There are a total number of 18 World Heritage sites in Japan registered with the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) World Heritage Convention). The list consists of 4 natural and 14 cultural heritage sites (as of June 2014). These unique natural and cultural assets of Japan cultivated over its long history are introduced below.
Buddhist Monuments in the Horyuji Temple Area Himeji Castle
Location: Ikaruga-cho, Ikoma-gun, NARA
Built in the 7th century, the Horyu-ji Temple houses a main hall and a five-storied pagoda that are said to be the oldest existing wooden structures in the world.
Location: Himeji City, HYOGO
The donjon tower and fortress in Himeji Castle were built in 1601 from a large group of wooden structures, and symbolize the “Wood Culture” of Japan.
Historic Monuments of Ancient Capital Kyoto
Location: Kyoto City, Uji City, KYOTO and Otsu City, SHIGA
Heiyankyo (794 AD) and its neighboring regions generated a refined culture and has left a collection of many cultural treasures over the centuries. These include 17 shrines and temples that have been inscribed as world heritage sites.
Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama
Location: Shirakawa-mura, Ono-gun GIFU and Nanto City, TOYAMA
Large dwellings with thatched roofs are found in three farming villages in this region of heavy snow, creating a unique look and atmosphere.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial
Location: Hiroshima City, HIROSHIMA The Ganbaku Dome, stripped to its present form due to the atomic bomb at the end of World War II, is a peace memorial that continues to plead for the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons and the importance of everlasting peace.
Itsukushima Shinto Shrine
Location: Miyajima-cho, Hatsukaichi City, HIROSHIMA
This shrine pavillion rising above the sea is connected by massive corridors and was built in the 12th century. This heritage site is significant for anyone who wishes to familiarize themselves with Japan’s spiritual culture.
Historic Monuments of Ancient Capital Nara
Location: Nara City, NARA
The foundation of Japanese society and culture was created in the ancient Japanese capital of Heijoko through interactions with China and Korea in the Nara period (710-794 AD). Eight cultural properties are inscribed as world heritage sites.
Shrines and Temples of Nikko
Location: Nikko City, TOCHIGI
Produced by artists who represented the 17th century art world, the buildings of Nikko were arranged to blend with the surrounding large cedar trees. This group of religious structures is a representative landmark of Japan.
The Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range
Location: Nachikatsuura-cho, Higashimuro-gun, WAKAYAMA and others
Surrounded by dense forests, the three sacred sites “Yoshino/Omine”, “Kumano Sanzan”, and “Koyasan”, as well as the roads leading to these have been considered places of ascetic training since ancient times.
Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu
Location: Naha City and others, OKINAWA
The Ryukyu Kingdom (now Okinawa prefecture) of the latter 14th century to the end of the 18th century formed a unique regional culture, especially centered in areas now marked by the castle ruins (Gusuku).
The Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine & Cultural Landscape
Location: Ota City, SHIMANE
This is the site of silver mining during the 16th to 20th centuries. The area includes the remains of the mine, a mining town and a harbor. This mine produced nearly 1/3 of the world’s silver at the beginning of the 17th century.
Location: Kamiyaku-cho, Yaku-cho, Kumage-gun, KAGOSHIMA
Yakushima is an island shaped almost perfectly as a circle, with a perimeter of about 130km. There are approximately 40 indigenous plants that are found only on this island, including the Jomon cedar which is said to be 7,200 years old.
Location: AOMORI and AKITA
Shirakami-Sanchi is an mountain zone stretching from north-western Akita to south-western Aomori, boasting the world’s largest natural, primitive beech forest.
Location: Shari-cho Shari-gun and Rausu-cho Menashi-gun, HOKKAIDO
Situated at the east end of Hokkaido, an ecosystem linkage of precious natural environment thrives in the land and sea regions along the Shiretoko peninsula facing the Okhotsk Sea.
Mount Fuji (Fuji-san)
Location: Chūbu region, Honshu
Located on Honshu Island, Mount Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan at 3,776 m (12,389 ft). An active stratovolcano that last erupted in 1707–08, Mount Fuji lies about 100 kilometers (60 mi) south-west of Tokyo, and can be seen from there on a clear day. The mountain has been selected as a “cultural” rather than a “natural” heritage site. As per UNESCO, Mount Fuji has “inspired artists and poets and been the object of pilgrimage for centuries”.
Location: Nishiiwai district, Iwate, Tohoku
Hiraizumi in the southwestern part of Iwate Prefecture is a town extending up the Hiraizumi Hill on the west bank of the Kitakami-gawa River, that prospered for almost 100 years from the 11th to 12th centuries as the center of the Tohoku region (the northeastern region). Over 3,000 national treasures and historical sites still remain, telling of the Fujiwara Clan that reigned over the area in the zenith of its prosperity. The splendid culture that appeared during the reign of the Fujiwaras lasted for three generations and has been preserved in the area to this day.
Location: North-Western Pacific Ocean
An archipelago of over 30 subtropical and tropical islands, located 1,000 kilometers directly south of Tokyo. The only inhabited islands of the group are Chichi-jima, the seat of the municipal government, and Haha-jima which includes Ogasawara Village. Because the Ogasawara Islands have never been connected to a continent, many of their animals and plants have undergone unique evolutionary processes.
Tomioka Silk Mill and Related Industrial Heritage
Location: Tomioka, Gunma prefecture
Tomioka Silk Mill is Japan’s oldest modern model silk reeling factory in the old city of Tomioka, established in 1872 by the government to introduce modern machine silk reeling from France and spread its technology in Japan. The factory is designated by the government as a historical site and all its buildings are preserved in very good condition.