Japan to seek UNESCO listing of remote islands, Christian sites


The government plans to submit a proposal to UNESCO by around the end of the month to add a number of islands in the country’s southwest to the natural sites on the World Heritage list, the government’s top spokesman said Wednesday.

It is also expected to propose that a number of sites in Nagasaki and Kumamoto prefectures linked to the history of Japan’s persecuted Christians be added to the cultural sites on the World Heritage list.

The natural sites include land on the northern part of the main island of Okinawa Prefecture returned to Japan last month after being used as a U.S. military training area, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.

The government is expected to formally decide Thursday that Amami-Oshima Island, Tokunoshima Island, the northern part of Okinawa’s main island and Iriomote Island be submitted for inscription on the World Heritage list.

Following Cabinet approval, the government will submit the proposals to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization by Feb. 1, leaving a UNESCO panel to decide whether to add the sites to the list in the summer of next year.

“The (natural) areas are important from a biodiversity standpoint, being home to internationally valuable endemic species including the Okinawa rail and Iriomote cat,” Suga said Wednesday.

“The government wants to fully support making the registration a reality and encourage further development of the region through the use of its rich nature,” Suga said.

Earlier Wednesday, Suga discussed the submission plan at a meeting in Tokyo with the heads of Kunigami and Higashi villages in the northern part of Okinawa’s main island.

The villages include a roughly 4,000-hectare area that made up about half of a U.S. military training ground before its return last month.

Suga reiterated the government’s readiness to support local requests for the roughly 4,000-hectare area to be designated as a national park and registered with UNESCO.

The central government has built six new helipads in the part of the Northern Training Area that remains in use by the U.S. military, prompting opposition among local residents concerned about aircraft noise and the risk of accidents.

The village leaders asked Suga on Wednesday for early morning and night flight exercises to be suspended and for aircraft to avoid flying over residential areas.

He responded that the government will do all it can to ensure the safety of flights, including by MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor craft. Concern about the Ospreys’ safety has intensified since one of the aircraft crash-landed off Okinawa last month.

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