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No.198 (11/11/11)

UNESCO: World Heritage Site in Japan

By Keiko H. Johnson

The 32nd session of UNESCO conference was held at Unesco Headquarters in Paris on June 29 of this year. UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization that aims to promote the preservation and growth of the world’s intellectual and cultural properties. The convention is held annually to value the significance of candidates by the186 countries currently registered. The submitted candidates are, following their standards, vigilantly evaluated. Among the 35 candidates, the three locations newly inscribed on the list of the UNESCO’s World Heritage List this year are the ancient Beech Forests of Germany, historical temples of Hiraizumi in Iwate Prefecture and the untouched nature of Orasawara Islands.

One of the newly added sites: Hiraizumi, features remnants of the administrative realm of northern Japan that reveled Kyoto during the 11th and 12thcenturies. The area comprises of five sites, including the sacred mountain: Kinkeisan. The soothing environment of Hiraizumi represents the serenity typical of the Japanese, which the concept of realm was based on. The cosmetology of Pure land Buddhism, which signifies the peace of mind in life and the aspiration to the after-life. Combined with the concept of The Pure Land of Buddhism and that of the native Shinto worship, the realm had contributed to develop a concept of planning and garden design that is unique to Japan.

Another site from Japan added to the list is Ogasawara Islands. These islands are located approximately 1000 km west of metropolitan Tokyo. Although it takes more than 25 hours by boat to get to these islands, it is still considered a part of Tokyo. Ogasawara consists of 30 islands, including the Father Island (Chichi Jima) and the Mother Island (Haha Jima). The areas, which the committee had submitted as the world heritage sites, are Kita Io Jima, Minami Io Jima, Nishino Jima, and some parts of CHICHI Jima and HAHA Jima.

After the tsunami struck Japan on March 11, The World Heritage committee announced their concerns over the listed sites located in the regions struck by the disaster. The UNESCO later revealed that all of those areas listed did not incur any damage. One of the areas which caught the attention of the UNESCO for potential damage from the quake was Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture. Nikko encompasses a total of 103 historical structures, which are surrounded by a beautiful indigenous landscape. The lavishly decorated TOSHOGU Shrine, which embraces the long history of Shinto and Buddhist worship natural to Japanese, is one of the most famous structures in Japan. In addition to the shrine, nine of the structures within the area are registered as the National Treasures of Japan. The rest of the 93 shrines and temples in the area were added to The World Heritage list in 1999 as important cultural properties of Japan. Another one of the disaster-endured treasures is Shiretoko National Park. Shiretoko Peninsula is one of Japan’s most beautiful and unspoiled national parks and covers most of the northeastern tip of the island of Hokkaido, This area was one Japan’s most remote areas and was once home to Ainu natives, and this area insinuates the mystical atmosphere that the Ainu civilization had formed back in their time. The site closest to the epicenter of the greatest earthquake was the Shirakami- Sanchi mountain region. The Shirakami- Sanchi spanning over Aomori and Akita prefecture was added to the list in 1993, as the last valuable remaining virgin forest of Siebold’s beech trees in the world. This registered area, however, is relatively small compared to the vast amount of property, and it has never been opened to any human activities for the purpose of protecting the forest’s assets from human violation. The rest of the land in shirakami-Sanch can be visited.

Other than those mentioned, including cultural and natural treasures, there are 12 more sites listed on The World Heritage List. The structures and statues at historical cities of Kyoto, and also at Houryuji Temple in Nara Prefecture, are verified as culturally valuable for the long history of the concept of worship and peacefulness. Furthermore, the spiritual land of Kumanokodo, Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima, Kii mountain range and spiritual land, and Yakushima in Kagoshima Prefecture, hold both the indigenous nature and the spiritual concept natural to Japanese living are listed as well. While ecological tourism and healing power spots have become popular phrases among the Japanese and stimulated the nation’s interests in mountain climbing, Yakushima and Kumanokodo are gaining lots of attention from hikers of all ages.

The structural treasures in Japan are mostly based on its architectural significances. One of the structures unique to Japanese culture is called Gasshouzukuri architectural style. Such structures can be seen at Shirakawakyo/白川卿, Gokoyama Mountain at Gifu in Toyama Prefecture. The historical structures, distinct to early periods of Japanese rural living, are resilient to the severe snowy weather of the Hokuriku region. The remnants of Samurai, Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture caught their attention because of its beautiful appearance and its different architectural techniques. The castle is built applying its defense system to avoid the invasion of enemy during the Shogunate Era. The southern most resort of Japan: Okinawa, was once called Ryukyu Kingdom, and the island was a independent country, which had its own distinctive culture. The preservations containing unique structures represent their independent culture of Ryukyu Kingdom. The GUSUKU / castle town and related structures were added onto The World Heritage as cultural treasures in 2000. Ishimi Silver Mine Site in Shimane Prefecture is relatively new to the list on the World Heritage Site. It was registered in 2007. The town still keeps the factory and the ambiance from back in that time when the silver mine was in use.

The last one on the list is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in Hiroshima Prefecture. This area invites many tourists in August during the memorial ceremony at Genbaku Dome. Out of all of those listed on the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Japan, the two sites added to the list this year brought a light to the nations dismal hurts after the event of March 11.

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