Japan to scrap World Heritage bid for historic Christian sites in Kyushu

Kyodo

The Cabinet on Tuesday approved withdrawing its bid for UNESCO to add churches and other Christian sites in southwestern Japan to the World Heritage register.

A UNESCO advisory panel asked Japan last month to review its nomination of the 14 locations in Nagasaki and Kumamoto prefectures, citing failure to explain their overall value.

The sites include Nagasaki’s Oura Church, built in 1864 and Japan’s oldest church, and the Sakitsu community in Amakusa, Kumamoto Prefecture, where Christians practiced their faith despite a ban, persecution and even torture starting in the 17th century.

The period gave rise to the nation’s so-called “Hidden Christians,” who retained their faith and traditions down the generations despite having almost no contact with the Christian community overseas.

The government considers that the sites illustrate the 250-year history of Christianity in Japan, from the period of persecution to the faith’s subsequent revival. About one percent of today’s population is Christian.

In a notification to Japan on Jan. 18, the International Council on Monuments and Sites said the government failed to adequately explain how the individual sites contributed to the overall value of the bid, and how they meet the criteria of World Heritage sites, according to people familiar with the panel’s findings.

The panel suggested that Japan put more focus on the persecution of Christianity, the people said.

On Tuesday, Nagasaki Gov. Hodo Nakamura said the prefectural government will work hard to review the submission so that the sites can be put on the World Heritage list in 2018.

Education minister Hiroshi Hase said Tuesday that the government will promptly review the content of its recommendation but did not say when it would try again to have the locations listed.

It is thought that a bid for listing in 2019 is realistic, given the time needed for the review.