Places:Shari-cho, Shari-gun/Rausu-cho, Menashi-gun, Hokkaido

Shiretoko, a new natural heritage site registered only in July 2005, is considered to be the last pristine wilderness remaining in Japan. Shiretoko is a long narrow peninsula located in northeastern Hokkaido. The volcanic Shiretoko mountain range runs down the center of the peninsula and includes the highest peak of the range, Rausu-dake (1,661 m above sea level) and the active volcano Iouyama. The Sea of Okhotsk lies on the western side of the range and the Nemuro Straits on the eastern side. The coastline cliffs facing the Sea of Okhotsk rise up more than 100 m high, and you can glimpse waterfalls large and small cascading directly into the sea, and colonies of seabirds.

The salmon and trout that breed in the sea off Shiretoko are an important food resource supporting the terrestrial ecosystem with rare birds such as Blakiston's fish owl, Steller's sea eagle and the white-tailed sea eagle, as well as brown bears. The Shiretoko ecosystem is a dramatically clear example of the linkage between marine and terrestrial ecosystems, and it is considered an important wildlife reserve, with unique features unlike any other in the world.

Shiretoko, blessed with mountains, lakes and an abundance of plants and animals, offers many places of interest throughout the seasons. A good example is the Shiretoko Goko or Shiretoko Five Lakes, situated on a lava plateau surrounded by old-growth forest. The five lakes don't have individual names; they are referred to by number from Lake No. 1 to Lake No. 5. If you take a stroll along the walking trail (takes approximately 1 hour), you may see wild animals and will certainly enjoy the beauty of the changing seasons.

In the fall, when the mountains are adorned in red and yellow, the hoards of salmon and trout swarming up river to spawn are an incredible sight. In winter, there is also beautiful scenery as the drifting ice changes the Sea of Okhotsk into a white snowfield. There are various nature experience programs available at the site such as night tours for animal watching under wonderful starlit skies, daytime treks for alpine plant spotting while surrounded by birds singing, or nature watching enjoying waterfalls and wild animals while walking along the trail. It is highly recommended to contact Shiretoko Nature Center before departing.

Himeji-jo Castle, Himeji City

Hyogo prefecture

Because its pure white appearance with white plaster coating looks like a dancing Shirasagi (Egret) with wings spread, this famous castle is also called the "Shirasagi-jo" or "Hakuro-jo". It was spared from damage during the war and from many other disasters and is in a remarkably preserved state compared to other castles. Seventy-four structures within the castle site including a tower and gate are designated as important cultural assets of Japan.

The year of establishment was 1346. Later, the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1589), who ruled over most of Japan, built a full-scale castle wall, which became the base for present-day Himeji-jo. At the start of the Edo period, the castle underwent considerable renovation over a 9-year period to create the magnificent appearance we see today.

If you are confident in the strength of your legs and back to climb up and down, you should take a look around the inside of the castle. Clearly, beauty was not the only priority of those in power throughout the ages. Its complicated structure, particularly the three tall watchtowers connected by columns and winding maze-like passages, functions well as a war fort and conceals a mechanism to halt the invasion of enemies and throw them into confusion. The design is intended to prevent access to the tallest watchtower and castle keep, situated at the heart of the castle, which functions as a center, so beware if you go there without a map, you may get lost!

Among the many gates are the remains of gate mechanisms for dropping stones on the enemy if they manage to enter, or gates with an extremely narrow passageway so that not many people could pass at once. Numerous holes to shoot from are made in the castle wall and there are windows from which to drop gigantic stones on the enemy, too. It is very interesting that there is a kitchen in the inner court in case the castle falls under siege or an attempt is made to starve out the occupants. By the way, the thick coating of white plaster on the outer surface is not just there for aesthetic purposes but also for defense, because of its excellent resistance to fire and bullets.

The castle keep rising from the peak of Mt. Hime-yama is built with a total height of 32 m on a stone wall approx. 15 m high, and the view from the top of the keep is spectacular. On a fine day, you can imagine the emotions of a feudal warlord with his ambitions to dominate the whole country. At night, the entire castle is lit up, so a visit after sunset is highly recommended as well.

Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu

Okinawa prefecture

Cultural heritage sites are scattered among the southernmost islands of Japan and on the main island of Okinawa. There are 9 ruins symbolizing the unique culture and religious beliefs of the Kingdom of Ryukyu that once flourished here.

In Okinawa, dictatorships began to arise in various areas from around the twelfth century, and castle-like buildings called "Gusuku" were constructed. However, these buildings were not like Himeji-jo Castle, which is registered as a world heritage site as well, but more like a fort. Gusuku were also treated as sacred sites under local religious belief. When the 14th century came along, each area was unified into three counties and the unified Kingdom of Ryukyu was finally established in 1429. In line with this, the symbol of the Kingdom "Shuri-jo Castle" became the sole Gusuku.

Shuri-jo is built on upland 120 m above sea level overlooking Naha City. The castle area surrounded by stone walls approx. 10 m high is 400 m east to west and 270 m north to south. Inside the castle, there is an open space and facilities for political, cultural and diplomatic activities and festivals, and the largest wooden structure in Okinawa "Shoden (central building)" was built on the castle premises. This building shows a strong influence from various cultures including from Japan and China, which proves that trade with Asian countries was very active at the time. The pattern of dragons or vermilion lacquer coating shows the influence of China, and the structural form of the roof shows the influence of Japan. Shurijo was completely destroyed in World War II and most of the present buildings are reproductions built up until 1992. Because this place is used as a location for TV dramas, it attracts many tourists.

On the west side of Shurijo is a massive stone structure, "Tamaudun", created using a natural rocky outcrop. This is the tomb of the successive royal families of the Kingdom of Ryukyu, and the inside of the tomb is paved with coral reef fragments, and at the center of the structure and in the east and west towers stand lion statues called Shisa, which are a symbol of Okinawa and a charm against evil.

Naha city, Chinen village, Nakagusuku village, Kitanakagusuku village, Katsuren town, Yomitan village, Nakijin village, all on the Okinawa Main Island in Okinawa prefecture.