Celebrating Earth Heritage
Itoigawa UNESCO Global Geopark is located near the centre of Honshu Island in the Niigata prefecture, Japan. The Geopark meets the Sea of Japan in the north, where the mountains of the Japan Alps sink into the sea, and is bordered in the south by high mountains. Topography ranging from coastal to alpine can be observed here, thus creating a wide variety of geology and topography, as well as richness in plant and animal life.
The phrase "Department store of geology" simply, but precisely, describes Itoigawa UNESCO Global Geopark. The Itoigawa UNESCO Global Geopark has long been located at a plate boundary. The Itoigawa-Shizuoka Tectonic Line passing through this area separates the Japanese Islands geologically into East and West, the Eurasian and North American plates. This great fault continues north through the sea, connecting to the Mid Atlantic Ridge via the Arctic Ocean. In this way, the Itoigawa UNESCO Global Geopark tells the story of not just the Japanese Islands, but also over 500 million years of the Earth’s history. Submarine limestone mountains from the ancient Pacific Ocean and jade formed in the deep subduction zones in the geological past, and are describing horizontal and vertical plate movement. The Fossa Magna, a fissure formed when the Japanese Islands separated from the Asian continent, is a key to understanding the islands’ formation. The Itoigawa UNESCO Global Geopark is truly a condensed model of the Japanese Islands.
Sustaining local Communities
Interestingly, the geological boundary coincides with cultural border of the west and east Japan, mixed up in Itoigawa area. Movement and compression of the two plates wreak disasters including landslides, debris flow, avalanches, and volcanic eruptions on the people. Jade formed deep underground gave rise to the world’s oldest jade culture and lowlands formed by the Itoigawa-Shizuoka Tectonic Line gave rise to an ancient trade route. Landslides formed natural terraces used to cultivate rice.
This shows how geology strongly influenced the culture, history and life of the people of Itoigawa UNESCO Global Geopark. Visitors to the area are increasing visiting many popular geosites. The main information centre is Fossa Magna Museum which is specialized in rocks and minerals. There are 24 separate Geosites within the Geopark that one can enjoy. Each Geosite presents many Geo-points, where one can observe the special features of each Geosite and one is sure to find something fascinating.
Local produce is an important part of the sustainable development. Rich topological and geological diversity provide abundant crab, fish, seaweed, vegetables, rice, and mushrooms, all used in traditional cuisine. Clean water has given rise to five local craft sake breweries. Local residents participate in Geopark Certification, Geopark Master Courses, and Geopark Guide Training while schools teach “geostudies” as part of the regular curriculum, preparing the next generation who will sustain our society and the UNESCO Global Geopark.
“The diversity of the land from 0-3,000 meters made the world's oldest jade culture and varieties of traditional culture”