CHIBA – Surrounded by an urban landscape that includes an elevated expressway, high-rise condominiums and an IKEA furniture store, the Yatsu-higata wetland in Narashino, Chiba Prefecture, is an unusual nature preserve.
Yatsu-higata, which spans around 40 hectares — slightly smaller than Tokyo Disneyland — is in the middle of an urban area that is a 30-minute drive from central Tokyo. It is close to Tokyo Bay and connected to the sea by two rivers.
Yatsu-higata is protected under an international treaty on wetland preservation known as the Ramsar Convention. It has also been designated as a national bird sanctuary to which entry is restricted. A 3.5-km-long promenade surrounds the sanctuary, providing good observation points to view wildlife.
The tide flat is a resting place for birds flocking from Southeast Asia and Siberia, including sandpipers and plovers. There are also shrimp-like creatures and other aquatic species. At high tide, rays and jellyfish can be found.
However, if you turn your eyes away from the wetland to its surroundings, a quite different world comes into view. You see a cityscape of modern buildings, including condominiums and shopping malls. There is also a horse-racing track and a motorboat racing circuit as well as the IKEA store, which stands on a site where a giant artificial ski slope used to project a towering presence over the area.
Such an urban wetland is a global rarity.
On one morning early this spring, people participated in a natural wildlife survey in Yatsu-higata. Guided by rangers, participants waded into the swamp, which is usually off-limits, and observed a wide variety of wildlife from close up.
“Here, we can watch wild birds in the middle of a residential area. There is not a wonderful place like this anywhere else,” said a woman in her 50s from the city of Mitaka, western Tokyo. The woman is one of the wetland’s most frequent visitors.
The swamp can be easily accessed via East Japan Railways Co.’s Keiyo Line, which connects Chiba and Tokyo, and the bayshore highway, both of which run across the wetland.
The Yatsu-higata Nature Observation Center, which organized the survey, is promoting programs that encourage grassroots participation in nature preservation. A nature experience program for elementary and junior high school children is particularly popular.