National

Osaka welcomes UNESCO support for burial mounds as World Heritage Site

Kyodo

Osakans on Tuesday welcomed a UNESCO advisory panel’s recommendation to add two clusters of ancient burial mounds in the prefecture to the World Cultural Heritage List.

“We are happy that the ancient tumulus clusters were deemed appropriate as World Heritage sites,” Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said. “We will do our best to realize Osaka’s first World Heritage site listing.”

Some 150 people dressed in ancient-style clothing took part in an event to celebrate the panel’s recommendation in the city of Sakai, where some of the tombs are located.

The recommended Mozu-Furuichi tumulus clusters include the keyhole-shaped Emperor Nintoku mausoleum in the city.

The burial mound, officially called Daisen Kofun, is one of the three largest graves in the world, together with the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor in China and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.

Tomomi Matsunaga, 47, who has organized the Sakai Kofun festival to build momentum for the tombs’ listing, said local people still have much to do in preparation for the possible listing, as well as an expected influx of tourists to the area.

She said she began selling accessories, snacks and other products related to the ancient tombs at a local cafe after finding that “there were no souvenirs related to them.” She feared people may find their visits to the sites unsatisfactory.

Problems may arise if roads in residential areas that lead to the tombs fill up with tourists.

“We want tourists to come, but we don’t want this to end in just moneymaking. We want to aim for a cycle in which we would use that money to arrange the environment around the ancient tombs and preserve them,” Matsunaga said.

“Among the Mozu-Furuichi tumulus clusters are many massive tombs designated as mausoleums of emperors. Such tombs are strictly managed by the Imperial Household Agency and are conserved perfectly,” said Kazuo Ichinose, an archaeology professor at Kyoto Tachibana University.

As people are unable to enter the tombs or their premises, Ichinose said it is crucial that virtual reality technology and other visuals are utilized to depict their history and significance.

Since last fall, local operators have been providing sightseeing flights to allow people to see the tombs from the air, while the city of Sakai has been keeping the 21st floor of its nearby building open as an observation deck.

Local authorities first proposed the tomb clusters as a World Cultural Heritage Site candidate to the Culture Affairs Agency in 2007. But the agency decided not to recommend them to UNESCO in 2013, 2015 and 2016, instead prioritizing the listing of other sites.

It was not until 2017 that the Osaka sites were recommended, with the prefecture and its cities of Sakai, Fujiidera and Habikino having narrowed down the included tombs to 49 from 61 by excluding those that are not in good condition.

“I would like to express my respect for the efforts made by the local people involved,” said culture minister Masahiko Shibayama while calling the recommendation “perfect” as it covered all 49 tombs Japan has sought to list.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government will work to promote the listing at a meeting of the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO from June 30.