Yambaru Wildlife Conservation Center Ufugi Nature Museum will be renovated into “Yambaru World Heritage Conservation Center Ufugi Nature Museum”.

The center will be closed from May 6, 2024 (Mon.) for renovation.

The reopening date will be announced later.

What is “Yambaru”?

Introducing the three villages of Yambaru

What are the three villages of Yambaru?

There are three villages in the Yambaru region of northern Okinawa Island: Kunigami-son, Ogimi-son and Higashi-son. The combined area of the three villages is about 340 km2, or about 0.1% of Japan’s total land area of 377,930 km2. Together, the three villages have 43 wards (20 in Kunigami-son, 17 in Ogimi-son, and 6 in Higashi-son) and are home to more than 10,000 people. In just this small area, the forests of Yambaru nurture many living things, including numerous endemic species. The proportion of land covered by forests in the three Yambaru villages is more than 75%, which is a very high rate compared that for the prefecture as a whole (about 46%).

The Yambaru region also receives more rain than the southern parts of Okinawa Island such as Naha, so it plays an important role as a water source for the urban areas of central and southern Okinawa Prefecture.

Kunigami-son–A Village of Forests, Water and Tranquility

Kunigami-son is home to mountains such as Mount Yonaha (503 m), the highest peak on the main island of Okinawa, and Mount Nishime (420 m). About 84% of its land area is covered by forests, which are home to many valuable species, including the Okinawa rail, which is the village bird, and the Cheirotonus jambar beetle. The vast forests are also utilized for forestry and forest industry, and Yambaru-style forestry is being promoted to achieve a balance between utilization and conservation. At the northernmost tip is Cape Hedo, which boasts a distinctive limestone karst topography, and is also known as the northernmost spawning ground for sea turtles.

As well as cultivating fields and fishing, our predecessors lived wisely together with the forests that produced the timber essential for daily life. Remnants of livelihoods such as wood charcoal and Ryukyu indigo production can be seen in the forests. Numerous events, such as shinugu and unjami, in which people drive away evil spirits from the village and pray for a plentiful harvest or good catch of fish, still remain in some settlements, reflecting their gratitude and reverence for the bounty of nature.

Kunigami-son is home to the largest mango farm in the prefecture, and grows delicious mangoes that are popular as gifts. It is also famous for okumidori, the earliest new tea of the season in Japan, and karagi tea made from cinnamon leaves.

Ogimi-son–A Village of Longevity, where Education, History, and Culture Shine

Located in the northwestern part of the main island of Okinawa, Ogimi-son has a chain of mountains about 300 m above sea level, and forests covering about 76% of its total land area. Ogimi-son’s boar fence (yamashishigaki), a village-designated cultural asset, is an about 31 km long fence that still surrounds the entire village, providing a sense of the history of past generations who have carefully maintained the structure over the years. Ogimi-son also boasts the highest production of shiikuwasa fruit in Okinawa, with more than 60% of the prefecture’s harvest coming from the hillsides of Mount Nekumachiji (360 m), the symbolic mountain of the village, and the limestone mountains that are linked to it.

About 500-year-old Ungami sea god festival, held in Shioya Bay on the first Day of the Boar after the old Bon Festival to pray for a good harvest and good health, has been designated as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property of Japan. Bashofu cloth, an established traditional craft, also has a history of more than 500 years, and Bashofu from the community of Kijoka has been designated as an Nationally-designated Important Intangible Cultural Property. Local textile artist Toshiko Taira was designated as a Living National Treasure in June 2000 for her achievements and skills.

The lush, shiikuwasa fruit, called aogiri, has a strong acidity, making it highly popular as a juice flavoring ingredient. In winter, ripe and yellowing shiikuwasa fruit, called kugani, can be eaten intact, and are popular for their perfect balance of sourness and sweetness.

Higashi-son–A Village of Flowers, Water and Pineapples

Located on the east coast of northern part of the main island of Okinawa, Higashi-son is home to a mountain ridge including Mount Iyu (446 m) and Mount Tamatsuji (289 m). More than 70% of the area is covered by forests full of rich biodiversity, including the Okinawa woodpecker, the designated village bird. The approximately 10-hectare mangrove forest extending around the mouth of the Gesashi River is the largest on the main island of Okinawa, and is designated as a national natural monument. The Fukuji Dam, the largest dam in Okinawa, was built in the middle of the Fukuji River, the longest river in Okinawa. Pineapple cultivation thrives near the village’s 14 large and small rivers, taking advantage of the acidic soil.

Before World War II, lumber and firewood from the mountains were transported out by vessels called Yambaru ships and carried to the central and southern parts of the main island of Okinawa. The mangrove forest in Gesashi Bay, which was once crowded with such ships, was designated as a national natural monument in 1972, and is recognized as one of most representative mangrove forests of the main island of Okinawa. Nowadays, canoe tours and other activities are offered, allowing visitors to feel close to this precious natural environment.

Higashi-son produces a variety of fruits such as pineapples, of which it boasts the largest yield in Japan, mangoes, and tankan oranges, as well as vegetables such as pumpkins and bitter melons. Paiton pork is an exquisite delicacy, made from Okinawan Agu pigs raised in this environment of lush greenery and beautiful sea, called Churaumi, and fed with pineapple, the village’s specialty.