Educational cultural centres in Japan, rural developments in Kazakhstan, and a railway-turned-wildlife sanctuary in Singapore are among Asia’s top sustainability initiatives to look out for…

Kaizawa Yukiko weaving bark-cloth (Ogawa Masaki)

Kaizawa Yukiko weaving bark-cloth (Ogawa Masaki)

Making traditional wagasa in Kanazawa (Ogawa Masaki)

Making traditional wagasa in Kanazawa (Ogawa Masaki)

Katon-Karagay National Park (Shutterstock)

Katon-Karagay National Park (Shutterstock)

Hokkaido

JAPAN

For generations, Japan’s Ainu, who speak a language distinct from Japanese, were treated as second-class citizens. Though recognised as an indigenous people by UNESCO only as recently as 2007, in 2019 Japan passed a law mandating the protection and promotion of this unique culture.

Today, with the establishment of museums and cultural centres across Hokkaido – Japan’s northernmost main island, and the Ainu’s stronghold – you’ll find numerous opportunities to learn about this culture and interact with Ainu communities.

The Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park, opened in the small town of Shiraoi in 2020, serves as a community centre where Ainu people can practise their traditions. And in Nibutani, the district with the highest proportion of Ainu people in Japan, the Biratori Municipal Nibutani Ainu Culture Museum displays nearly 1,000 exhibits.

Hokkaido’s capital, Sapporo, has its own Ainu cultural centre, Pirka Kotan– a hands-on experiential space, and the first of its kind in Japan.

Ishikawa Prefecture

JAPAN

Ishikawa Prefecture on the north coast of Honshu island, which was hit by a devastating earthquake in January, has a long-
standing commitment to preserving and promoting its cultural heritage dating back to the Edo period (1603–1867). During that era, the Maeda family – which ruled the region that’s now Ishikawa – prioritised cultural and industrial development over military build-up, fostering the growth of crafts, Noh theatre, tea ceremonies and flower arranging.

Ishikawa’s capital city, Kanazawa, has a unique history: a well-preserved castle town established by samurai in the 16th century, it was designated a UNESCO Creative City in the 21st. Though Japan’s traditional craft industries have faced economic challenges in recent years, local institutions and schemes are supporting young artists, while initiatives such as the Kanazawa Ichigo Ichie Programme allow visitors to try their hands at advanced techniques. Local travel agencies collaborate with craftspeople to offer studio visits, supporting this unique local economy.

Kazakhstan

Five years ago, residents of the Katon-Karagay district – a sweep of lonely steppe, mountains and forests in far eastern Kazakhstan – faced a dilemma. Though home to the country’s largest national park and around 275 bird species, its 48 villages attracted few visitors, and there was little work available. As a result, its population had almost halved since the turn of the century, many residents having moved to cities in search of employment. So in 2019 the Sustainable Rural Development Fund was launched, with the aim of improving the quality of life in three remote districts, including Katon-Karagay. Key to this effort was the creation of sustainable community tourism opportunities, including training guesthouse owners and opening a hospitality school. Money has also been allocated to trail maintenance, signs and a tourist information centre, making it easier for travellers to explore a region whose communities and culture are finally being appreciated.

Singapore

The evolution of Singapore as the ‘Garden City’ is part of the Green Plan 2030, developing the national agenda on sustainable lines – and, in the process, making its wilder corners ever more attractive to visitors. Initiatives such as the Rail Corridor – a disused railway line transformed into a 24km-long green ribbon enhancing wildlife movement and public recreation – are encouraging low-impact tourism. Other sights, such as the Gardens by the Bay – waterfront nature parks dominated by steel-framed supertrees and domes filled with flowers and forests – and the 10km-long Southern Ridges, laced with trails linking forests and parks, help showcase Singapore’s green heart. There are plans to triple cycle paths and electrify public transport, while hotel brands such as ParkRoyal, Swissôtel and Fairmont are cultivating rooftop gardens to supplement in-house menus.

The Red Sea

SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi’s Red Sea Global development is among the most ambitious projects in a country that’s never afraid to dream big when it comes to tourism. Eyebrows might be raised at the impact of building 50 resorts along the west coast by 2030, but such is the scale of this 28,000 sq km project that these occupy a tiny fraction (1%) of the total area undergoing regeneration. Much of the 200km of shoreline, 90 islands and one of the world’s longest barrier reef systems will be reserved for low-impact adventures and conservation. Many of the corals fringing the shoreline have proved to be resistant to the damaging effects of high sea temperatures, so the project is monitoring these and breeding corals for potential relocation to less-hardy reefs. In addition, around 1 million mangrove seedlings have so far been planted, nurturing a resource that could sequester proportionately four times more carbon than any rainforest.