Geopark activities in Japan began when the Japan Geopark Committee was established in 2008. From geoparks, we learn about relationships between the Earth and regional development through discussions focusing on the environment, resources, energy, and life within the context of challenges faced in the 21st century. The Japanese Archipelago was formed 16 million years ago around the Sea of Japan. Its islands are very diverse. Cooperative investigations on marine biological taxonomy reveal that species diversity is characterized by extremely high-biodiversity hot spots. The activities of the Global Geopark Network (GGN) have progressed steadily with 100 areas joining in 2014. The UNESCO general meeting in November 2015 for the first time included the GGN in an official UNESCO program. Geoparks of the GGN became the UNESCO Global Geopark. Geoparks are based on the activities of local citizens, which develop steadily through interchanges with voluntary learning societies and exchange meetings with guides. Connections are then established to encourage sustainable local activities.
Education on geopark activities is regarded to be a fundamental element for promoting sustainable development in local communities of the region. Implementation of school and social education on the Geopark Concept has progressed since the Global Geopark designation in 2009. In school education, a new education plan called the Unified Education Policy for Children Aged 0 through 18 was set up to promote geopark studies among schools in cooperation with the City Board of Education and the City Government. Having recognized the important role of Geoparks in school education, the City Board of Education has included geopark studies as a program within the compulsory education curriculum of subjects such as science, geography, and integrated studies. By following the education plan, the City Board of Education has continued to provide support to school teachers with the following results: outdoor and indoor training programs have been held by teachers' organizations and Itoigawa Geopark Council, showing educators how geoparks can be used in classroom education. Supplementary textbooks for grades 3 through 9 have been published and distributed, providing invaluable resources for the study of earth science and history, as well as regional culture. Citywide Geopark Studies Conferences have been held to give students opportunities to share what they have learned. An exchange program has been begun for elementary and junior high school students with Itoigawa's sister geopark in Hong Kong. In social education, new educational activities such as the Geopark Certification Exam for citizens, Geopark Guide Training Program, and Geopark Master Program linking businesses to the geopark have been set up by the Geopark Council. These educational systems have become popular among citizens, fostering pride in their hometowns and geoheritages, and related resources of global value. Based on that sense of pride, local residents have begun to promote regional development using geopark resources.
Geoparks in Japan have been introduced into high-school education in various forms. However, most take the viewpoint of earth science and lack connections among geoscience, history and culture. A geo-story with a geographical viewpoint that treats the arts, social sciences, and natural science comprehensively is required to solve this problem. High-school education at Muroto UNESCO Global Geopark is discussed. Muroto Senior High School conducts Geopark study classes, in which students study geoscience, history, and culture, while planning and carrying out Geopark tours. In classes, students with poor communication skills come to have a sense of self-affirmation by carrying out interview surveys of local residents. In the music class, a geographical viewpoint is introduced to the practice of learning songs related to commercial fishing from local residents. Students learn that the activities of the earth relate to the histories of fisheries together with relations between submarine topography formed by subducting plates and the ecology of sea life. Stimulated by these classes, some students will participate in local traditional festivals and activate the local region in the future. Students learn various things from local residents and find new value in their hometown through their activities. Moreover, schools, government, and local residents, who had not interacted with each other acquire new connections with each other through the Geopark. A chain of new “chemical reactions” among people is one of the values of Geopark activities. To develop such Geopark activities, Geopark specialists, who have geographical knowledge and are capable of thinking and acting with local residents, are essential.
Museum activities in Geoparks are discussed, citing examples at the Mikasa City Museum, Mikasa Geopark, Hokkaido. At the Mikasa City Museum, curators have created a technical verification function for Geopark activities. It is possible to offer content that does not have scientific contradiction and secures the quality of educational and geo-tourism activities. As regional researchers, curators also act as interpreters for citizens, researchers, and local government staff. On the other hand, curators have an opportunity to communicate aspects of their studies to more citizens and tourists by taking part in Geopark activities. These facts suggest that both Geopark and museum activities are able to develop within Geoparks.
