Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Recently, while I was reading a photography book about Japan, I stumbled across a list of Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. I thought it would be a great idea to run down the list with you.

So here is a complete list along with a bit of information on every site in Japan that has been classified as a World Heritage Site.

Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area

Location: Ikaruga Town, Nara Prefecture
Info: Some of the oldest surviving wooden buildings in the world dating from late 7th or early 8th century.

The site was designated as a World Heritage site in 1993 along with the surrounding landscape.

The four old buildings in the Horyu-ji West Temple (Sai-in) all date from 680-710. They are surrounded by ancillary buildings such as priests’ living quarters, refectories, gates, etc. – UNESCO website


Location: Hemeji
Info: Hemeji Castle is a sight to behold and is one of our top 5 castles with visit in Japan.

Known as the “White Heron Castle”, it is comprised of 83 buildings with a highly developed systems of defence and ingenious protection devices dating from the beginning of the Shogun period.

Himeji-jo is a masterpiece of wooden construction, the finest surviving example of early 17th-century Japanese castle architecture, and preserves all its significant features intact. The castle is also a powerful and evocative symbol of the feudalism that prevailed in Japan until the Meiji restoration of 1868. – UNESCO website


Location: Honshu
Info: Located in Japan’s north, this mountain region is a protected area that is only open to mountain climbers. Permission is needed from Forest Management to enter the area.

Situated in the mountains of northern Honshu, this trackless site includes the last virgin remains of the cool-temperate forest of Siebold’s beech trees that once covered the hills and mountain slopes of northern Japan. The black bear, the serow and 87 species of birds can be found in this forest. – UNESCO website


Location: Osumi Archipelago
Info: One of the Osumi Islands with a unique remnant of a warm-temperate ancient forest where’s it’s rumored that it rains 35 days a month.

It is said to have inspired the forest setting in Hayao Miyazaki’s film Princess Mononoke.

Located in the interior of Yaku Island, at the meeting-point of the palaearctic and oriental biotic regions, Yakushima exhibits a rich flora, with some 1,900 species and subspecies, including ancient specimens of the sugi (Japanese cedar). It also contains a remnant of a warm-temperate ancient forest that is unique in this region. – UNESCO website

Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto

Location: Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities
Info: This site encompasses 17 locations and three cities in Japan consisting of gardens, pavilions, and a castle.

Here is the full list of all 17 sites from the UNESCO website.

Built in A.D. 794 on the model of the capitals of ancient China, Kyoto was the imperial capital of Japan from its foundation until the middle of the 19th century. As the centre of Japanese culture for more than 1,000 years, Kyoto illustrates the development of Japanese wooden architecture, particularly religious architecture, and the art of Japanese gardens, which has influenced landscape gardening the world over. – UNESCO website

Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama

Location: Border of Gifu and Toyama Prefectures
Info: These villages are well known for their houses constructed in architectural style known as gassho-zukuri. The Gassho-zukuri, “prayer-hands construction” style is characterized by a thatched and steeply slanting roof resembling two hands joined in prayer.

The large houses with their steeply pitched thatched roofs are the only examples of their kind in Japan. Despite economic upheavals, the villages of Ogimachi, Ainokura and Suganuma are outstanding examples of a traditional way of life perfectly adapted to the environment and people’s social and economic circumstances. – UNESCO website

Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome)

Location: Hiroshima
Info: The Genbaku Dome is the only structure that was left standing in the area where the worlds first atomic bomb exploded on 6 August 1945. The Dome is a memorial to the over 70,000 people were killed instantly, and another 70,000 suffered fatal injuries from the radiation.

Not only is it a stark and powerful symbol of the most destructive force ever created by humankind; it also expresses the hope for world peace and the ultimate elimination of all nuclear weapons. – UNESCO website

Itsukushima Shinto Shrine

Location: Hatsukaichi in Hiroshima Prefecture
Info: The island of Itsukushima is often recognized by pictures of this red gate standing out in the water. The torii was built like a pier over the water, so that it appeared to float, separate from the land, and therefore existed in a liminal state between the sacred and the profane.

The buildings consist of the main shrine buildings (Honsha), constructed and composed to achieve harmony within a single design concept, and the other buildings that have been added to them over a long period of history. Each building has high architectural quality in itself. – UNESCO website

Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara

Location: Nara
Info: Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara encompasses eight places in the old capital Nara in Nara Prefecture, Japan.

The properties include 26 buildings designated by the Japanese Government as National Treasures as well as 53 designated as Important Cultural Properties.

The city’s historic monuments provide a vivid picture of life in the Japanese capital in the 8th century, a period of profound political and cultural change. – UNESCO website

Shrines and Temples of Nikko

Location: Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture.
Info: Shrines and Temples of Nikko encompasses 103 buildings or structures and the natural setting around them. Known for its architectural and decorative masterpieces, they are closely associated with the history of the Tokugawa Shoguns.

The Nikko shrines and temples are a reflection of architectural and artistic genius; this aspect is reinforced by the harmonious integration of the buildings in a forest and a natural site laid out by man. – UNESCO website

Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu

Location: Okinawa Prefecture
Info: Nine sites including two groves or utaki, the mausoleum Tamaudun, one garden, and five gusuku castles sites, most of which are ruins.

A fine representation of the Ryukyu Kingdom’s culture, whose unique blend of Japanese and Chinese influence made it a crucial economic and cultural junction between several neighboring states.

Five hundred years of Ryukyuan history (12th-17th century) are represented by this group of sites and monuments. The ruins of the castles, on imposing elevated sites, are evidence for the social structure over much of that period, while the sacred sites provide mute testimony to the rare survival of an ancient form of religion into the modern age. – UNESCO website

Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range

Location: Kii Peninsula

Info:The locations and paths for this heritage site were based on their historical and modern importance in religious pilgrimages. A total of 242 elements were selected from sites and pilgrimage routes for nomination.

The area, with its abundance of streams, rivers and waterfalls, is still part of the living culture of Japan and is much visited for ritual purposes and hiking, with up to 15 million visitors annually. – UNESCO website


Location: Shiretoko National Park, Hokkaido
Info: The word “Shiretoko” is derived form an Ainu word “sir etok”, meaning “end of the Earth”.

One of the most remote regions in all of Japan, much of the peninsula is only accessible on foot or by boat. The park is best known as the home of Japan’s largest brown bear population.

The site includes the land from the central part of the peninsula to its tip (Shiretoko Cape) and the surrounding marine area. It provides an outstanding example of the interaction of marine and terrestrial ecosystems as well as extraordinary ecosystem productivity, largely influenced by the formation of seasonal sea ice at the lowest latitude in the northern hemisphere. – UNESCO website

Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape

Location: Oda, Shimane Prefecture, Honshu
Info: It was developed in 1526 by Kamiya Jutei a Japanese merchant. It reached its peak production in the early 17th century of approximately 38 tons of silver a year which was then a third of world production.

The site also features routes used to transport silver ore to the coast, and port towns from where it was shipped to Korea and China. The mines contributed substantially to the overall economic development of Japan and south-east Asia in the 16th and 17th centuries, prompting the mass production of silver and gold in Japan. – UNESCO website

Information taken from several Wikipedia articles and the UNESCO website.

Leave a Reply