UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan

Itsukushima Shrine Places to visit in Japan

Japan boasts 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and each of them attracts a number of tourists with different features and uniqueness. Some of them are artificial structures that represent the history of development of the country or tradition, whereas others remain intact and untouched deep in nature as scenic spots. Adding some of them to your itinerary will help you make the most of your time in Japan, and discover something that gives you an unforgettable experience. Here is a long list of UNESCO World Heritage Site in Japan! 

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1. Horyuji

Horyuji is an old Buddhism temple located in Nara prefecture. It is claimed as the oldest wooden structure in the world, and officially designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 along with Himeji Castle in Hyogo prefecture. The temple complex was established in the 7th century, and fascinates visitors with a number of historical buildings that includes several national treasures. The founder, Princess Shotoku, served under Empress Suiko and had an incomparable power at that time not only as a politician but also an ardent Buddhist. 
Other things to do in Nara

2. Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle is a beautiful castle that is widely recognized with the impressive white exterior. It is located in Hyogo prefecture, and has a long history dating back about 400 years, making it one of the 12 original castles in Japan. The five-story castle tower stands over 90 meter above the sea level, and draws numerous tourists all year round as the largest castle in Japan. It is also known as “Shirasagi-jo” (“White Heron Castle” in Japanese) that represents the stunning white appearance resembling a white bird trying to fly into the sky.
Other things to do in Hyogo

Himeji Castle Sakura

3. Yakushima

Yakushima is a scenic island that is located approximately 60 km south west of Kagoshima prefecture. As a popular hiking and trekking destination, it boasts a number of hiking courses that allows visitors to explore the untouched nature and ancient forests surviving there over centuries. About 20% of the island was listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, which includes the giant Japanese Cedar trees called “Yakusugi” which is believed to be over 1,000 years old. “Mt. Miyanoura” is another highlight that stands 1,936 meters tall in the center of the island!    
The best Yakushima hiking trails

Yakushima, Ghibli location

4. Shirakami Sanchi

Shirakami Sanchi refers to a vast mountainous area located in Aomori and Akita prefecture in Tohoku region. It covers a series of over 1,000 meters giant mountain ranges that is home to primeval beech forests. The forest is claimed as one of the biggest unexplored beech forests in the world, which is undoubtedly on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are exciting hiking trails that takes visitors to scenic spots such as refreshing waterfalls and beautiful lakes known as “The Ju-niko (“twelve lakes” in Japanese)”!
Other places to visit in Aomori
Other places to visit in Akita

Shirakami-sanchi blue lake

5. Shirakawago

Shirakawago is a beautiful village located in Gifu prefecture. The village attracts many tourists from other countries as an iconic tourist attraction with a number of traditional Japanese houses preserved in a perfect condition! “Gassho-zukuri” is a traditional architecture style that refers to a house with steep thatched roof. It protects the house from heavy snowfalls in winter as the village is situated in mountainous area. Walking around the peaceful village allows you to catch a glimpse of local people living there in harmony with nature over centuries.    
More about Shirakawago


6. Atomic Bomb Dome

Atomic Bomb Dome is a historical structure located in the center of Hiroshima city which was registered as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It has served as a symbol of the city to remember the tragic memory back in the WWⅡ when the atomic bomb was dropped and deprived thousands of lives. The remains of the structure still stand there in spite of the location almost exactly under the explosion. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Japan, and visited by a number of foreign tourists along with “Hiroshima Peace Memoriam Museum”.   
Other things to do in Hiroshima

7. Itsukushima Shrine

Itsukushima Shrine is another highlight that you shouldn’t miss in Hiroshima. It is a historical Shinto shrine located in a remote island called “Miyajima”, which is accessible only ferry. The history of the shrine dates back in the 6th century, and has been fascinating visitors with the stunning beauty of the buildings built over water. The huge red Tori Gate is the most popular structure which apparently floating on the water! The island also welcomes visitors with a number of vibrant shops and restaurants serving local specialties such as Okonomiyaki and Momiji-Manju. Deer is an iconic animal roaming the island freely and get close to humans looking for food!
Day trip to Hiroshima

Itsukushima Shrine, in Miyajima Island. Hiroshima, Japan

8. Nikko

Nikko is a famous tourist spot in Tochigi prefecture. It is often referred as a perfect daytrip destination from Tokyo which is accessible in less than 2 hours by Shinkansen and local trains. It is home to a number of historical shrines and temples on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999. The most popular one is “Nikko Toshogu”, which is a Shinto shrine where Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate, is enshrined. The magnificent shrine complex encompasses dozens of structures including Important Cultural Properties and National Treasures silently standing in a peaceful forest. You could end up spending hours observing the elaborated details of each stunning structures! 

