The Cultural Affairs Agency said Friday it has chosen 18 sets of cultural assets spread across more than half of the 47 prefectures to attract more tourists and revitalize communities and economies overshadowed by Japan's biggest cities.

The first batch of so-called Japan Heritage sites includes the well-known Shikoku Henro pilgrimage trail and former educational institutions of early modern times in Ibaraki, Tochigi, Okayama and Oita prefectures.

The agency plans to bring the total number of certified sites to 100 by the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

The project is aimed at regional revitalization, one of the latest pillars of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic policy, at a time when the population is rapidly aging and shrinking.

"We want to send out information on the attraction of Japanese culture in and outside the country, and press for regional revitalization," said Hakubun Shimomura, minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology.

Such labeling of tourist spots is different from applying for World Heritage designation, which entails a strict conservation commitment and an explanation of the assets' universal significance.

The first list of Japan Heritage sites, located in 24 prefectures, was selected from 83 proposals made by 40 prefectures. The agency will offer financial assistance to local governments to set up information boards and nurture guides.

The certified group of former education institutions includes the former Kodokan in Ibaraki Prefecture, which opened in 1841 and served as the school for the Mito feudal domain.

Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1867) also attended the school in his childhood. After he formally resigned as shogun in 1867, he was confined at Kodokan for a time, according to the Ibaraki Prefectural Museum of History.