New Naming of National Park in Hokkaido Stirs Controversy; Debate Grows over Promotion of Tourism vs Nature Preservation

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Hidaka-sanmyaku mountain range is seen from the Tokachi area in Shimizu, Hokkaido, on April 5.

The naming of the planned upgrade of a quasi-national park in Hokkaido to a national park with more acreage is stirring controversy between those who want to promote tourism around the area and others who want to preserve nature.

Hidakasanmyaku-Erimo Quasi-National Park is likely to become a national park in the summer this year.

When the Environment Ministry proposed adding the word “Tokachi” to the new name of the upgraded park, a local nature conservation association and other concerned parties strongly voiced objections. Tokachi is the geographical name of a region to the east of the Hidaka-sanmyaku mountain range.

The dispute stems from confrontations between local governments in the Tokachi region that want to promote tourism and entities which are cautious about the proposed change because they want to preserve the natural environment.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Rare vote

The Environment Ministry proposed that the new national park name would be “Hidakasanmyaku Erimo Tokachi National Park.” A subcommittee for the natural environment of the ministry’s Central Environment Council approved the proposal at a meeting in February.

However, as the opinions of the subcommittee members were sharply divided, the approval was decided by a majority vote, which was rare development for the subcommittee.

Due to this situation, the subcommittee’s chairman asked members “to sufficiently explain the reason why the word ‘Tokachi’ was added.”

Adding “Tokachi” was requested by municipal governments in the Tokachi region, including the Obihiro city government.

In the wake of the decision to upgrade the quasi-national park to an official national park, the municipal governments presented the request to the ministry in July 2020.

The newly designated national park will have about 245,700 hectares of land acreage. The figure is more than double the current one and will make the park one of the largest in Japan.

Obihiro Mayor Norihisa Yonezawa, who has promoted the request, said: “The Hidaka-sanmyaku mountain range is like a part of our hometown for people in the Tokachi region, and the mountain range brings benefits to agriculture in the Tokachi region, which is a major food production base for Japan. The view of the mountains seen from the Tokachi Plain is magnificent scenery suitable for a national park.”

The mayor emphasized the connection between the Hidaka-sanmyaku mountain range and the Tokachi region.

In contrast, Kazuhiro Kawauchi, chief of the secretariat of the Tokachi Nature Conservation Association, voiced an objection saying, “The Tokachi region, where dry-field farming and dairy farming are prosperous, is different from the Hidaka-sanmyaku mountain range, where near-wild natural environments remain and they need to be preserved. It is clearly a stance to prioritize the promotion of the tourism industry.”

The Environment Ministry wants to promote both nature preservation and tourism in a balanced manner.

The ministry is implementing measures to utilize national parks as tourism resources. They include persuading the private sector to set up accommodations facilities in national parks and accept guests from home and abroad.

The conservation association also has concerns about the ministry’s stance.

“We fear that the original role of prioritizing nature conservation will be forgotten, and developments will be encouraged,” said an association member. “It may result in the destruction of precious natural environments.”

Together with four other nature conservation groups in Hokkaido, the association jointly submitted a letter of questions in which they expressed opposition to the naming of the new national park to the ministry in late March.

An association of chairpersons of town and village assemblies of the Hidaka region also expressed its opposition to the new naming partly because they were left behind over discussions about the issue.

concerns over image

Under the cloud of such controversy, some local residents voiced concerns that the image of the region could be hurt.

“The confusion about the naming is not favorable,” said Akihiro Kawata, chairman of the Obihiro Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “If a decision is made, we want to be forward-looking and make efforts to mend ties.”

The proposed new name approved by the subcommittee will likely be reported to the environment minister via the Central Environment Council in May at the earliest, and then an official decision will be made.

Prof. Tetsuya Aiko of Hokkaido University, an expert on national parks, said, “Regarding not only the new name but also how to manage the park in the future, decisions should be carefully made while taking into account the opinions of local residents, nature conservation groups and others concerned.”