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Japanese National Parks System

photo: Mt. Fuji

The first national park in the world was Yellowstone National Park which is located in the Rocky Mountains in the U.S., and was designated in 1872.

Then, countries shich as Canada, Australia and New Zealand adopted the U.S. system and set up national parks. As these countries were all on new coutries, they had large wilderness areas and most of the undeveloped lands were nationally owned. Therefore, it must have been relatively easy for governments to establish natinal parks in their lands in those days.

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In Japan, a movement to set up national parks began int the early 20th century. After many twists and turns, the National Parks Law was enacted in 1931, almost sixty years after the first national park was establishesd in the U.S.. In March 1934, Setonaikai, Unzen and Kirishima National Parks were designated as the first national parks, followed by the designation of nine more national parks one after another by 1936.

However, as World War II erupted soon after Japan's national parks administration was forced to halt activities. It resumes in 1945, and in 1946 the Ise-Shima area became the first national park designated after the war.

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In 1957, the National Parks Law was replaced by the Natural Parks Law and the system of natural parks, which consists of national parks, quasi-national parks and prefectural natural parks, was orgainzed. National parks are outstanding natural scenic areas in Japan which are designated and directly managed by the nation. Presently, there are 29 national parks in Japan with a total area of 2,086,945 ha, accounting for about 5.5% of Japan's total land area (as of March, 2008).

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In the U.S. or Canada, the government owns most lands of national parks and uses them only as parks. But Japan needed to adopt a different system because when the government planned the system, the lands which were intended to be made national parks included government-owned, public-owned and privately-owned lands. Therefore, the government did not change the ownership of the lands but adopted a system to regulate them by law as parks areas. Most of the government-owned lands are national forests under the control of the Forest Agency and those managed by the Ministry of the Environment are very samll. It is noteworthy that Japanese national parks include some lands that are actually used for agriculture and forestry.

The government takes special measures in order to preserve valuable natural scenery and biological diversity of the park lands that are also used for industry and other human activities.

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National parks areas are classified into Special Zones and Ordinary Zones. Special Zones are those which require spcial measure to preserve their scenic beauty. Among Special Zones, those with special importance that require espacially careful preservation measures are designated as Special Protection Zones. Coastal areas with excellent ocean views that must be protected are designated as Marine Park Zones. In Special Zones, activities such as building structure, logging and quarrying require permission from the government. More strict restrictions are imposed on activities in Special Protection Zones. In addition to the activities listed for Special Zones, even collecting fallen leaves or making fires in Special Protection Zones require permission. In Ordinary Zones, one must give advance notice to the state when building large-scale structures or quarrying.

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Originally management of national parks was performed by the Ministry of Home Affairs and later, it was placed under the control of the Minitry of Health and Welfare. In 1948, soon after the end of World War II, the National Parks Division was set up in the ministry and the organizational system for the administration of national parks was established. In 1953, the ministry stationed park rangers in national parks. When the Environment Agency was established in 1971, natural parks administration, governed by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, and wildlife preservation administration, performed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, were combined and transferred to the control of the Nature Consevation Bureau of the new ministry. Since then, the number of park rangers has increased, however, it is lower than that in some countries.

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In 2001, the Environment Agency was elevated to become the Ministry of the Environment. With this reform, current organizational structure for the managemant of national parks was established.