JIN-331 -- The Dams May Yet Fall

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T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R
Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News
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Issue No. 331
Tuesday July 26, 2005 TOKYO

+++ VIEWPOINT The Dams May Yet Fall
1. Shiretoko Designated a World Natural Heritage Site
2. The World Will Be Watching

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+++ VIEWPOINT The Dams May Yet Fall
1. Shiretoko Designated a World Natural Heritage Site

"Don't drink and raise hell and climb the hills of Shiretoko"
-- senryu (humorous verse) recently published in the "Asahi"

The tip of the Shiretoko Peninsula, jutting from northeast Hokkaido into
the Sea of Okhotsk and the Nemuro Straits, was designated a World
Natural Heritage Site by UNESCO on July 14. But perhaps not a few
Japanese greeted the announcement with mixed feelings. The sudden
jump in visitors to Japan's two other World Natural Heritage Sites --
Yakushima Island, in Kagoshima Prefecture, and the Shirakami Mountains,
straddling Akita and Aomori prefectures -- has raised concerns about
pollution. The Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural
and Natural Heritage says nature and culture are treasures belonging to
all humankind that must be protected from threats such as environmental
pollution. Implicit in the Japanese Government's recommendation for
Shiretoko's registration as a World Natural Heritage site was a promise
to the world to preserve the area.

In the 1980s environmentalists launched a movement against lumbering in
national forest in Shiretoko. Long was the journey to designation as a
World Natural Heritage Site. The responsibility for preserving nature is
heavy, yet having the eyes of the world on its forests and mountains may
be just what Japan needs.

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2. The World Will Be Watching

The postwar generation of expat writers and scholars (who came of
age during the Occupation) wistfully recall Japan as the world's
most beautiful country. Much of what made them extol the beauty of
Japan was bulldozed under and cemented over during the postwar
"economic miracle." The manna from the miracle induced the
bubble-era frenzy in which forest were cleared and mountaintops
leveled for construction of garish resorts and golf courses and of
theme parks to which people could escape when they awoke to just how
ugly their country had become.

Without the world watching one fears what might have become of
the environs of the Buddhist monuments in Horyu-ji and the
historic monuments of ancient Kyoto and Nara -- some of the 10
places in Japan designated Cultural Heritage sites in the 1990s.

The World Conservation Union(IUCN) had requested Japan strengthen
protection of the sea off Shiretoko and improve the peninsula's
ecosystem by removing dams. The government pledged compliance,
and the IUCN recommended to UNESCO Shiretoko's designation as a
World Natural Heritage Site.

Will the Japanese Government comply with the IUCN's requests? The removal
of dams would seem to go against the bureaucratic grain. "Japan's
Construction Ministry plans to add 500 new dams to the more than 2,800
that have already been built," writes Alex Kerr in "Dogs and Demons"
(2002).

With the eyes of the world now on Shiretoko, the dams may yet fall.

-- Burritt Sabin

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EDITOR
Written and edited by Burritt Sabin (editors2@japaninc.com)

(C) Copyright 2005 Japan Inc Communications KK. All Rights Reserved.

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