Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Muroto Geopark

A panoramic view of the Muroto Cape
   What do you think of when you hear “geopark?” Geo comes from Greek meaning earth or land, and of course park is a large public area. However, “geopark” does not simply mean a geological park, but includes the people, culture, and even industries that revolve around and work closely with the land formation and ecosystem of that area. And lucky us, we have one of these geoparks right here in Kochi!

   All of Muroto City, located on the eastern tip of Kochi Prefecture, makes up Muroto Geopark. This Muroto Geopark has been recognized as one of Japan’s national geoparks, and came under review in July for the chance to become a global geopark. We visited Muroto Geopark to speak to some people about their endeavors.

   Before that however, this article begs the question, “What exactly is Muroto Geopark?” A common misunderstanding is that the geopark is just about the Muroto Cape. In actuality, the Muroto Geopark is a place where nature, biology, food and people’s daily life coexist. There are currently twenty-two geosites where one can not only observe the unique land formations and structures, but enjoy cultural experiences as well. The twenty-two geosites are:

1 . Hane Cape – the coast of this cape used to be under the ocean a long time ago. The unique formations of layers in the earth can be seen.

2 . Nobori sou (Nobori Formation) – a spot that used to be undersea three to four million years ago where a variety of fossils can be found.

3 . Hazeyama-Nishiyama Plateau – this landscape formed by steps of plateaus is rich in agriculture such as sweet potato and loquats. You can experience hands-on farming here.

4 . Kiragawa Town – walk the streets of this town known for its wood charcoal during the Edo period and learn about history while experiencing charcoal making.

Kiragawa Town
5 . Kira Messe Muroto – a must-see for first-timers! There is a Visitor Center that highlights the allures of Muroto Geopark, as well as an impressive display about whales on the same floor. Fresh vegetables and other local products, as well as dishes using local ingredients can be found at the market.

6 . Gyodo-Kuromi Beach – layers of earth created by a combination of sand and mud can be seen.

7 . Sakiyama Plateau – home to Kongochoji Temple (#26 in the 88-temple pilgrimage) and the Muroto Youth Outdoor Learning Center where a number of activities such as grass skiing and riding funny-shaped bicycles can be experienced.

8 . Narashi-Moto Beach – this beach is famous for sea turtles coming ashore to lay eggs. Fossils of whales can be found here as well.

9 . Whale Culture – at Ukitsu Chusonji Temple, spiritual tablets made in offering to whales reflect the appreciation of the Japanese people towards them as they were an important source of food.

10.Murotsu Port – it is said that the sea level in the port looks much lower here compared to how it does at other ports. You have to see it with your own eyes! Shinshouji Temple is located here to pray for safety at sea and for a good catch.

11.Nabae-Sakamoto Beach – a coast great for cycling lined with bright red hibiscus.

12.Toromu – you can swim with the dolphins at the Dolphin Center, or sear some katsuo-no-tataki (seared bonito) for yourself at roadside station “Toromu” located here.
Dolphins at the Dolphin Center
13.Muroto Cape – the site packed with the best must-see spots including coasts that became land after earthquakes, traces of magma, and the location where Buddhist monk Kukai achieved enlightenment.

Muroto Cape
14.Henro Walking Path – temples in Muroto, famous for being a part of the 88-temple pilgrimage, are connected by a path that the henro, or pilgrims, take. Regionally unique flora can be found along this path.
Mikurodo - cave where Buddhist monk Kukai achieved enlightenment
15.Deep Sea Water – there is Deep Sea World, known for its pool filled entirely with deep sea water, and an establishment explaining why deep sea water is available in Muroto. Related merchandise can also be found here.

16.Muroto Skyline – it is possible to see both the eastern and western coasts of Muroto Cape here, each with remarkably different landscapes. The magnificent view from the observation deck overlooks the city and sea.

17.Mt. Shijuji – a famous spot for cherry blossom viewing. Wild vegetables grow along the mountain paths, making it a fun place for hiking.

18.Hioki-Maruyama Beach – boulders formed by underwater volcanic activity take on many shapes and forms. See if you can fi nd some interesting ones!

19.Sakihama Town – located here is a shrine called Sakihama Hachimangu where “Sakihama Niwaka,” a traditional theatrical play, is performed every year on the second Sunday of October.

20.Mt. Dannotani – an immense, two-thousand year-old Japanese cedar tree stands here.

21.Kanagi Landslide – the caved-in landscape after the 1946 Nankai earthquake remains.

22.Meoto Rock (Married Couple Rock) – large rock formations stand seemingly leaning toward each other like a couple in love. These distinctive rocks are a sight to see.

   There are still many other locations beyond these to see, so the Muroto Geopark is worth more than one visit. It is highly recommended to tour the area with one of the Geopark’s knowledgeable guides who have gone through extensive study as well as trial-and-error to provide excellent catered tours for visitors. What makes this geopark different from just another tourist attraction is the ability of the guides to interweave seemingly disparate aspects into a singular story. A tour with a Muroto Geopark guide is not about being taken to interesting locations and learning some trivia, but about using your five senses to see, hear, taste, smell and feel the interconnection of land, biology, people, food and history. Don’t worry, there are English-speaking guides too! (Chinese is also offered on an irregular basis.)

   One thing the Muroto Geopark Promotion Committee is taking particular consideration in is to make the English and Japanese on all informational pamphlets and signs easy enough to understand for young children and the elderly. The reason behind this is to give the image that Muroto Geopark is accessible and not scientific or difficult to understand. English is currently the only foreign language on signs, but the committee members are aspiring to include many other languages so that more foreign visitors can enjoy the geopark experience.

   For Muroto Geopark enthusiasts—of which the numbers are growing—there is a new certification program to earn the title of “Geopark Master.” The course consists of eleven 120-minute classes and a final exam; if you pass, you are given a badge and certificate of completion. It may sound laborious, but the classes are not just straight lectures as much time is devoted to opinion exchanges and discussion, and there are many hands-on experiments as well. The instructors work hard planning each class to make it a fun learning experience. They hope that more people will take on the challenge of becoming a Geopark Master, and with pride in Muroto, spread the value of it.

   So there you have it: the Muroto Geopark in some words and photographs which, of course, is nothing compared to the real thing. You will have to go and see and feel for yourself the wonderful history of the nature there and experience the culture surrounding it. You will not be disappointed! The Muroto Geopark Promotion Committee members passionately stated, “The staff of Muroto Geopark, together with the community, have worked hard towards the evaluation by the Global Geoparks Network this past July. Despite whether or not we are chosen to be a global geopark, however, we will continue protecting the magnificent Muroto Geopark while expanding our efforts in having more people learn about it. It is the mission of us staff members to pass on to the future generations the fascinating world of Muroto Geopark.” We are happy to announce that Muroto Geopark was designated as a global geopark on September 18, 2011.There is something for everybody there. Go and find your favorite site!

Muroto Geopark Official English Website 

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