National

Japan to recommend southwestern islands in Kagoshima and Okinawa for UNESCO listing again

Kyodo

The Cabinet on Tuesday approved a decision to again recommend a chain of southwestern islands as a candidate for UNESCO’s 2020 World Heritage list, after withdrawing the initial bid on the U.N. body’s advice to conduct a further review. The recommendation will be done by Feb. 1.

The 43,000-hectare area covers Amami Oshima and Tokunoshima islands in Kagoshima Prefecture, as well as the northern part of the main Okinawa island and Iriomote Island in Okinawa Prefecture. The area boasts extensive subtropical forests that are home to rare species such as the Amami rabbit, Okinawa rail and Iriomote cat.

Tokyo marked the area as a candidate for the natural heritage list in February 2017, but dropped the bid last June after a UNESCO panel sought the addition of a forest in a former U.S. military site in northern Okinawa.

In line with the panel’s input, Japan will include the forest — which is rich in rare plants and animals — in its new proposal. The site it occupies was returned by the U.S. military to Japan in December 2016.

The fresh bid highlights Tokyo’s efforts to conserve biodiversity on islands with various endemic species and fend off invasive species while also welcoming tourists to the area.

After the formal recommendation is submitted to UNESCO, an advisory panel from the body will conduct an on-site survey in the fall and release its evaluation in around May 2020. Then, the World Heritage Committee will decide whether to register the islands in the summer of 2020.

For this year’s registration, Japan has recommended as a cultural heritage site the Mozu-Furuichi Kofungun tomb site in Osaka Prefecture, one of the largest ancient tombs in the country.

At present, Japan has four UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites, including the Shiretoko Peninsula of Hokkaido and the Ogasawara Islands in the Pacific.

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