top of page
  • Writer's picturePhillip Radcliffe

Japan’s World Heritage Sites

Updated: Jan 12, 2023

(Japanese translation below)

By Yuji Hashiba

As of August in 2022, UNESCO has registered a total of 1,154 World Heritage sites in the world, including 876 cultural sites, 218 natural sites and 39 combination sites. Twenty-five of these are Japan’s World Heritage sites. Traditional Japanese culture, historic buildings and nature are loved by people around the world, so many tourists, both domestic and foreign visit Japanese World Heritage sites every year.

To begin with, Japan’s cultural sites are popular with foreign tourists. One popular site is the Buddhist structures in the Horyuji Temple in Nara Prefecture. It is the first World Heritage site in Japan and was registered by UNESCO in 1993. Horyuji Temple is the oldest wooden structure in the world, and also known as the place associated with Prince Shoutoku, the person who built it. In addition, there are many other national treasures and nationally designated important cultural properties in this area, such as Todai-ji Temple, a five-story pagoda, and many more.

One of the most popular natural sites that is popular among both Japanese and foreigners is the island of Yakushima in Kagoshima Prefecture. Yakushima, known as an ancient forest, has many plants that have grown over a long period of time. The island’s most famous plant is the Japanese cedar tree, which is over 3,000 years old. All the stones and trees here are covered with green moss, creating a fantastic sight. In fact, this place is the setting for the Ghibli film Princess Mononoke, which is visited not only by ordinary tourists, but also by many people who love that movie.

Finally, we must not forget the existence of Intangible Cultural Heritage. In recent years, many kinds of cultural heritage are in danger of disappearing due to social transformation caused by globalization. In particular, many traditional performing arts, which are handed down from person to person, have already disappeared. Therefore, UNESCO adopted the Convention on the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2003, which covered performing arts, folklore, social customs, rituals, festivals, and traditional craft techniques. As of December 2020, 530 Intangible Cultural Heritage items have been selected, 22 of which are from Japan.

Kabuki, in particular, is attracting people from overseas. Kabuki is one of Japan’s representative traditional performing arts and is said to have originated in Kyoto in 1603. The main features are that the female roles are played by men, and that traditional and unique costumes, makeup, hand props, stage props, stage mechanisms, and music are performed in harmony. Kabuki reflects the sensibilities of the Japanese people, so it has gained the support of many people and continues to influence artists and cultural activities.


橋場 優志








Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page