The government on Thursday designated an evergreen forest region in the northern part of Okinawa Prefecture as its 33rd national park. Named Yanbaru National Park, it sits in the lushly forested Yanbaru region -- one of the largest subtropical forests in the nation. The announcement comes as the Environment Ministry aims to meet UNESCO criteria for its inclusion on the World Heritage list. To prepare for a recommendation, which will include the Ryukyu Islands, Yanbaru wild forest and Amami Islands in the neighboring Kagoshima Prefecture, the ministry approved the national park status to strengthen measures to protect the area. The new national park covers 13,622 hectares of land and 3,670 hectares of sea.
The government said Thursday it will submit a proposal to add a number of islands and several places linked to the history of Japan's persecuted Christians to UNESCO's list of natural and cultural World Heritage sites. The natural sites are Kagoshima Prefecture's Amami-Oshima Island and Tokunoshima Islands, the northern part of Okinawa Prefecture's main island and Iriomote Island, also in Okinawa. For the cultural sites, places in Nagasaki and Kumamoto prefectures associated with the history of Japan's persecuted Christians will be recommended. The decision on the proposal was made Thursday at a meeting of ministries and agencies. Following Cabinet approval, the government will submit the proposal to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization by Feb. 1, and a UNESCO panel will examine and decide whether to add the sites to the list in the summer of 2018, following on-site inspections.
The resolution said the U.S. has increased training exercises over private land since six helipads were built in the U.S. Northern Training Area. Some of the helipads are close to residential areas. Both the resolution and a separately adopted statement addressed to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said last Wednesday's emergency landing by the CH-53E transport, which took place a few hundred meters away from Okinawan homes, was "on the verge of being a major disaster." "It was a great shock to Okinawa residents, who are forced to live alongside military bases. The anxiety and fear of the residents are immeasurable," the assembly said.
Riot police have been deployed around the Northern Training Area as local residents continue protests against the construction. The Defense Ministry's Okinawa Defense Bureau started moving construction material and equipment into the area last week, prompting Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga to warn of damaged relations between the central government and the people in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan. On Thursday, the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly demanded the central government halt the project, citing the local population's concerns regarding safety and noise if Osprey aircraft use the helipads to be built in the training area. The Osprey is a tilt-motor aircraft that can land and take off like a helicopter and fly like an airplane. The United States agreed in 1996 to return to Japan about 4,000 hectares, or almost half of the training area straddling the villages of Kunigami and Higashi in northern Okinawa Island, in exchange for relocating helipads from the portion of the base to be returned to the area retained.
The Cabinet on Tuesday approved a decision to again recommend a chain of southwestern islands as a candidate for UNESCO's 2020 World Heritage list, after withdrawing the initial bid on the U.N. body's advice to conduct a further review. The recommendation will be done by Feb. 1. The 43,000-hectare area covers Amami Oshima and Tokunoshima islands in Kagoshima Prefecture, as well as the northern part of the main Okinawa island and Iriomote Island in Okinawa Prefecture. The area boasts extensive subtropical forests that are home to rare species such as the Amami rabbit, Okinawa rail and Iriomote cat. Tokyo marked the area as a candidate for the natural heritage list in February 2017, but dropped the bid last June after a UNESCO panel sought the addition of a forest in a former U.S. military site in northern Okinawa.