Japan is an ancient country with a long history, spanning thousands of years of culture, art and warfare, leaving an imprint on the land and its spirit. Today, as we walk the streets of its cities or the back roads into its wilderness, we may encounter some truly special places to experience the heart of Japan. The UNESCO World Heritage Convention currently has a list of seventeen World Heritage Sites that you may visit during your stay here. This article will cover some of the more popular ones, beginning with the following:
Hōryū-ji Buddhist Monuments
The Buddhist monuments of the Hōryū-ji Area are part of a complex of a great variety of buildings in Ikaruga, Nara Prefecture. They were designated a World Heritage site back in 1993 together with the beautiful surroundings. The buildings here are known as some of the most impressive and oldest wooden buildings in the world. Their age is estimated to somewhere around the 7th or 8th centuries, being a major example of the Buddhist movement in Japan. There are a total of twenty-one buildings that are a part of the Hōryū-ji East Temple, another nine situated in the West Temple and about seventeen monasteries, as well as the Hokki-ji pagoda. They are definitely something worth seeing and visiting if you have decided to explore Japan.
A truly iconic image and symbol of Japan, Mount Fuji (富士山) also known as Fujisan is situated on the Honshu Island. It is by far the highest mountain of Japan, towering at 3,776 m or well over twelve-thousand feet above sea level. It lies to the south-west of the city of Tokyo and you can see it from many miles away on a nice, clear day. It has a truly amazing symmetry, which maintains a snow cap at all times. It has been depicted in Japanese and international art for many centuries. It is still an active volcano, which last erupted around 1707, but today it is safe, being a favorite site for many traditional visits from the local Japanese. Fuji is known as one of the “Three Holy Mountains” or Sanreizan (三霊山), together with Mount Haku and Mount Tate. It is certainly a place you must absolutely visit if you happen to be around the Tokyo area.
Kingdom of Ryukyu Sites
The Gusuku Sites and all related buildings of the Kingdom of Ryukyu (琉球國) are another World Heritage site which spans nine locations in Okinawa Prefecture. It includes a Tamaudun mausoleum, garden, five castle ruins, which are likely to be reconstructed in the future and two sacred sites. They were considered a very nice representation of the culture Ryūkyū had, which was a mixture of Chinese and Japanese influences. This kingdom existed during the Muromachi Period, where it ruled over the local islands independently from the rest of Japan.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial
Another World Heritage site is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial (広島平和記念碑), more commonly named as the Atomic Bomb Dome. This ruin of a building has a chilling history, being one of the very few ones that survived the initial atomic blast. The bomb detonated straight above the dome, its downward force shattering most of the surviving buildings, but keeping this one mostly intact. The location is safe in terms of radioactivity today, serving as a reminder to the terrible tragedy that befell the people of Japan that day on the 6th of August, 1945.
Yakushima (屋久島) is a gorgeous island, one of the Ōsumi Islands, located in the Kagoshima Prefecture. It is covered with a beautiful, ancient forest which holds some of the oldest trees in Japan, rhododendrons and cryptomerias among others. It is said that this forest served as the inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s anime film “Princess Mononoke” and other works of art, among which the classic Japanese horror film “Rebirth of Mothra”.