GIAHS Takachihogo-Shiibayama Site
Takachihogo-Shiibayama is a beautiful elevated region in the northwest of Miyazaki, enclosed by the Kyushu Mountains. A forested landscape sparse of flat lands, it’s one of Japan’s biggest terraced rice fields, spanning 1,800 hectares. The area comprises five towns and villages and was designated a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS) site in December 2015.
The GIAHS is a project of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations that was started in response to the devastating effects of modern agriculture — deforestation, polluted waters and destruction of various cultures and landscapes. The objective of the project is to conserve and protect agricultural systems, such as traditional farming techniques, methods of maintaining biodiversity, and outstanding cultures and landscapes, to be passed on to future generations.
The people of Takachihogo-Shiibayama have long co-existed with nature, supporting themselves through traditional agricultural practices — from planting pine trees for lumber and raising wagyu cattle on collected roughage, to growing grains and tea on terrace-style paddocks.
The slash-and-burn farming method used by Shiiba Village, for example, has a minimal effect on the surrounding wildlife while ensuring the sustainability of its lush forests. Only a small area is burned at a time in patches, and after various grains are cultivated over a period of four years, the fields are given a long, fallow period to rest and restore.
In Morotsuka Village, a unique patchwork of conifers — Japanese cedar, evergreen broadleaf, and deciduous broadleaf trees used in shiitake mushroom cultivation — makes up what is known as the “mosaic forest”. Here, the tradition of maintaining and managing forests is paramount, and it’s one of the top areas of timber production in Japan.
The Takachihogo-Shiibayama area, which also includes the towns of Takachiho, Hinokage and Gokase, has also produced extremely valuable cultural traditions. The ancient Shinto ritual, kagura, celebrates the delicate, sustainable balance between people and nature. Dedicated to the gods of Japanese mythology that live in the surrounding forests and mountains, the dance is an expression of gratitude and a prayer for a plentiful harvest.
Visitors can enjoy the ceremonial dance performance in the version known as Takachiho Kagura on the grounds of Takachiho Shrine. The annual Heike Festival of Shiiba Village, held in November each year, recreates a devastating legend about love from long ago and is also a must-see.
In addition to its agricultural and cultural assets, Takachihogo-Shiibayama boasts unmatched natural beauty and mountain scenery. Visitors can take a boat ride through the columnar joints of Takachiho Gorge and marvel up at the 17-m (55-ft) high Manai Falls, or travel to Gokase to watch one of the beautiful sunsets this town is famous for. Hinokage has its own waterfall, Yato Kannon, which falls some 41 meters (135 feet) into a small pond.
The Takachihogo-Shiibayama site is a 2.5-3 hour drive north from Miyazaki City. Visitors without a car can still enjoy parts of the area by taking the JR train from Miyazaki City to Nobeoka Station, and then a bus from the adjacent Nobeokaeki Bus Stop to Takachiho Town. The bus stops directly opposite the Takachiho Tourism Association, which is a 10-min walk from Takachiho Shrine and a 30-min walk from Takachiho Gorge. Taxis are available to take from Takachiho to the neighboring towns and villages, although please be warned that this is an expensive option.
Written by En Miyazaki writer
This article was written in Spetember 2018.
Some photos used in this article were taken at an earlier date.