You are on page 1of 2


Visiting Japan’s UNESCO

World Heritage Sites
Himeji Castle
(World Heritage Registration: 1993)
Himeji Castle is the finest surviving example of early 17th-century Japanese
castle architecture. Most of the structures in the 83-building complex were
constructed between 1601 and 1609. Surrounding the donjon are watchtow-
ers, gate buildings and plastered earthen walls all strategically positioned for
defense purposes. Himeji Castle satisfies UNESCO World Heritage criteria #1
and #4.

Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu cities)

(World Heritage Registration: 1993)
Kyoto (Heian-kyo) was the seat of Japan’s imperial court between 794-1868,
and has prospered as the center of Japanese culture for more than 1,200 years.
In fact, the whole of Kyoto could be regarded as a museum of Japanese history.
After 1868, the national government recognized the need to protect Kyoto’s
cultural properties, historic sites and monuments and the surrounding areas
have been provided with appropriate protection and maintenance ever since.
Kyoto satisfies UNESCO World Heritage criteria #2 and #4.

Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara

(World Heritage Registration: 1993)
From 710-784, Nara, enjoyed great prosperity and established itself as the
fountainhead of Japanese culture. The city’s historic monuments provide a
vivid picture of life in the Japanese capital in the 8th century. During the Nara
Period the government officially supported Buddhism and as such, a collection
of large temples were built at strategic points to venerate the emperor and the
state. The monuments of Nara satisfy UNESCO World Heritage criteria #2,
#3, #4 and #6.

Shirakami Mountains
(World Heritage Registration: 1993)
The Shirakami Mountains cover an area of approximately 1,300 sq. km located
on the border between Aomori and Akita Prefectures in northeastern Japan.
The area is unique in Japan as it is home to a vast untouched Seibold’s beech
forest covering more than 170 sq. km and is completely devoid of manmade
structures. The area satisfies UNESCO World Heritage criteria #9.

Yakushima Island
(World Heritage Registration: 1993)
Yakushima is a round mountainous island that rises out of the ocean south
of Kagoshima, the southern tip of Kyushu. A variety of subtropical to arctic
vegetation range from the seashores to the mountaintops, and the heavy an-
nual rainfall contribute to the island’s more than 1,900 distinctive species and
subspecies of vegetation. This ancient coniferous forests, which is also home

Page24 Japan Scope Vol.5 February 2007

to endangered bird species, is treasured for its gate) and shrine buildings are built on the coastal Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in
ecology as well as its morphology. Yakushima edge, they appear as if they are afloat on the sea the Kii Mountain Ranges
satisfies UNESCO World Heritage criteria #7 when the tide is in. Miyajima satisfies UNESCO (World Heritage Site Registration: 2005)
and #9. World Heritage criteria #1, #2, #4 and #6. Set in the dense forests of the Kii Mountains
overlooking the Pacific Ocean, three sacred sites
Historic Gassho-style Villages Temples and Shrines of Nikko – Yoshino and Omine, Kumano Sanzan, and
(World Heritage Registration: 1995) (World Heritage Registration: 1999) Koyasan - linked by pilgrimage routes to the an-
The three villages of Ogimachi in Gifu Prefecture Today, Nikko is a famous sightseeing point, but cient capital cities of Nara and Kyoto, reflect the
and Ainokura and Suganuma in Toyama Prefec- originally it was revered in mountain worship as fusion of Shinto (the ancient tradition of nature
ture, lay claim to Japan’s only group of historical the center of religious devotion in the Kanto re- worship) and Buddhism. The surrounding forest
farmhouses possessing the unique and remark- gion. The shrines and temples of Nikko, together landscape and collection of 9th-century shrines,
able architectural character referred to as “Gas- with their natural surroundings, have for centu- offer a very well documented tradition of moun-
sho-style.” The Gassho-style houses were built ries been considered sacred for their architec- tain worship spanning more than 1,200 years.
between the 17th century and the beginning of tural and decorative perfection. UNESCO World The Kii Mountains satisfy UNESCO World Her-
the 20th century and are named for their unique Heritage criteria satisfied: #1, #4 and #6. itage criteria #2, #3, #4 and #6.
Gassho-shaped roof. As it snows heavily in win-
ter in this region, the steep roofs aid in snow re- Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of
moval and thus prevent the houses from being the Kingdom of Ryukyu
crushed. Gassho-style villages satisfy UNESCO (World Heritage Registration: 2000)
World Heritage criteria #4 and #5. The Gusuku Sites and related properties rep-
resent 500 years of Ryukyu history (12th-17th
Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku century). The castles, built on imposing elevat-
Dome) ed sites, are evidence of the supremacy of the
(World Heritage Registration: 1996) Ryukyu kingdom, while the sacred sites provide
The Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promo- mute testimony to the rare survival of an ancient
tion Hall (now known as the Hiroshima Peace form of religion into the modern age. The Gusu-
Memorial) was Hiroshima City’s sole surviving ku sites satisfy UNESCO World Heritage criteria
structure after the atomic bomb explosion in Au- #2, #3 and #6.
gust 1945. Still today, the dome serves as a silent
reminder of the tragedy of the bombing and the Shiretoko Mountains
futility of war. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial (World Heritage Site Registration: 2005)
satisfies UNESCO World Heritage criterion #6. Shiretoko Peninsula is located in the northeastern
region of Hokkaido. It provides an outstanding ex-
Itsukushima Shinto Shrine ample of the coexistence of marine/terrestrial eco-
(World Heritage Registration: 1996) systems and ecosystem productivity evidenced by
Miyajima is a 9 km by 6 km island located in the formation of rare low-latitude sea ice. The site
Hiroshima Bay. With the Itsukushima Shrine is globally important for preserving threatened sea
standing in an inlet backed by the surrounding birds and migratory birds, a number of salmonid
mountains soaring steeply from the coast, the species, and a number of marine mammals and
island is often considered among the most sce- cetacean species. Shiretoko satisfies UNESCO
nic places in Japan. Because the Otorii (shrine World Heritage criteria #9 and #10.

UNESCO World Heritage Selection Criteria

1. A masterpiece of human creative genius; artistic or literary works of outstanding univer-
2. An example of an important interchange sal significance.
of human values, over a span of time or within 7. A superlative natural phenomena or area
a cultural area of the world, on developments of exceptional natural beauty or aesthetic im-
in architecture or technology, monumental arts, portance;
town-planning or landscape design; 8. An outstanding representation of major
3. An exceptional testimony to a cultural tra- stages of earth’s history, including the record
dition or to a current or extinct civilization; of life, on-going geological processes in the
4. An outstanding example of a building, development of landforms, or geomorphic or
architectural or technological structure or land- physiographic features;
scape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) 9. An outstanding representation of signifi-
in human history; cant on-going ecological and biological pro-
5. An outstanding example of a traditional cesses in the evolution and development of
human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine eco-
is representative of a culture (or cultures), or systems;
human interaction with the environment espe- 10. An area, which contains significant
cially when it has become vulnerable under the natural habitats for conservation of biological
impact of irreversible change; diversity, including those containing threatened
6. A direct or tangible association with species of outstanding scientific or universal
events or living traditions, ideas or beliefs, or value.

Japan Scope Vol.5 February 2007 Page25