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Facts on Biodiversity & Human Well-being


Protected Areas and World Heritage


NAME Yakushima (Yaku-Island)


Kirishima-Yaku National Park, II, (National Park)
Yaku Island Forest Ecosystem Reserve, Ia, (Strict Nature Reserve)
Yakushima Wilderness Area, Ia, (Strict Nature Reserve)
Biosphere Reserve
Natural World Heritage Site - Criteria ii, iii

BIOGEOGRAPHICAL PROVINCE 2.02.02 (Japanese Evergreen Forest)

GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION Yaku Island, in the northern end of the Ryukyu archipelago, is separated from the southernmost tip of Kyushu mainland by a 120m deep, 60km wide strait. The area has a complex, sinuous boundary, which is less than 1km wide in some places. It lies in the centre of the island, with arms stretching west, south and east. The western arm extends down to the coast. 30°20'N, 130° 30'E

DATE AND HISTORY OF ESTABLISHMENT Kirishima-Yaku National Park was gazetted in 1964 under the National Parks Law, comprising land on Yaku 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 recognised as a Biosphere Reserve under UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme in 1980. Yakushima was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1993.


Kirishima-Yaku National Park: 54,833ha
Yakushima World Heritage Site: 10,747ha
Yakushima Island Biosphere Reserve: 19,000ha
Yakushima Wilderness Area: 1,219ha
Yaku Island Forest Ecosystem Reserve: 14,600ha

LAND TENURE 96% government owned; 4% private ownership (Anon, 1992).

ALTITUDE Sea-level to 935m

PHYSICAL FEATURES Yakushima island is almost 2,000m high and is the highest mountain in southern Japan. Several peaks are over 1,800m with mountain ridges over1,000m surrounding these central high peaks. Topography from coastline to the mountainous summits is extremely steep. The predominant bedrock is granite, but small areas of sandstone and shale occur at the foot of the central mountain (Anon, 1992; Numata, 1986).

CLIMATE Varies with altitude from sub-tropical, warm temperate to cool temperate, tending to sub-alpine. Mean annual temperature is 20°C in coastal areas, decreasing to 15°C inland. Air temperature can fall below zero in the mountain summit area and snowfall is common in winter. Annual precipitation is very high, varying with altitude and aspect, from 4000mm along the coast to 10,000mm inland. Humidity is also very high, averaging 73-75%, and in the rainy season, June, exceeding 80%.

VEGETATION Vegetation is significantly different from the mainland. Vertical vegetation distribution is distinct, with sub-tropical vegetation near the coastline, and warm temperate, temperate, cool temperate and sub-alpine species further inland as altitude increases. Cool temperate zone coniferous forest, characterised by Abies firma, Tsuga sieboldii and Cryptomeria japonica 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 Cryptomeria japonica, known colloquially as 'sugi'. Sugi can reach more than a thousand years old on stable sites under the climate of the island: specimens younger than 1,000 years are known as 'Kosugi'; older specimens, which may reach 3000 years, are known as 'Yakusugi', and are found between 600 and 1800m (Numata, 1986).

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.

FAUNA The fauna of the island is diverse, with sixteen mammal species. Four mammal sub-species, including Japanese macaque Macaca fuscata yakui and sika deer Cervus nippon yakushimae, are endemic to the island. Population size of both species is approximately 3,000. A further four sub-species are endemic to both Yaku Island and the neighbouring island of Tanegashima, including Apodemus speciosus dorsalis. Amongst the 150 bird species present, four, including Ryukyu robin Erithacus komadori komadori and Japanese wood pigeon Columba janthina janthina have been designated as Natural Monuments. There are also 15 species of reptile, eight species of amphibians and about 1,900 species of insects.

CULTURAL HERITAGE Traditionally, the island mountains have been considered to have a spiritual value and the 'Yakusugi' were revered as sacred trees.

LOCAL HUMAN POPULATION None inside the area. The population of Yaku island is 14,000.

VISITORS AND VISITOR FACILITIES Within the nominated area, a limited number of hikers' paths and two huts are maintained, but no other man-made constructions exist. Thereis no visitor centre although a new 'Yakusugi Museum' has been built on one of the main access roads to the buffer of the nominated area. The island is accessible by air or by a four hour ferry trip from Kagushima (Sutherland and Britton, 1980). 13,000 visitors a year walk the trails inside the area.

SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND FACILITIES The Yakushima forests have been the subject of detailed ecological studies since the area was selected as a Biosphere Reserve (Tagawa and Yoda, 1985). An ecological study of Japanese macaque in the nominated site has been carried out since 1975 by members of Kyoto University.

CONSERVATION VALUE Yakushima occupies a strategic situation on the boundary between Holoarctic and Palaeotropic biogeographical regions. Much of its conservation value is reflected in the 200 plant species which have the southern limit of their natural distribution on the island. The altitudinal continuum of the forests across nearly 2,000m is considered to be not only the best in the Japanese archipelago, but the best remaining in East Asia.

Ancient yakusugi trees are of prime conservation value to the island. Individual trees are known by name, and details of height and age are given in Anon (1992).

CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT A managment plan for the World Heritage Area was prepared in 1995. Managment of the site is the responsibility of the Environment and Forestry Agency, the Agency for Cultural Affairs and Kagoshima Prefecture. To provide more effective cooperation and collaboration between these agencies, a World Heritage Area Liaison Committee is being established. It is also intended that local people become involved in the implementation of management objectives.

Management priorities are to strictly conserve the area so as to prevent the loss of its World Heritage values. Activities which may threaten the integrity of the site, such as tree felling, construction of buildings, collection of soil, stones and rocks are strictly regulated (Anon, 1995). A total banning on cutting of yakusugi now exists. The only utilisation of yakasugi permitted today is unearthing of buried timber and stumps (Anon, 1992).

MANAGEMENT CONSTRAINTS High precipitation and susceptibility of sandy soils to water erosion, places constraints on trail construction and maintenance. The main threat to this area is the proposals to widen the `Seibu-Rindoh` road, which would damage the surrounding forest and could also cause landslides.

STAFF Three permanent rangers. Forestry and environment agency staff regularly visit the area on foot.

BUDGET No formal budget allocated to the site.


Aso-Kuju National Park Office, 1180 Kurokawa, Aso-cho, Aso County, Kumamoto Prefecture

Kumamoto Regional Forest Office, 2-7 Honcho, Kyomachi, Kumamoto-shi


Anon (1992). World Heritage List nomination Yakushima (Yaku-Island). Environment Agency, Agency for Cultural Affairs, Forestry Agency. Government of Japan. 28pp.

Anon (1995). Yakusima World Heritage Area Management Plan. Environment Agency, Forestry Agency, Agency for Cultural Affairs. Government of Japan. 10 pp.

Chyo, M. (1989). The estimation of tree numbers of Sugi Cryptomeria japonica in Yakushima, Japan. Science Bulletin of the Faculty of Agriculture Kyushu University. 43: 1-2. (abstract)

Numata, M. 1986. The Natural Characteristics of Yaku Island. Reprinted from Memoirs Shukutoku University. No 20. Pp.15-20.

Sutherland, M. and Britton, D. (1980). National Parks of Japan. Kodansha International Ltd., Japan. 148pp.

Tagawa, H. and 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 and Culture. 17pp.

DATE February 1993, revised June 1993


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