Sustainable Travel in Japan

Japan is a dramatic tapestry of cultural and natural heritage woven from its pink cherry blossoms, snowy mountain peaks, meticulous ceremonies, and striking pagodas that crisscross the highly volcanic archipelago nation of nearly 7,000 islands. One of the world’s oldest countries, human presence in Japan is thought to date back over 200,000 years, with the Neolithic J?mon emerging around 13,000 BCE and the first permanent capital established at Nara in 710 BCE. Over 60% of Japan is covered in mountains, with nine forest ecoregions ranging from subtropical to temperate, and its famous “Snow Monkeys” – the Japanese Macaque – are the northern-most non-human primate. The island of Hokkaido, with its subarctic climate, is home to the Ussuri brown bear, and more than 230 species of birds, including the Steller’s sea eagle, considered a national treasure. Japan’s original Shinto religion, with its respect for the natural world, and the subsequent arrival of Buddhism in the 6th Century, are showcased across the landscape in the proliferation of shrines, temples, and a UNESCO World Heritage ancient pilgrimage route, the Kumano Kodo. The country’s varied climates and terrains lend themselves to world-class skiing, surfing, hiking, and soaking in an extensive network of traditional onsen - natural hot springs. Known globally for its hypermodern cities, a high-speed shinkansen bullet train connecting the country, and a renowned national cuisine, Japan is an inspiring study in contrasts between ancient and modern.

What are they doing right?

Japan is promoting ‘gastronomy tourism’, based on its traditional cuisine - recognized on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List - as a tool for inclusive development that fuels economic growth, cultural pride and preservation, and community empowerment, especially beneficial in the country’s rural regions. And organizations like the Japan Ecolodge Association (ECOLA) and the Asian Ecotourism Network are educating the private sector on how to embrace sustainable tourism principles and practices. The country also demonstrates commitment to environmental practices within the travel industry through heavy investment in ‘green’ vehicles, efficient and well-connected public transportation, and carbon offset initiatives like the government ‘J Credit Scheme’ that certifies the quantity of greenhouse gases reduced and absorbed by national CO2 sinks.

The Tiger Ranking

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Japan has nine forest ecoregions that range from subtropical moist broadleaf forests in the Ry?ky? and Bonin Islands, to temperate broadleaf and mixed forests in the mild climate regions of the main islands, to temperate coniferous forests in the cold, winter portions of the northern islands. Japan relied on nuclear reactors for energy but began shutting down many of its nuclear reactors in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. Since then, the Japanese government has backed research, development and adoption of clean technology. Using LED lights they developed, Japanese businesses have been able to cut office electricity consumption by 40 percent, according to a Fortune report. In another example of this commitment, the heavy machinery manufacturer Komatsu installed solar panels, uses underground water for cooling and has embraced clean manufacturing technology. These measures resulted in energy savings of 40 percent over three years.

Why the Tiger Ranking?