A UNESCO advisory panel has recommended granting World Heritage status to Japan’s “Sites of the Meiji Industrial Revolution.”
The endorsement covers all 23 facilities in eight prefectures proposed by the government as representing the country’s industrialization in the late 19th to early 20th centuries, the Cultural Affairs Agency said Monday.
The move paves the way for a formal decision for listing at a meeting of the World Heritage Committee slated for June 28 in Bonn, Germany.
It would be the 15th cultural property in Japan named as World Heritage sites. In the past two years, Mount Fuji and the Gunma Prefecture’s Tomioka Silk Mill made the list.
Some of the facilities, such as the Yahata steelworks in Fukuoka Prefecture and the Nagasaki shipbuilding yard, are still partly in operation but are in need of preservation due to aging.
The government recommended the sites to show in chronological order how an industrial state was rapidly built by blending Western technology with Japanese culture.
South Korea, one of the 21 countries on the World Heritage Committee, opposes the listing because people from the Korean Peninsula were forced to work at some of the sites.
Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se reiterated Monday that South Korea is against the listing.
In testimony to the National Assembly, Yun said that the listing would violate the spirit of the World Heritage Convention, which aims to protect human heritage that possesses “universal values.”
He made the remarks shortly before a UNESCO advisory panel endorsed the application.
According to South Korean government data, 57,900 Koreans were sent to work in seven of the 23 facilities.
The panel’s recommendations are usually accepted by UNESCO. But South Korea might propose a vote at a plenary session of a relevant UNESCO committee in July, Japanese officials said.
Meanwhile, many local community leaders welcomed the panel’s decision as World Heritage status will greatly boost tourism in those areas.
“Our long-continuing efforts will finally bear fruit,” said Dotoku Sakamoto, 61, who heads a group working for the preservation of the Hashima coal complex in Nagasaki Prefecture, which is among the 23 facilities.
At its peak, some 5,200 mine workers and their families lived on Hashima Island.
The island, about 18 km off Kyushu, was closed in 1974 but has become a tourist attraction for due to its standing in Japan’s modernization.
“We’re very happy, but at the same time feel a strong responsibility for handing down the tradition to later generations,” said Hajime Fujimura, 73, who heads a group pushing for the Miike coal mine in Omuta, Fukuoka Prefecture, to be made a World Heritage site.