If You Go Sightseeing, Check Out the World Heritage Sites First

If You Go Sightseeing, Check Out the World Heritage Sites First

How many World Heritage Sites do you know about in Japan?

Japan's particular religious beliefs, aesthetics, and the abundance of nature stretching as far as the eye can see have resulted in a large number of heritage sites to be preserved for future generations, beginning with the Buddhist Monuments of the Horyu-ji Temple Area and Himeji Castle, which were registered in 1993. Now the number of sites has reached 25, making it the 11th largest number in the world.

The 25 World Heritage sites can be said to be the best sightseeing spots that Japan has recommended to the world. This article introduces some of the most popular sites, and we hope you will find them useful when choosing your travel destinations.

The 25 World Heritage Sites

Japan has a total of 25 World Heritage sites, 20 cultural and 5 natural. Furthermore, since they are scattered all over the country, from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south, one of the main travel strategies is to decide on a destination by focusing on World Heritage sites.

Here are the World Heritage sites in Japan, their locations, and the number of years they have been registered are as follows.

[Cultural World Heritage Sites]

  • Buddhist Monuments of the Horyu-ji Temple Area (Nara, 1993)
  • Himeji Castle (Hyogo, 1993)
  • Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Shiga, 1994)
  • Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama (Gifu, Toyama, 1995)
  • Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Atomic Bomb Dome) (Hiroshima, 1996)
  • Itsukushima Shrine (Hiroshima, 1996)
  • Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara (Nara, 1998)
  • Shrines and Temples of Nikko (Tochigi, 1999)
  • Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu (Okinawa, 2000)
  • Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range (Mie, Nara, Wakayama, 2004)
  • Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and Its Cultural Landscape (Shimane, 2007)
  • Hiraizumi – Temples, Gardens and Archaeological Sites Representing the Buddhist Pure Land (Iwate, 2011)
  • Mt. Fuji, Sacred Place and Source of Artistic Inspiration (Shizuoka, Yamanashi, 2013)
  • Tomioka Silk Mill and Silk Industrial Heritage Sites (Gunma, 2014)
  • Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining (Iwate, Shizuoka, Yamaguchi, Fukuoka, Kumamoto, Saga, Nagasaki, Kagoshima, 2015)
  • The National Museum of Western Art, Main Building (Tokyo, 2016)
  • Sacred Island of Okinoshima and Associated Sites in the Munakata Region (Fukuoka, 2017)
  • The Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region (Kumamoto, Nagasaki, 2018)
  • Mozu-Furuichi Kofun Group (Osaka, 2019)
  • Jomon Prehistoric Sites in Hokkaido・Northern Japan (Hokkaido, Aomori, Iwate, Akita, 2021)

[Natural World Heritage Sites]

  • Yakushima (Kagoshima, 1993)
  • Shirakami Sanchi (Aomori, Akita, 1993)
  • Shiretoko Peninsula (Hokkaido, 2005)
  • Ogasawara Islands (Tokyo, 2011)
  • Amami Oshima, Tokunoshima, Northern Okinawa Island and Iriomote Island (Kagoshima, Okinawa, 2021)


3 Recommended World Heritage Sites

With as many as 25 World Heritage sites in Japan, it is often difficult to decide which ones to visit. This article introduces three World Heritage sites that are particularly popular both locally and abroad.

Horyu-ji Temple

Horyu-ji Temple became a World Heritage Site in 1993.

To be precise, the site includes 48 buildings located throughout the surrounding area. Of these, 11 buildings, including the "Seiin Garan" are world-famous as the oldest wooden buildings in the world. The site is also known for its five-story pagoda, Kongorikishi statue, and many other structures that embody the history of Japan. It is a rare place in Japan with other national treasures and important cultural assets everywhere, so when you visit for sightseeing, it is recommended to take a long walk with a guide.


Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining

From the mid-19th century, Japan entered the Industrial Revolution and achieved industrialization within a short period of about 20 years, and the "Industrial Revolution of Meiji Japan: Iron and Steel Making, Shipbuilding, and Coal Industry" registered as a World Heritage Site in 2015 includes buildings and ruins that are evidence of the history of industrialization that Japan has gone through. The Industrial Revolution Heritage sites are located in eight prefectures (Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Kagoshima, Yamaguchi, Shizuoka, and Iwate), but despite their different locations, they are considered a single heritage site because of their deep historical relationship to each other.

Among them, "Gunkanjima" has been rapidly gaining popularity in recent years. It is a small island of submarine coal mines, and is called "Gunkanjima" because of its unique appearance floating in the sea. The island, which is currently uninhabited and surrounded by old buildings, has always had a core fan base of ruin enthusiasts, but it became widely known after it was used as the setting for the worldwide hit anime film "Shingeki no Kyojin" (Attack on Titan).

Although the island is small 480 meters by 160 meters, coal miners and their families gathered here, and at its peak, more than 5,000 people lived here, making the population density at that time about 9 times that of Tokyo. Even today, it has the world's highest population density, a record that has not been beaten. The island had schools and hospitals, as well as entertainment facilities such as movie theaters and pachinko parlors. Coal miners working on Gunkanjima were paid approximately 200,000 yen. This was five times the average salary at the time, so although the work was dangerous, the miners seemed to lead a comfortable life.

High-quality coal from Gunkanjima contributed greatly to the modernization of Japan, but the mine was closed in 1974 because of the rise of petroleum. The island was quickly transformed into an uninhabited island. On the tour of the island, visitors can see the remains of the mine, the brick offices, and the oldest reinforced concrete apartment building in Japan, built more than 100 years ago.

Ogasawara Islands

The Ogasawara Islands became a World Heritage Site in 2011. It is characterized by more than 30 precious islands that have remained isolated and unconnected to any continent, including of course the Japanese Islands. It is one of the few Japanese natural heritage sites.

The islands are home to a large number of creatures that have evolved on their own without any influence from outside the islands. Approximately 50% of the native plants are indigenous species. Animal species are also numerous, with as many as 100 species of snails said to be native to the island. More than 120 species of birds have been confirmed so far. On one island, visitors can even see green turtles that come to lay eggs. There are many species that can only be seen on the Ogasawara Islands.

Although the Ogasawara Islands represent nature in its purest form, they are actually part of Tokyo. The gap between the metropolis of Tokyo and the great outdoors makes the Ogasawara Islands all the more mysterious.

However, the trip down to the Ogasawara Islands is extremely difficult. There is no airport, so the only means of transportation is by boat. With the exception of cruise ships that depart irregularly, "The Ogasawara Maru," which departs from Tokyo, is the only reliable means of transportation. Furthermore, the trip takes about 24 hours, which is very demanding. It is by no means a casual stopover, but it is well worth the trip. Why not give it a try and make it a once in a lifetime experience?

May Be the Next World Heritage Site! The Mountain Where Gold Lies Dormant

In February 2022, Japan nominated the "Gold Mines of Sado Island" as a new World Heritage Site, and it is now the most anticipated site waiting to see if it will become the 26th World Heritage Site.

The Nishimikawa Sand Gold Mine in Niigata Prefecture and the Aikawa Tsuruko Gold and Silver Mine together are called the "Gold Mines of Sado Island." Over a period of about 400 years, 78 tons of gold and 2,330 tons of silver were mined, and in the 17th century, when the mines were at their peak, they were said to have produced enough gold and silver to drive the world economy.

Even after its role as a mine has ended, the remains of the mine shafts, mining facilities, and smelting facilities still remain, making it one of the few mines in the world where visitors can see the mining techniques and production systems developed by our predecessors.

If it is registered as a World Heritage site, tourism may be restricted. We encourage you to see this future World Heritage site with your own eyes while you still can.


World Heritage Sites, A Reflection of a Country

In this article, we have introduced the World Heritage Sites in Japan.

World Heritage sites reflect the characteristics of a country. Once you visit a World Heritage site, you can directly feel what kind of country it is, what kind of people live there, and a variety of other information. So, when you travel, visit a World Heritage site first. You will be immersed in the culture of another country, and you will have the best possible start to your trip.