The roles of universities and museums in relation to geoparks are discussed by comparing San'in Kaigan UNESCO Global Geopark in Japan and Lesvos UNESCO Global Geopark in Greece. Bottom-up management is a key to the success of sustainable development. It is important for local people to make decisions on regional matters. Scientists who live in the territory of a geopark are also local people and play multiple roles. They usually work for universities and museums. According to the guideline of UNESCO Geopark, education is an important issue. Geoparks need to connect people with earth science. Educational activities, however, need specific times and places to be carried out. It is essential to provide high-quality educational programs continuously for learners of all kinds in the territory of a geopark. In the case of San'in Kaigan Geopark, individual actors, including administrative officers, local geo tour guides, scientists, and curators provide geopark educational programs for learners without their own geopark educational strategy, because the education committee of San'in Kaigan Geopark discusses school education only and half of the geopark staff members are transferred every year. So, it is not easy for them to take over various tasks of the geopark. This situation in San'in Kaigan keeps learners away from high-quality and continuous education. Under this situation, scientists who work for universities play multiple roles in connecting local people with earth science and other people through multi-scale geopark networks which are of global, regional, national, and local scales, although scientists tend to be rooted and the locations of universities do not necessarily commit scientists to become engaged with the geopark. On the other hand, Lesvos Geopark is a good example. It has a rational educational strategy, develops scientific educational programs combined with geotourism, and provides opportunities for education and employment to local people at the Natural History Museum of Lesvos Petrified Forest. The same staff members at the museum take responsibility for management and education in the geopark. That is why they can develop Lesvos Geopark in a coherent manner.
The objective of this study is to clarify how the landscape is evaluated by participants of geo-tours on Izu-Oshima Island. The Visitor-employed photography (VEP) method is used to identify places where landscape evaluations are concentrated and objects are photographed frequently. Further, this study discusses the impact of interpretations by tour guides on the landscape evaluations of participants. Izu-Oshima Island, located 120 km south of Tokyo, is a volcanic island which was certified as a geopark in 2010. In this study, university students, who were part of a field excursion, were divided into two groups and accompanied by two tour guides. The results of a Kernel density estimation shows that the locations of photographs taken by the tour participants are concentrated in areas where the tour guides provide interpretations. These locations differ by tour group, which indicates that landscape evaluations are influenced interpretations. Each participant chose five favorite photographs from among their own photographs. Photographs of people were preferred. Tour participants took photographs of geological and geographical features as records; however, photographs of people were preferred as happy memories with friends during the tour. It is important to have both academic and entertaining contents in interpretations during educational activities of Geoparks.
Geoparks in Japan conduct several educational programs mostly for elementary and junior high school students, teaching geology and geography. Staff in geoparks teach local geology and geography; however, there are no programs for tourism education. Besides, most are for elementary and junior high students. Hakone geopark has assisted several schools in their educational programs through museums and delivery classes. Two tourism education programs in Teikyo University are presented and their effects on university students collaborating with the geopark are examined to set a benchmark for tourism education programs in geoparks in Japan. Students have participated in the programs with the goals of providing suggestions or operations for geotours at Hakone geopark. Educational effects on students, such as interest in the locality, are observed. Students also learn how to work in groups and about their commitments, how to improve the quality of presentations, how to make suggestions for tour planning, how to adjust and negotiate with local suppliers on creating tours, and how to operate tours on site. In particular, students discover the potential of local icons and resources as tourism resources that reflect the characteristics of the area. These educational effects are supported by human and organizational networks in the geopark. Local suppliers and other stakeholders also understand the concept and support activities besides tourism. These networks and an understanding of the geopark and tourism in the locality are the main factors supporting the programs.
Relationships between Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and Geoparks are examined. Geoparks have a marked affinity for ESD because education and sustainable development are highlighted in geopark concepts, and both have strong associations with UNESCO. However, there are few papers on relationships between ESD and education on geoparks, and few schools within geoparks are members of the UNESCO Associated Schools Project Network (ASPnet). Therefore, two methods are applied to examine the possibilities for society of multiplying ESD and geoparks. Firstly, cases of geoparks are considered in relation to the content of the Global Action Programme (GAP) on ESD. GAP is intended to make substantial contributions to the post-2015 agenda, and follow up the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005–2014). From the Priority Action Areas of GAP, many areas related to organizational operations are found that can be improved. Examples include increasing member schools of the ASPnet in geoparks as hubs for practicing ESD, and setting out policies and agendas to integrate ESD into the various processes and structures of geopark stakeholders. Regarding academic content, great emphasis is placed on building a sustainable society in Japan's national curriculum standard, making geoparks important, as well as highlighting international cooperation, providing young people with participatory skills, and other issues. Secondly, the academic content related to geoparks is examined from the viewpoints of the Earth Sciences and community development. In the former, the first stage involves the nature of familiar territory, and the second stage involves understanding the mechanism of the Earth's activities. In the latter, the first stage involves relationships between our lives and nature, and the second stage involves developing social skills for reaching understandings with other stakeholders. In addition, the third stage involves encouraging global understanding and international cooperation through geopark activities. Consequently, geoparks could inspire learners to achieve a sustainable society if organizational operations are transformed and academic content related to the Earth Sciences and community development is maximized.