Japan's World Heritage Sites

From sacred shrines and ancient forests to the ruins of Hiroshima and remote villages, Japan is rich in history. Take of tour of Japan's UNESCO World Heritage sites.
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Called "White Egret Castle" for its supposed resemblance to a white bird taking flight, Himeji-jo is a perfect archetypal example of Japanese architecture dating back to 1333. The castle is actually a complex of 83 buildings that make up one of the most advanced defensive structures of 14th-century Japan.

Shrines and Temples of Nikko: Futarasan Shrine

Built in 767, the Shinto shrine Futarasan has a collection of over 130 swords that are considered national treasures. Mount Nikko, where the shrine stands, is believed to be the home of Shinto and Buddhist deities and has been where many monks received their religious training.


The island of Yakushima was designated a World Heritage Site because it is home to a remnant of ancient forest. It also happens to be the largest nesting ground in the North Pacific for loggerhead sea turtles, an endangered species.

Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and Its Cultural Landscape

On Honshu Island, a collection of mountains and deep river valleys make up the archaeological remains of the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine. This mine produced silver between the 16th and 20th centuries, and in the 17th century produced a third of the world's silver.

Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range

Due to the role they played in the fusion of Shinto and Buddhist beliefs, the sacred sites of Yoshino and Omine, Kumano Sanzan and Koyasan were named one of Japan’s World Heritage sites. Located along the pilgrimage routes in the forests of the Kii Mountains, the sacred sites are visited by up to 15 million hikers each year.

Ogasawara Islands

More than 30 islands make up the Ogasawara Islands, which are the home to 195 endangered bird species and 441 native plants. With its subtropical forests, the islands have been nicknamed the "Galapagos of the Orient."

Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto: Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji, or the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, is just one of 17 locations that make up the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto World Heritage Site. The original temple was built in 1397 as a villa, and then converted into a temple. Unfortunately, it burned down in 1950; the temple standing today was built as a replica in 1955.


The ancient beech forest of Shirakami-Sanchi is one of the last of its kind in East Asia, and is undisturbed with no trails or manmade structures. Rare birds such as the black woodpecker and golden eagle live among the forest's numerous waterfalls and steep valleys.

Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area

The Horyu-ji Temple, one of the Buddhist monuments in the Horyu-ji area, was the first historic place listed as a Japanese World Heritage Site. Considered the world's oldest wooden structure, its full name is Learning Temple of the Flourishing Law. The temple houses 38 national treasures along with a vast collection of Japanese art.

Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama

Isolated from the rest of the world, the historic villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama cultivated mulberry trees and raised silkworms to survive. The architecture of the homes is the only example of its kind in Japan, with its steep thatched roofs allowing the houses to withstand the area's heavy snowfalls.

Shiretoko National Park

The name of the Shiretoko National Park is derived from a word meaning "end of the Earth." The description is fitting since the park is accessible only by foot or boat, making it one of the most remote regions in Japan.

Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu

Shuri Castle in the city of Naha was the palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom. In the 1945 Battle of Okinawa it was destroyed, then rebuilt in 1992 on the original site thanks to historical records and photographs.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial: Genbaku Dome

The only building left standing in Hiroshima after the atomic bomb exploded in 1945, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial honors the more than 70,000 people who were killed -- and the additional 70,000 who were injured -- by the blast. The ruin serves as a reminder of the importance of peaceful negotiation.


The historic gardens and temples of Hiraizumi are devoted to the ideals of Pure Land Buddhism -- the area represents the pure land of Buddha where believers hope to visit after death.

Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara: Kasuga Shrine

Kasuga Grand Shrine, located in the city of Nara, is known for its many bronze lanterns that fill the interior, as well as the more than 1,000 stone lanterns that line the path to the temple.

Itsukushima Shinto Shrine

The Itsukushima Shinto Shrine, built on a pier in the water, looks as if it is floating. It was built this way so visitors to the shrine could pass through the gate and be cleansed before setting foot on the sacred island of Itsukushima.

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