Okayama City Known For Dark Night Sky For Stargazers


IBARA, Okayama Prefecture – Instead of boasting bright lights, trendy restaurants and crowded tourist spots, the Bisei neighborhood here basks in the glow of something rarer: its dark, pristine sky at night .

Residents and officials of Bisei celebrate the district which is earning the status of International Dark Sky Community for its scenic starlit landscape.

Presenting itself as the “city of stars,” Bisei has only become the third region in Japan to be recognized by the US non-profit organization International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), which is made up mostly of astronomers.

This was apparently the first time that a local area in Asia had been certified in the community category under the program for its area-wide efforts to preserve a beautiful starry sky.

The residents of Bisei hope the designation will help the district gain popularity as a tourist spot.

“Our community-wide effort has been recognized, offering us a chance to show the appeal (of the local sky) to visitors and residents,” said Shota Maeno, 39, chief engineer at the Bisei astronomical observatory.

The International Dark Sky certification program was introduced in 2001 by IDA.

To date, 187 sites from 21 countries, including Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park in Okinawa Prefecture and Kozushima Island off Tokyo, both certified in the section of the park, have been designated international sites. starry sky in six categories.

The glowing arc of the Milky Way emerges in the night sky above Bisei District in Ibara, Okayama Prefecture. (Provided by the Bisei Astronomical Observatory)

LOCAL ORDER AGAINST LIGHT POLLUTION

Situated on a plateau at elevations of 300 meters to 400 meters, Bisei was formed by amalgamating four villages in 1954. Its name, which means “beautiful stars” in Japanese, was formed by taking one kanji each from two local rivers.

Legend has it that three shooting stars fell on what is now Bisei during the Kamakura era (1185-1333).

In 1989, Bisei enacted Japan’s first light pollution prevention ordinance to contain artificial light at night, urging citizens to turn off outdoor lights at 10 p.m.

The Bisei Astronomical Observatory, equipped with a 101-centimeter Cassegrain telescope, opened in 1993. Since then, Bisei has become an ideal viewing location for astronomers and stargazers.

However, some 30 years after the ordinance was issued, Bisei has found it difficult to continue its dark sky protection business as more and more security lights have been replaced by white LEDs, polluting the sky. black above.

With that in mind, the city of Ibara last year launched a program to seek International Dark Sky certification as part of efforts to educate citizens that the precious star-filled skies are a “treasure.”

In March of this year, security lights and outdoor lights at a total of 740 locations in Bisei were replaced with new ones whose light does not shine on the sky above.

In the fall of last year, a cooperative group of 30 entities from authorities, industry and academia was created at the initiative of the Bisei Tourism Association to discuss ways to attract tourists. tourists after the region was included in the international starry sky list.

Referring to the range of outreach and other approaches, IDA described Bisei as fulfilling “its commitment to protect the night sky by working with external partners”.

The IDA selection committee unanimously agreed to recognize Bisei as an international dark sky community at a meeting on November 1.

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The light from Panasonic Corp.’s ‘starry sky lighting’ in the foreground does not easily spread across the sky overhead, compared to that of an ordinary security light in the foreground. ‘background. This photo was taken in Bisei District in Ibara, Okayama Prefecture. (Provided by Panasonic Corp.)

THE OPEN WAY TO STRENGTHEN TOURISM

Maeno said the renovations to the Bisei Astronomical Observatory has made progress, in particular by enlarging the observation platform.

“We will make extra efforts to enable people to enjoy the night sky above Bisei and learn more about the space, so that as many people as possible become her fans,” Maeno said.

Takashi Ogawa, 29, an official at Bisei’s promotional division in Ibara City, said he was involved in the municipality’s program to gain recognition of Bisei as an international dark sky site since its launch in 2018.

Ogawa, who also belongs to the secretariat of the Bisei Tourism Association, led the city’s efforts to replace street lights with less polluting street lights and push vending machine operators to turn off lights at 10 p.m.

“Many inquiries have been received from tourism agencies and stargazing fans since he (Bisei) was certified as an International Dark Sky Location,” Ogawa said.

Ogawa said he expects a guide training program starting in November to show visitors the allure of the dark sky and how to observe celestial bodies will give local tourism an added boost.

The latest long-standing challenge is the difficulty of accommodating hordes of tourists due to the low number of restaurants and accommodations in the area.

“Taking advantage of the increased profile of the region, we will continually devote as much energy as that invested in applying the certification program to new efforts,” said Ogawa. “We need to develop systems for those in urban areas to want to visit here two and three times as a next step.”

About Walter J. Leslie

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