Nikko Toshogu Shrine Yomei Gate

9. Ryukyu

Ryukyu is an old name for Okinawa prefecture, the beautiful island widely known as a perfect holiday destination in summer. It once flourished as a powerful, independent kingdom from the 15th to 19th century, which developed a unique culture. There are still a number of historical sites that can be spotted mainly in the south part of the main island. Most popular one is “Shurijo Castle”, which was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 2019 and currently used as a public park. Those sites and related properties were officially designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, which made it the 11th World Heritage Site in Japan. 
Other things to do in Okinawa

10. Kiisanchi

Kiisanchi refers to mountainous areas mainly located in Kii peninsula which covers Osaka, Mie, Nara, and Wakayama prefecture in Kansai region. It boasts a number of pilgrimage routes that were once used as a pathway to several historical sites such as “Kumano Sanzan”, the three representative shrines sitting deep in the sacred forests. They have been visited by numerous visitors regardless of social status, as a central site for religious fusion of Shinto and Buddhism over centuries. The roads and spiritual sites became UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, and attract a number of tourists who enjoy refreshing hiking while discovering historical sites all year round. 
More about Kumano Kodo hiking trails

11. Shiretoko

Shiretoko is a peninsula which is located at the easternmost part of Hokkaido. The 70km peninsula stretches out into the Sea of Okhotsk, which offers a range of scenic spots in nature. It is also known for the abundant diversity of plants and wildlife, creating it an ideal location for animals to survive. It especially brings a number of benefits to creatures living in the Ocean as it helps them to raise their cubs with enough food rich in nutrients brought by drift ice in winter. The eco-system was highly evaluated and it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006. 
Things to do in Hokkaido

Shiretoko National Park Hokkaido

12. Iwami Ginzan

Iwami Ginzan is a silver mine located in Shimane prefecture. It was the largest silver mine in Japan that reached its peak during the Sengoku to Edo period in the 16th to 19th century. During that period, Japan covered approximately one-third of the total amount of silver production in the world, most of which originated from this primary mine. Along with the mine ruins, there are other popular tourist attractions that fascinates visitors as well. “Omori Town” is a beautiful tiny town with a number of traditional Japanese houses and historical spots such as temples and shrines. “Yunotsu Onsen” is a peaceful town which offers a refreshing hot spring experience!
Other things to do in Shimane

13. Ogasawara Islands

Ogasawara Islands is a cluster of remote islands situated approximately 1,000 km southeast of Tokyo. It consists of about 30 islands, each of them offers exciting tourist attractions and scenic spots in nature. Chichijima and Hahajima are only inhabited ones that are accessible by regular ferry service from Tokyo. In spite of the inconvenient location, the stunning beauty of nature and a range of outdoor activities never stop enchanting visitors who enjoy marine sports and natural experiences. The geographical feature also contributes to create a diversity of eco-system that is totally separated from any other areas in Japan! 
Learn more about Tokyo Islands

14. Mt. Fuji

Many of you probably have seen a picture of Mt. Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan in travel guides or somewhere else. It is an iconic mountain that is located on borders between Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefecture. The 3,776-meter mountain has been loved by Japanese people over centuries as a symbol which appears in famous poetries and other old literatures. It welcomes visitors with different appearance changing for each season, which looks especially graceful when snowcapped from autumn to spring. Summer is a perfect season to enjoy hiking the sacred mountain which offers a breathtaking view from the summit!
More things to do around Mt.Fuji

Kawaguchiko Asama Shrine Mount Fuji

15. Tomioka Silk Mill

Tomioka Silk Mill is a modern silk reeling factory located in Tomioka city, Gunma prefecture. It was established as the first modern model silk reeling factory in Japan in 1872, which significantly contributed to the development and modernization of the country. Most of the main facilities including the automatic silk reeling machines and cotton warehouse are preserved in a perfect condition. There is also a luxurious gift shop selling high-quality silk products made from 100% pure cottons locally produced in the area!
Other things to do in Gunma

Tomioka Silk Mill Gunma

16. Nagasaki

Nagasaki is a beautiful city located on the Kyushu island in Japan. During the 16th Century, it flourished as a center of international trade with western countries such as Portugal and Spain. It is called “Nanban Trade”, which brought a number of western inventions along with Christianity to Japan. The Hirado port and Nagasaki port were main gateways for international trade, and missionaries arrived there to spread Christianity in the country , and started to build a strong connection with local powerful feudal lords. There are still remains of villages and churches for Christians in hidden areas, which were officially chosen as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2018.  
Other things to do in Nagasaki

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Wherever you travel to, visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites is a great way to understand the country from cultural and historical aspects. It gives you an educational opportunity to learn the background of the registration, as well as explore the stunning spots that are worth a visit at least once in your lifetime. Although some of them we introduced above are located in countryside or remote islands, you will never be disappointed to spend hours of journey and travel expenses to reach the impressive sites!  

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