Sites in Kyushu linked to Christian persecution pass preliminary review for UNESCO heritage list

Kyodo, JIJI

A UNESCO preliminary review panel has recommended adding a dozen sites linked to the history of Japan’s persecuted Christians to the world’s cultural heritage list, the government said Friday.

Japan says the assets, located in Kyushu, show how Christians upheld their faith despite persecution by the Tokugawa shogunate.

Meanwhile, the panel recommended further review for a chain of islands in Kagoshima and Okinawa prefectures that Tokyo had proposed be added to the organization’s list of natural sites.

A ministry official told reporters at a news conference in Tokyo that the government is confident the Christian sites will be officially registered as recommended, while also expressing disappointment about UNESCO’s decision on the islands.

The listing of the sites associated with the history of persecuted Christians will be officially discussed at a meeting of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee June 24-July 4 in Bahrain.

If the Paris-based international body agrees to list them, it would bring the total number of Japanese items on the world’s cultural and natural heritage lists to 22.

It would also mark the sixth straight year that a Japanese cultural heritage site has been added to the World Heritage list since the 2013 registration of Mount Fuji.

The recommended cultural sites cover 12 locations, including Oura Church, a Catholic church in the city of Nagasaki designated as a national treasure and the oldest surviving church in the country.

The other locations include the village of Sakitsu in Amakusa, Kumamoto Prefecture, where Christians practiced their faith in secret despite persecution for most of the Edo Period (1603-1868) under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate.

People who continued to practice Christianity despite persecution “nurtured distinctive cultural traditions,” according to the government.

The government said it will continue to seek registration of the proposed natural sites.

The sites comprise Amami-Oshima and Tokuno islands in Kagoshima Prefecture, the northern part of the main island of Okinawa, and Iriomote Island in Okinawa Prefecture.

The government says the areas show a “unique biological evolution” and are important from the standpoint of biodiversity preservation.