In June 2004, efforts by the Japan’s Ministry of the Environment selected 13 areas of the country in which it started to start model projects to promote eco-tourism. This initiative is now in its second year. Through eco-tourism visitors can enjoy nature while caring for the environment. The Ministry of the Environment subsidised half the total project costs, such as costs for training eco-tour guides and publishing educational materials, up to ¥5 billion per model area per year.
Eco-tourism is a new form of travel in which a limited number of people, escorted by a trained guide, enjoy visiting a rich natural environment while causing the least possible environmental impact. While eco-tours have been gaining popularity around the world, they are still not well known in Japan, and few Japanese people have experienced an eco-tour.
In selecting project areas the Ministry of the Environment held an open competition in three categories: 1) areas for encountering primitive nature; 2) existing tourist spots that are introducing eco-tourism; 3) areas for experiencing eco-friendly activities, such as tree planting in semi-natural areas bordering rural villages, and agricultural areas located between population centres and foothills, where eco-tourism is being promoted by local communities.
Of the 53 areas that entered the competition, the following areas were selected: in category one, four areas including the Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido and the Shirakami Beech Forest, located between Aomori and Akita prefectures; in category two, four areas including the northern foothills of Mount Fuji in Yamanashi Prefecture; in category three, five areas, including the Nanki-Kumano area, located between Mie and Wakayama prefectures.