KYOTO — The World Heritage Committee decided on Wednesday to place a group of shrines and temples in the ancient capital of Nara on the World Heritage List.
The Nara properties will become the ninth Japanese site on the list, which gives special status to 552 cultural and natural sites in more than 112 countries.
The WHC, an intergovernmental body, examined Nara and 32 other sites for possible inclusion on the list, which designates areas of natural beauty and historical value that should be preserved for all humanity.
The committee announced Wednesday evening that it placed a total of 30 sites worldwide on its list. 27 sites were cultural and three were designated national heritage sites.
The WHC listed as cultural heritage sites the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, and the Imperial Garden, all in Beijing, the Semmering Railway in Australia, the Grand Palace in Brussels and the archaeological site of Troy in Turkey.
In addition, the committee identified 23 sites worldwide as being in danger.
Much of the conference had been marked by an intense debate over whether to include Kakadu National Park in Australia on the World Heritage Sites in Danger list due to the proposed construction of a uranium mine at Jabiluka.
After a World Heritage mission report last week identified dangers to the site should uranium mining proceed, the committee gave the Australian government about six months to prove why the site should not be listed as endangered.
The group of shrines and temples in Nara listed is the second site on the World Heritage List located in Nara Prefecture. Buddhist monuments at Nara’s Horyuji Temple, originally built in the early seventh century, were included in the list in 1993.
The Nara properties to be added to the list include Todaiji Temple, a monastery-temple erected on the order of Emperor Shomu in the eighth century and known for its Great Buddha, and Kasuga Shrine, a Shinto shrine founded in the same century to protect the then new capital at Nara.
The other sites are Kofukuji Temple, Mount Kasuga’s primeval forest, Gangoji Temple, Yakushiji Temple, Toshodaiji Temple and the site of Heijokyo, Japan’s capital from 710 to 784. The properties have a total area of 616.9 hectares.
Japan’s cultural and natural sites registered on the World Heritage List include Shirakami-Sanchi beech forest, Yakushima ancient cedar forest, Himeji Castle and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. “There still remains imbalance in the number of World Heritage sites in Asia,” said Koichi Matsuura, chairman of the Kyoto meeting. “The reason is because until recently the focus of governments to promote World Heritage sites was limited to Europe and America.”
In regards to the controversial Kakadu National Park, Matsuura said, there was a sense of crisis that the World Heritage Committee will meet next June in an extraordinary session to decide the issue.
Bernd Van Droste, director of the World Heritage Center, said, “to date the convention has been implemented in an unbalanced way. Asia came late and Japan joined in 1992.”
“The original members of the convention were European states concerned about preserving old stone buildings, and many of the early regulations adopted concerned stone, not wood, which is more prevalent in Asian cultural heritage sites,” he added.