones. Silene aomoriensis is endemic to the area. Threatened and semi-endemic relict species present include Ranzania japonica, Hylotelephium tsugaruense, Cerastium arvense var.ovatum, Poa ogamontana, Padicularis nipponica and numerous orchids: Calanthe discolor, C. nipponica, Cypripedium yatabeanum, Gymnadenia fujisanensis, Orchis graminifolia and Tipularia japonica. Japanese clethra Clethra barbinervis and anise magnolia Magnolia salicifolia are common decorative understorey trees.


14 of the 16 medium to large mammals of the Tohoku region of northern Honshu exist in the area, except for two species (Sus scrofa and Cervus nippon) restricted by the heavy snowfalls. Japanese serow Capricornis crispus is a Special Natural Monument species. Snow monkeys Macaca fuscata (1996 EN, 2000 DD) are found and the Japanese black bear Selenarctos thibetanus (VU), hunted elsewhere, is common. Also present are Japanese hare Lepus brachyurus angustidens, Japanese squirrel Sciurus lis, small Japanese flying squirrel Pteromys momonga, Japanese giant flying squirrel Petaurista leucogenys, Japanese dormouse Glirulus japonicus (EN), raccoon dog Nyctereutes procyonoides, Japanese fox Vulpes vulpes japonica, Japanese marten Martes melampus, ermine Mustela ermina, Siberian weasel Mustela sibirica and Eurasian badger Mele meles. The 84 bird species currently identified in the core zone include one pair of Japanese golden eagles Aquila chrysaetos japonica, three nesting pairs of black woodpecker Dryocopus martius, both of which are designated as Natural Monument and Special Bird species due to their rarity, one pair of mountain hawk-eagle Spizaetus nipalensis orientalis, also a Special Bird species and the rare harlequin duck Histrionicus histrionicus. Other characteristic species of these well watered woods are the mandarin duck Aix galericulata, Scops owl Otus scops, Greater pied kingfisher Ceryle lugubris, ruddy kingfisher Halcyon coromanda, broadbilled roller Eurystomus orientalis, nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes and brown dipper Cinclus pallasii. Seven species of reptile and nine amphibians have been recorded. The insect fauna is particularly rich, over 2,000 species having been recorded in the area, many of them at the northern or southernmost limits of their range.

Cultural Heritage

Special hunting techniques and ritual ceremonies practiced by a group of hunters known as matagi, surround bear hunting in the region.

Local human populations

There are no residents in the core or buffer zones, but the Reserve is surrounded by several small communities. Local people use the area for subsistence collection of edible mushrooms, herbs and bamboo and for regulated hunting and fishing.

Visitors and visitor facilities

There are no roads, foot-paths or man made structures within the site. But in 1998 the World Heritage Conservation Center (Fujisato) was built beside the site as a visitors' and information center. Each year some 3,000 people climb Mount Huatsumori, and approximately 50,000 visit the Anmon Falls in the buffer zone.

Scientific research and facilities

Researchers from local colleges and universities have long conducted studies of [[]vegetation]] and wildlife in the area, but much about the region remains unknown and a long-term monitoring program is projected to build up a reliable information base. In 1997 the Shirakami-sanchi World Heritage Conservation Center (Nishimeya) was built as a base research station.

Conservation value

The site is the last and largest area in East Asia of Siebold's beech forest to remain unaffected by man. Almost no logging has been carried out in the area due to its remoteness and steep slopes.

Conservation management

The World Heritage site is zoned into core and buffer areas. The core area is strictly protected as a 9,844 ha Special Zone/Wildlife Protection Zone in the Nature Conservation Area, as a 344 ha Special Protection Zone in the Quasi-National Park and as a 10,139 ha Preservation Area in the Forest Ecosytem Reserve which contains the other areas. The responsibility for enforcing protection rests with Ministry of the Environment, the Forestry Agency and the prefectural governers. Within either zone activities which threaten conservation such as construction, collection of animals or plants, mining and logging are not permitted and entry is regulated by the Ministry of the Environment.

Buffer areas which also include prefectural parks are managed for recreation and education as well as conservation. Patrolling is done to enforce the regulations. A management plan was prepared in 1995 and to promote more effective collaboration between the various agencies for the management of the site, a World Heritage Area Liaison Committee was established. Since 2000 the Committee has encouraged cooperation with the local municipalities and related organizations to the same end.

Management constraints

Black bears migrate outside the area and many are trapped and shot in the surrounding orchard farms. The area is regularly overflown by low-flying jets from a nearby military base. A project to build Seisyu forest road, between Aomoria and Akita prefectures was prepared in 1981 by the Forestry Agency. But the plan was opposed by local NGOs following fears that the construction could cause landslides, unusual water shortages, floods and snowslides and as a result the plan was halted.


Representatives of the Ministry of the Environment work at each of the World Heritage Conservation Centers. Forestry and Environment agency staff, volunteer staff and Nature Conservation Leaders sent from the prefectures periodically visit the area on foot.


The formal budget is attached to research expenses and patrolling.

IUCN management category

  • Ib (Wilderness Area)
  • Natural World Heritage Site, inscribed in 1993. Natural Criterion ii

Further reading

  • Anon (1992). World Heritage List Nomination Japan Shirakami-Sanchi (Shirakami-Mountains). Environment Agency, Agency for Cultural Affairs, Forestry Agency, Government of Japan. 32pp.
  • Anon. (1995). Shirakami-sanchi World Heritage Area Management Plan. Environment Agency, Forestry Agency, Agency for Cultural Affairs. Government of Japan. 11 pp.
  • Tagawa, H. & Yoda, K. (1985). A Case Study in the Biosphere on Yakushima Island. Report on special Grant-in-Aid "Environmental Sciences" by the Ministry of Education, Science & Culture. 17pp

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



M, U. (2008). Shirakami-sanchi (Shirakami mountains), Japan. Retrieved from


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