About World Heritage

What is a World Heritage?

World Heritage are precious treasures, born from human history and the Earth itself, that have been handed down through the ages to the present. They are a common legacy and heritage that all people living in the present world must pass on to future generations.

The World Heritage Convention (formally known as the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage) was adopted by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1972.

The purpose of this convention is to establish an international cooperative framework to protect cultural and natural heritage sites from such threats as damage and destruction, and to preserve them as world legacies for humanity.

As of July 2018, the World Heritage List includes 1,092 properties (845 cultural, 209 natural and 38 mixed properties). The number of States Parties is 193, and Japan ratified the World Heritage Convention in 1992.

Types of World Heritage

There are three types of world heritage, which target real, tangible properties.

Cultural Heritage

Monuments, Groups of Buildings, Sites, Cultural Landscapes and Other Properties of Outstanding Universal Value

Himeji-jo (Japan)

Himeji-jo (Japan)

Memphis and its Necropolis - the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur (Arab Republic of Egypt)

Memphis and its Necropolis – the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur
(Arab Republic of Egypt)

Costiera Amalfitana (Italy)

Costiera Amalfitana (Italy)

Natural Heritage

Physiographical and Geological Formations, Ecosystems and Habitats of Threatened Animal on Plant Species and Other Properties of Outstanding Universal Value

Shirakami-Sanchi (Japan)

Shirakami-Sanchi (Japan)
*Photo courtesy of Nishimeya Village Office

Grand Canyon National Park (USA)

Grand Canyon National Park (USA)

Great Barrier Reef (Commonwealth of Australia)

Great Barrier Reef
(Commonwealth of Australia)

Mixed Heritage

Properties of Both Cultural and Natural Heritage Value

Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu (Republic of Peru)

Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu (Republic of Peru)

Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia (Republic of Turkey)

Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia
(Republic of Turkey)

Tongariro National Park (New Zealand)

Tongariro National Park (New Zealand)

Working towards getting the “Jomon Prehistoric Sites in Northern Japan” inscribed as a Cultural Heritage.

World Heritage in Japan

There are 22 World Heritage in Japan.

Cultural Heritage Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area (Nara Pref.) 1993
Himeji-jo (Hyogo Pref.) 1993
Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto Pref., Shiga Pref.) 1994
Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama (Gifu Pref., Toyama Pref.) 1995
Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome) (Hiroshima Pref.) 1996
Itsukushima Shinto Shrine (Hiroshima Pref.) 1996
Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara (Nara Pref.) 1998
Shrines and Temples of Nikko (Tochigi Pref.) 1999
Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu (Okinawa Pref.) 2000
Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range (Mie Pref., Nara Pref., Wakayama Pref.) 2004
Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape 2007
Hiraizumi – Temples, Gardens and Archaeological Sites Representing the Buddhist Pure Land (Iwate Pref.)

Konjikido (Golden Hall)
*photo courtesy of Chuson-ji Temple

Pure Land Garden
*photo courtesy of Motsu-ji Temple

Fujisan, Sacred Place and Source of Artistic Inspiration (Shizuoka Pref., Yamanashi Pref.) 2013
Tomioka Silk Mill and Related Sites (Gunma Pref.) 2014
Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining
(Fukuoka Pref., Saga Pref., Nagasaki Pref., Kumamoto Pref., Kagoshima Pref., Yamaguchi Pref., Iwate Pref., Shizuoka Pref.)
The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier, an Outstanding Contribution to the Modern Movement
(Main Building of the National Museum of Western Art : tokyo Pref.Japan, France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Argentina, India)
Sacred Island of Okinoshima and Associated Sites in the Munakata Region (Fukuoka Pref.) 2017
Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region (Nagasaki Pref., Kumamoto Pref.) 2018
Natural Heritage Shirakami-Sanchi (Aomori Pref., Akita Pref.)

Blue Pond

Blue Pond
*photo courtesy of Aomori Prefectural Government

Mother Tree

Mother Tree
*photo courtesy of Aomori Prefectural Government

Yakushima (Kagoshima Pref.) 1993
Shiretoko (Hokkaido)

Shiretoko Cape

Shiretoko Cape
*photo courtesy of Hokkaido Prefectural Government

Brown bear

Brown bear
*photo courtesy of the Kushiro Nature Conservation Office, Ministry of the Environment

Ogasawara Islands (Tokyo) 2011

Steps for Inscription on the World Heritage List (for a Cultural Heritage)

*Blue Text: Status of the Jomon sites

Submission of a proposal by local governments to the national government

Prefectural governments and municipalities jointly submit a proposal on a candidate World Heritage site to the National Government (Agency for Cultural Affairs).

  • November 2006
    Proposal on the Jomon Archaeological Sites in Aomori submitted (Aomori Pref., Aomori City, Hachinohe City, Tsugaru City, Shichinohe Town).
    Proposal on Stone Circles submitted (Akita Pref., Kazuno City, Kita-Akita City).
  • August 27 and 28, 2007
    Agreement on a joint proposal reached at the 11th Hokkaido and Northern Tohoku Governors’ Summit.
  • December 19, 2007
    Proposal on the Jomon Archaeological Sites in Hokkaido and Northern Tohoku submitted.
    (Governors of Hokkaido, Aomori, Iwate and Akita prefectures)
Listing on the World Heritage Tentative List

The Agency for Cultural Affairs examines and selects proposals from local governments for listing on the Tentative List.

