January 20, 2017 8:00 am JST

Japan nominates natural, Christian sites for World Heritage honor

Unesco to review candidates next year

TOKYO -- A string of biologically diverse islands in southwestern Japan and historic Christian sites were recommended for World Heritage status by a government panel Thursday.

The panel selected Amami Oshima and Tokunoshima in Kagoshima Prefecture. In Okinawa Prefecture, the Yanbaru region in the northernmost part of the main island as well as Iriomote island were chosen. Rounding out the list are historic Christian sites in Nagasaki and Kumamoto prefectures, selected for their cultural significance.

The cabinet will endorse the list Friday, with the application to be submitted to Unesco by Feb. 1. After an on-location review by specialists, a panel from the U.N. organization will decide in the summer of 2018 whether the locations deserve to be crowned as World Heritage sites.

The places chosen in Kagoshima and Okinawa cover roughly 38,000 hectares combined. Due to their subtropical climate and evergreen forestry, those islands are home to rare species such as the Amami rabbit and the Okinawa rail -- a flightless bird.

The central government believes it is worth preserving those locations as World Heritage sites because they showcase the Galapagos effect of evolution and biodiversity.

The Christian sites consist of a dozen locations, including the Oura church in the city of Nagasaki -- the oldest church in Japan and a national treasure -- and Sakitsu village in Kumamoto Prefecture, which was home to underground Catholics.

During the Tokugawa Shogunate's centuries-long ban of Christianity, underground Christians developed a unique cultural tradition where they coexisted with the larger society and other religions in Japan, said the government.

Unesco has registered 20 Japanese assets as World Heritage sites, including 16 that hold cultural significance and four natural sites. This year, the sacred island of Okinoshima in western Japan will be considered for the honor.

(Nikkei)

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