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Remarkable Recovery: The Modern History of Japan’s Environment

Once upon a time, Japan was severely polluted, its air and rivers so badly contaminated that many animals and plants were in danger of vanishing from the country. In this series the environmental scholar Ishi Hiroyuki, who has researched environmental degradation in 130 countries around the world, visits some of the most profoundly affected areas in Japan to observe the damage—and the way they have bounced back from it.

 Japan’s Forests: From Lumber Source to Beloved ResourceIshi Hiroyuki

The threat of a burgeoning forestry industry posed to destroy even such places as Shirakami-Sanchi and Yakushima—both later to become World Heritage Sites—triggered a powerful movement to save native forests. This movement was to mark a turning point in the relationship between the Japanese people and their forest lands.

Protecting the ForestsIshi Hiroyuki

More than two-thirds of Japanese territory is forestland. This has fostered a culture of reverence and appreciation for forests and trees. Presented here is an overview of the history of forest conservation in Japan.

Human-Animal Ties: Japanese Takes in Both Life and DeathIshi Hiroyuki

Animal graves and memorial markers are to be found throughout Japan, a reflection of a Japanese sensibility that does not distinguish between humans and animals but perceives both as equal elements of nature.

Japanese Perceptions of LifeIshi Hiroyuki

A complete examination of wildlife in Japan must include consideration of the Japanese people’s views of the fauna. In this article, Ishi Hiroyuki examines Japanese attitudes towards animals and the historical origins of those attitudes.

Seeking Balance with the BearIshi Hiroyuki

The Japanese black bear (Ursus thibetanus japonicus) has vanished from the islands of Shikoku and Kyūshū in southwestern Japan, but on the main island of Honshū they remain plentiful and in some areas pose a serious threat to farm crops and human life. We see here a conflict between humans and wildlife that runs deeper than the simple dichotomy of hunting and preservation.

Rebellion of the WildIshi Hiroyuki

So far, this series has focused on wild bird species and their recovery from near-extinction. But protection can at times go too far, upending the natural balance and sending animal populations to dangerous levels. Japan’s deer offer a prime example of this.

Rediscovery and Recovery of the Crested IbisIshi Hiroyuki

In the early 1980s, when bird conservationists around the world feared that the crested ibis was in danger of extinction, Japan’s Environment Agency (now Ministry of the Environment) launched a program to breed and raise the birds in captivity. But the birds died, one after another. Finally, when only one was left, good news arrived from China: crested ibises had been rediscovered in the wild.

The Return of the Crested IbisIshi Hiroyuki

Kin, Japan’s last crested ibis born in the wild, died in 2003. Her demise did not mean the extinction of the species, however, as researchers in China were successfully breeding other wild crested ibises that they had discovered earlier. This article explores the relationship between the Japanese people and the crested ibis, Nipponia nippon.

Crane on the Rubbish Heap: The Challenges of Continuing ConservationIshi Hiroyuki

Hokkaidō now has the world’s largest population of red-crowned cranes, but this has also created a dilemma. While the birds are no longer endangered, they are proving a menace to farmers who complain that they are destroying their crops. Is there a way for the cranes and human beings to coexist?

A Thousand Cranes Take FlightIshi Hiroyuki

The red-crowned crane has long been revered in Japan as an auspicious bird. Once the cranes could be found throughout the country, but overhunting in the early years of Japan’s modern era decimated their numbers until they disappeared altogether on the main island of Honshū. Fortunately, extensive conservation efforts have brought back the beloved bird from near extinction. Where at one point there were only 33 red-crowned cranes confirmed in Japan, there are now 1,800.

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