  • January 5, 2009
    Proposal on the Jomon Archaeological Sites in Hokkaido, Northern Tohoku, and other regions listed on the World Heritage Tentative List.
Preparation of nomination

Preparations regarding the proof of “Outstanding Universal Value” and thorough protection measures in Japan are made in order to meet the requirements for inscription as a World Heritage.

  • June 1, 2009
    Headquarters for the Promotion of the World Heritage Inscription of Jomon Archaeological Sites and other bodies established.
  • March 29, 2013
    Draft nomination of the Jomon Archaeological Sites in Hokkaido and Northern Tohoku submitted.
Decision on nomination (Agency for Cultural Affairs, Japanese Government)

The National Government selects a property that is well prepared for nomination (one per year, in principle)

  1. Council for Cultural Affairs’ Subdivision on Cultural Properties (decision on the nomination by the Agency for Cultural Affairs)
  2. World Heritage Convention Ministries and Agencies Liaison Committee (decision on nomination by the national government)
Submission of a nomination by the National Government to UNESCO

The Agency for Cultural Affairs submits a nomination to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

  • Submission of a nomination (provisional) by the end of September
  • Submission of a nomination by February 1 the following year
Field inspection by a specialized body

Assessors of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) conduct a field inspection and prepare an evaluation report to submit to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

Deliberations and decision on inscription by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee (once a year in principle)
Based on the report of ICOMOS, the World Heritage Committee deliberates and decides on whether nominated properties should be inscribed on the World Heritage List.
(The World Heritage Committee consists of representatives from 21 States Parties that deliberates and decides on the inscription or deletion of sites and extended sites on the World Heritage List and the List of World Heritage in Danger.)

Criteria for inscription on the World Heritage List

For a property to be inscribed on the World Heritage List, the property must meet one or more of the following criteria prescribed in the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention to show proof of Outstanding Universal Value*, and it must also meet the conditions of authenticity and integrity, and an adequate protection and management system by the domestic laws of the States Parties has to be in place.

* Outstanding Universal Value means cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity.

Criteria for inscription on the World Heritage List

(i) Represent a masterpiece of human creative genius
(ii) Exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design
(iii) Bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared
(iv) Be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates a significant stage in human history
(v) Be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change
(vi) Be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria)
(vii) Contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance
(viii) Be outstanding examples representing major stages of Earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features
(ix) Be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals
(x) Contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of Outstanding Universal Value from the point of view of science or conservation

* Properties that meet criteria (i) – (vi) are inscribed as Cultural Heritage sites, properties that meet criteria (vii) – (x) as Natural Heritage sites, and properties that meet criteria for both Cultural and Natural Heritage as Mixed Heritage sites.


Properties may be understood to meet the conditions of authenticity if their cultural values (as recognized in the nomination criteria proposed) are truthfully and credibly expressed through a variety of attributes including the following:

  • form and design;
  • materials and substance;
  • traditions, techniques and management systems;
  • location and setting;
  • language, and other forms of intangible heritage;
  • spirit and feeling;
  • other internal and external factors.


Integrity is a measure of the wholeness and intactness of the natural and/or cultural heritage and its attributes. Examining the conditions of integrity requires assessing the extent to which the property:

  • includes all elements necessary to express its Outstanding Universal Value;
  • is of adequate size to ensure the complete representation of the features and processes which convey the property’s significance;
  • suffers from adverse effects of development and/or neglect.

Protection and Management

The World Heritage Convention stipulates that protection and management of World Heritage properties should ensure that their Outstanding Universal Value, including the conditions of integrity and/or authenticity at the time of inscription, are sustained or enhanced over time. Any property inscribed on the World Heritage List must meet the following three requirements:

  1. In Japan, the property has been designated (as an important cultural property, historical site, place of scenic beauty, etc.) by the Cultural Assets Preservation Act;
  2. A buffer zone has been provided to protect the property;
  3. A protection and management system has been formulated.

Properties on Japan’s World Heritage Tentative List (as of July 2018)

Classification Property name Prefecture


Cultural Heritage Temples, Shrines and other Structures of Ancient Kamakura Kanagawa 1992
Hikone-Jo Shiga
Asuka-Fujiwara: Archaeological Sites of Japan’s Ancient Capitals and Related Properties Nara 2007
Jomon Archaeological Sites in Hokkaido, Northern Tohoku, and other Regions Hokkaido, Aomori, Iwate, Akita 2009
The Sado complex of Heritage Mines, Primarily Gold Mines Niigata 2010
Mozu-Furuichi Kofungun, Ancient Tumulus Clusters Osaka
Hiraizumi – Temples, Gardens and Archaeological Sites Representing the Buddhist Pure Land (extended) Iwate 2012
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