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2008年9月24日 (水)


(Mainichi Japan) September 24, 2008

Environmental challenges ahead for Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine world heritage site



Shimane -- In July 2007, Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine in Oda, Shimane Prefecture, became the first Japanese industrial site to be registered as a world heritage site. It gained high appraisal during the World Heritage Committee investigation for its "coexistence with nature" and "harmony with the environment."

However, environmental problems subsequently arose due to an increase in the number of tourists to the area. In response, local residents have made the bold decision to abolish a local bus service, which has been a precious means of transportation for them.

From this autumn, the people of Oda will make a fresh start with an even greater respect for the environment.



Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine is valued for three main features: The remains of the silver mine, the town itself, and the routes to the port. The core zone of the heritage area covers 442 hectares, encompassing the towns of Omori, Nima, and Yunotsu. The most popular site is Omori, where people can see the shaft of the silver mine and areas of the residential town that remain from the Edo period. Most tours planned by travel agencies focus on this town. An amazing 714,000 tourists visited the site in 2007 when it was registered as a world heritage site, almost double the number of the previous year. This year, the number of visitors reached 560,000 by the end of August, which is equivalent to a 1.7-fold increase on the previous year.


The town of Omori is home to 390 people among 170 families. These people requested a "Park and Ride" system to Iwami Kotsu (headquarters in Masuda) last April to reduce the number of tourists' cars entering the town. People park their cars in a new free parking lot (with a capacity of 400 cars and 11 buses) 2.5 kilometers south of the area, and take a shuttle bus to the town. People are also discouraged from visiting the most popular site, the "Ryugenji Mabu (Mine Shaft)" at the foot of the mine by car. Instead, public buses (with a capacity 43 people) shuttle to and from the town area. Due to the increase in the number of tourists, the original nine round trips were increased to 18 roundtrips for weekdays and 35 for weekends and holidays. Along the narrow road where even passenger cars can barely pass, residents and visitors alike are suffering from exhaust fumes from the buses.




During the autumn tourist season, people flood into the town. "Weekday overcrowding turns into weekend chaos," sighs a community association official.

Although it is only 30 minutes on foot from the town to the mine shaft, many tourists choose to wait for the bus. Many full buses go by until we can get on," the official added.


Responding to the complaints, the bus company has increased the service, resulting in nearly 100 shuttles on weekdays. The buses are always overcrowded and the residents can't use them. Moreover, the residents have to put up with exhaust fumes, noise, vibrations, etc.

"It's not a local bus anymore -- it's turned into a tourist bus," complains the official.

It didn't take long before the residents called for action.


いつも満員のバスには住民も乗れない。「もはや路線バスじゃない。 観光バスだ」。加えて排ガス、騒音、振動。住民が悲鳴を上げるまで時間はかからなかった。

In December last year, Omori Community Council decided to petition the city of Oda to abolish the running of the local bus.


One week after the petition, a 110 cm by 50 cm rock weighing 80 kg rolled down the slope alongside the bus route, right in front of the mine shaft. It was midnight, and luckily no one was injured, but the falling rock was exactly what the petitioners had predicted might occur as a result of the vibrations from the buses. An investigation confirmed that work to prevent falling rocks would take about two years to complete, which added pressure to do away with the local bus.



So it was decided that the local bus service that shuttles people between the mine shaft and the town would be abolished. Although there were pros and cons to the decision, one resident stated flatly, "If we get rid of the buses, tourists and physically challenged people may be (negatively) affected. Still, we residents live here all our lives. We can't live with such anxiety."


On the second autumn after its registration as a world heritage site, Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine will switch its policy to promoting sightseeing on foot. It has plans to introduce two hybrid buses that use both electric motors and conventional combustion engines along the "Park and Ride" routes from next fiscal year.


There are also plans to introduce emission-free electric buses, although not as a replacement for the lost local buses. Instead, they will cruise around the world heritage sites, limited to a walking speed of 5 km/hour and yielding to pedestrians. On Sept. 21, the "ultimate eco-car" was launched at the site, too. Three velotaxis (motorized tricycle taxis) with the capacity for two adults and one child were introduced. The driver also acts as a tour guide.


The decision of this small town in the Sanin area was heard throughout the nation. The aim for "coexistence of a world heritage site with the environment" has also been included in the residents' charter of Omori town: "Our residents have to live here every day of their lives. We are committed to serving the people and Iwami Ginzan. We dedicate ourselves to conserving our history, relics and nature for future generations."


Yukio Nishimura, a professor at Tokyo University specializing in city planning, cites an example from 1995 when another travel spot, Shirakawa-go in Gifu Prefecture, had to build a parking lot over paddy fields following a rapid increase in the number of tourists after its registration as a world heritage site. "I hope that Iwami Ginzan will study the 'good' of various areas while avoiding the 'bad,' and become a place where people from across the nation can visit and learn."


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