While the people behind the bid to have Meiji-era industrial sites recognized with UNESCO World Cultural Heritage status celebrated their efforts Monday, they also noted that a raft of issues that must still be tackled.
UNESCO on Sunday decided to add the “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution” to the list. The sites, which consist of 23 facilities and span eight prefectures, from the southern tip of Kyushu to the northern end of Honshu, recognize them as symbols of the nation’s industrial modernization from the late 19th century to the early 20th century. Japan was the first non-Western nation to have an industrial revolution outside of the West.
Nearly 400 locals gathered Monday at a cultural center in Izunokuni, Shizuoka Prefecture, to watch the UNESCO committee’s meeting live-streamed on a large screen. Upon hearing the announcement, the crowd jumped from their seats to give a rowdy chorus of banzai three times to celebrate the moment.
“The treasure of Izunokuni is now a treasure of the world,” Mayor Toshiko Ono told the crowd.
As part of the Meiji industrial sites, Izunokuni residents and others had worked for the UNESCO endorsement of the Nirayama reverberatory furnace — the only such facility to operate during Japan’s industrial revolution.
In Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, home to the Hashino iron mining and smelting center — the only asset in the disaster-hit Tohoku region — just 20 people turned up at City Hall to watch a live video of the announcement, but the happiness in the small crowd was palpable.
Still, despite the celebratory atmosphere, some campaigners said their final goal had yet to be achieved.
“What is needed is a continued effort to tell visitors the reality of the sluggish recovery (from the Great East Japan Earthquake), rather than letting it turn into just a temporary tourism boom,” said a 67-year-old man who live in temporary housing in Kamaishi’s coastal Unosumai district.
Over 700 residents of the Unosumai area were killed or are recorded as still missing more than four years after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Although their respective venues have been endorsed as heritage sites that are expected to send visitors clamoring to the cities and towns, they must now figure out how to deal with increasing maintenance costs and a greater variety of visitors, including people from overseas, said Akiyoshi Morita, an official from Tomioka, Gunma Prefecture, home of the Tomioka Silk Mill, which joined the UNESCO’s list last year.
Since that listing, Japan’s oldest modern model silk reeling factory, established in 1872, has gained an ever-increasing number of visitors, Morita said, jumping to almost four times the figures prior to the endorsement.
But more attention means a bigger maintenance burden. And to deal with those rising costs, the Tomioka site in April doubled the ¥500 entrance fee for adults to ¥1,000.
The main purpose of the listing body is to “preserve the sites for future generations,” and this is the most important for us as well, Morita said.
Providing support for surging numbers of overseas guests is another issue, said a Tomioka spokesman, who declined to be identified.
Since last year, the city has worked to implement multilingual support measures, including signboards, so that non-Japanese guests can fully enjoy the historical assets.
But more than anything else, Morita said, he welcomes the newly joined members to the World Heritage club.
“We are pleased to see new UNESCO industrial heritage sites from our nation, and we are happy to help them out,” he said.