Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)

Takachihogo-Shiibayama Mountainous Agriculture and Forestry System, Japan

GIAHS since 2015


Detailed Information



Global importance

Today, forest resources are dwindling around the world, and the negative impact of this on biodiversity and the environment is a global concern. The reasons for the decline include reclamation of forest for farmland, non-traditional and environmentally harmful shifting (slash-and-burn) cultivation practices, and excess timber harvesting. In this site, on the other hand, through the establishment of a composite management system of agriculture and forestry which combines timber production in planted forests where long-term management is practiced with diverse farming that generates revenue each year (shiitake mushroom cultivation, terraced rice growing, beef cattle raising, tea cultivation, etc.), a balance has been found between the forest and agricultural production. In this way, households earn their livelihood without using up excess forest through timber harvesting and reclamation, thus forest resources have been successfully conserved, making it a valuable model for the world.

Food and livelihood security

In the site, agriculture is still an important sector in the site. Approximately 32 % of all employed people work in agriculture, which is eight times higher than the national average in Japan. Despite their small scale of cattle rearing, cattle in the area are highly appreciated for its high quality meat and have received the Prime Minister’s Award at the National Competitive Exhibition of Japanese cattle by maintaining excellent rearing management techniques. In addition to raising beef cattle and growing rice, cultivation of vegetables, flowers and ornamental plants that benefit from the cool summer climate also account for a significant proportion of the total agricultural output in the site.

Biodiversity and ecosystem functions

Rare animals and plants make their habitat in areas related to the sustainable composite system of agriculture and forestry developed in the site. Despite being a mountainous site with little arable land, a diverse range of agricultural products are grown, centering on wet-rice cultivation in rice terraces, but also including shiitake mushroom cultivation, tea, fruit trees such as chestnuts, vegetables such as cucumbers and tomatoes, flowers and ornamental plants like chrysanthemums.

Local biodiversity has been conserved by forests, which have been appropriately managed through the implementation of weeding, thinning, cleaning cutting at optimal intervals. In particular, approximately ten rare plant and animal species listed in Miyazaki Prefecture’s Red Data Book, including the Japanese Cypripedium and Calanthe Sieboldii, are found in certain forests despite the fact that they are planted cedar forests, and these have been designated as important habitats in the prefecture.

Knowledge systems and adapted technologies

The Site’s knowledge system is symbolized by its distinctive mosaic forest landscape resulting from composite management of timber production and shiitake mushroom cultivation activities and by its sustainable, traditional Japanese shifting cultivation that provides a model for other countries.

Since old times, the local farmers have used the forests to obtain food and timber through shifting cultivation, and due to the people’s reverence for nature and spirit of harmony, they have practiced sustainable forest management that forbids excess burning or deforestation.

In the shifting cultivation which is unique to the site, relatively small are (around 0.5 to 1 hectares) cut and burnt. Then, four varieties of crops are planted for the next four years; buckwheat for the 1st year, Japanese millet for the 2nd year, adzuki beans for the 3rd year, and soybeans for the 4th year, which are nitrogen fixing crops and important for recovering fertility. After the cultivation for four years, the land will be fallowed for 20 to 30 years. Once the plot’s fertility has returned, the shifting cultivation cycle starts again. The shifting cultivation is distinguished by its sustainability due to the implementation of a four-year crop rotation system and by the long fallow period that always follow after burning.

Cultures, value systems and social organizations

The site has many landmarks associated with myths and folklore, along with shrines and small Buddha figures throughout the hills and fields. Given the harsh conditions of life in a mountain farming or forestry village, people’s faith runs deep and the site is steeped in its own unique living farming and forestry-related culture, including old agricultural rituals like the Shishikake Festival and typical Japanese folk songs (farmers’ work songs) like “Kariboshikiri Uta” and “Hietsuki Bushi.

A common cultural tradition distinctive to the site is “kagura” - ritual Shinto dances performed by entire villages depicting the gods of Japanese mythology who live in the forest-covered mountains in the site, to thank the gods for their blessings and pray for a bountiful harvest. Kagura is a ceremonial rite which is vital in maintaining the bonds of “Yui” - the system of mutual co-operation that maintains village communities.

Remarkable landscapes, Land and Water resources management features

The beautiful scenery that defines the site - a tapestry woven from the steep forest-covered mountains and the streams that spring from them, along with the scattered villages and rice terraces—has been nurtured by the agricultural and forestry activities of the local people. A characteristic landscape known as “mosaic-pattern forest” has been formed, where conifers such as Japanese cedar and Hinoki cypress for timber production, deciduous broadleaf trees such as Sawtooth oak used in shiitake mushroom cultivation, and evergreen broadleaf trees spread out in a patchwork pattern.