At long last, Japan received a bit of bright news May 7, when it was announced that two sites in Japan, the historic Hiraizumi area in Iwate Prefecture and the Ogasawara Islands some 1,000 km south of Tokyo, were almost certain to be designated as World Heritage Sites at meetings next month of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Paris.

The Hiraizumi area, seat of the Oshu Fujiwara family in the 11th and 12th centuries and the site of the Buddhist temple Chusonji — famous for its Golden Hall (Konjikido) — would be Japan's 12th cultural heritage site, while the Ogasawara Islands, often called the "Galapagos of the East" for the many unique species found there, would be the nation's fourth natural heritage site. Local authorities particularly hope that the designation of Hiraizumi, the first cultural heritage site in the Tohoku region, can serve as an impetus for recovery from the March 11 quake and tsunami.

Even though the Hiraizumi area, located inland, suffered little direct damage in the disaster, visitors to the area are down sharply — Golden Week tourists to Hiraizumicho totaled 49,500, a drop of 85 percent from the previous year.