Southwestern Japan Islands to Become World Heritage Site

A UNESCO advisory group on Monday recommended that a chain of islands in southwestern Japan with dense subtropical forests be added to the list of natural World Heritage sites, government officials said.

The list of the 43,000 hectare area, including Amami-Oshima Island and Tokunoshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture as well as the northern part of the main Okinawa Island and Iriomote Island in Okinawa Prefecture, is expected to be officially approved during an online session of the World Heritage Committee. between July 16 and July 31.

Photo taken in April 2018 shows a mangrove forest on Iriomote Island in Okinawa Prefecture. (Kyodo)

The advisory body considered the islands crucial for preserving biodiversity and sought protective measures, such as preventing road accidents involving animals and capping the number of tourists to the island of Iriomote.

Registration of 2020 candidate sites, including islands in southwestern Japan, has been delayed for one year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Japanese government initially submitted its proposal for the islands, noting the diverse ecosystems that are home to rare endemic animals and birds such as the Amami rabbit, the Iriomote cat and the Okinawa rail, to the United Nations for education, science and culture in February 2017.

However, it withdrew the proposal in June 2018 on the advice of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, an advisory body to UNESCO.

The government revised the designated area to include a forest at a former US military site in northern Okinawa that was returned to Japan in December 2016 and stepped up invasive species measures before resubmitting the proposal in February. 2019.

Local governments and residents welcomed the UNESCO panel’s decision.

“The news inspires dreams that can brighten the atmosphere amid the coronavirus pandemic,” Mayor Amami Tsuyoshi Asayama told reporters, pledging to continue efforts to register the site.

“We will engage in the development of a sustainable region that is worthy of the world’s natural heritage so that we can leave this precious natural environment to our descendants 100 and 1000 years from now,” Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki said in a statement.

Mutsumi Minobe, the managing director of a non-profit organization that promotes ecotourism, joined the festive mood on Tokunoshima Island, who said, “I hope people still live near forests. where Amami rabbit lives after 1000 years. “

Mayor Yasushi Chibana of Kunigami, a village in the northern part of Okinawa Island, celebrates on May 10, 2021, as a UNESCO advisory committee recommends that the region and other islands in the southwest of Japan be added to the list of natural World Heritage sites. (Kyodo)

Meanwhile, Yusuke Takayama, 39, who engages in Iriomote cat protection activities, expressed concern about potential ‘overtourism’ as well as improper feeding and traffic accidents involving rare feral cats. .

“We need bold measures such as capping the number of visitors entering the island,” he said.

If registered, the islands of southwestern Japan would become the country’s fifth natural World Heritage Site after the Ogasawara Islands, which were added to the World Heritage List in 2011.

There are currently 23 World Heritage sites in Japan, including cultural properties.

This year’s World Heritage Committee session will assess candidate sites for 2020 and 2021.

Japan is also awaiting a decision from a UNESCO advisory body on a World Cultural Heritage candidate, Jomon-era archaeological sites in the north of the country, including the ruins of the village of Sannai Maruyama in the prefecture of Japan. ‘Aomori dating from around 5,900 years ago.

The decision regarding the 17 archaeological sites in Hokkaido and Aomori, Akita and Iwate prefectures is expected to be made later this month.

Related coverage:

Japanese architectural crafts approved as UNESCO intangible heritage

UNESCO classifies mountainous site in Japan as a biosphere reserve

Japan’s largest mound tomb slated to become a World Heritage site

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