Japan to withdraw World Heritage recommendation

Tokyo, Feb 9 (IANS) The Japanese cabinet on Tuesday approved withdrawing its bid for Unesco to add churches and other Christian sites in southwestern Japan to the World Heritage register.

A UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) advisory panel asked Japan last month to review its nomination of the 14 locations in Nagasaki and Kumamoto prefectures, citing failure to explain their overall value, The Japan Times reported.

The sites include Nagasaki’s Oura Church, built in 1864 and Japan’s oldest church, and the Sakitsu community in Amakusa in Kumamoto prefecture, where Christians practiced their faith despite a ban, persecution and even torture starting in the 17th century.

The period gave rise to the nation’s so-called “Hidden Christians” who retained their faith and traditions down the generations despite having almost no contact with the Christian community overseas.

The government considers that the sites illustrate the 250-year history of Christianity in Japan, from the period of persecution to the faith’s subsequent revival. About one percent of Japan’s population is Christian.

In a notification to Japan on January 18, the International Council on Monuments and Sites said the government failed to adequately explain how the individual sites contributed to the overall value of the bid, and how they meet the criteria of World Heritage sites.

This is the second time the government has withdrawn a recommendation. In 2013, it backtracked on nominating the listing of the ancient capital of Kamakura.

Culture minister Hiroshi Hase said he will work with local municipalities and experts to re-submit the nomination.

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