Learn About Hiroshima Related News

A-bomb Dome and Itsukushima Shrine are added to list of World Heritage Sites

On December 6, the Atomic Bomb Dome, a symbol of the devastation caused by the atomic bombing that stands in Naka Ward, Hiroshima, and Itsukushima Shrine, located in Miyajima and known for its orange torii gate that glistens in the sea, were chosen for the UNESCO World Heritage List. As of the end of 1995, more than 460 properties have been registered as World Heritage Sites worldwide. Six of these are in Japan, including Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture and Horyu-ji Temple in Nara Prefecture. However, the addition of two different types of places in one prefecture is unprecedented.

Takashi Kosugi, the minister of education, said with conviction, “The A-bomb Dome is a peace monument shared by humanity as a whole, while Itsukushima Shrine is a site of cultural heritage and a uniquely scenic location. I will thus do everything I can to ensure that both sites are preserved and protected.” A-bomb survivors and citizens, who made tremendous efforts to help achieve this goal of adding both sites to the World Heritage List, are delighted that their long-held dream has been realized.

The decision to register the A-bomb Dome and Itsukushima Shrine as World Heritage Sites was made on December 5, 1996 (in the early hours of December 6 in Japan), at the 20th session of the World Heritage Committee in Mérida, Mexico. This year, there were 37 recommendations from 24 countries, including two recommendations from Japan.

According to the Agency for Cultural Affairs, much attention was given to how the United States would vote with regard to the A-bomb Dome. Although it tacitly approved the voting process, after the decision to accept the Dome’s registration was made, the United States urged the committee to review the handling of war-related heritage sites and indicated that, despite its now friendly relationship with Japan, it could not support the results of the vote. Meanwhile, prior to the vote, China said that it would not take a position either way.

The vote for registering Itsukushima Shrine, however, went smoothly and the representatives from several countries said that the shrine is a wonderful cultural asset, with others praising its suitability as a World Heritage Site.

The area of the A-bomb Dome to be registered on the World Heritage List is approximately 0.39 hectares, which includes the building and its environs that convey the tremendous devastation that results from the use of nuclear weapons. The registered area for Itsukushima Shrine covers approximately 431.2 hectares and is comprised of the main shrine buildings and other buildings, part of the sea in front of the shrine, and a forested area surrounding Mt. Misen.

Regarding the buffer zone that must be set to protect each World Heritage Site after its registration is confirmed, the buffer zone is approximately 42.7 ha for the A-bomb Dome. This zone surrounds the area that includes the Peace Memorial Park, and the nearby Motoyasu River and Honkawa River, and their river banks. For Itsukushima Shrine, the buffer zone is 2,634.3 ha, which includes the entire island and part of the sea in front of Itsukushima Shrine.

Originally, the A-bomb Dome was a building known as the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall. In 1966, the Hiroshima City Council passed a resolution to preserve the A-bomb Dome. Since that time, preservation work has been carried out on the building on two occasions. In March 1995, the Japanese government revised the criteria for designating national historic sites so that modern properties can also be registered. This subsequently resulted in the A-bomb Dome being designated as a national historic site in June 1995 based on the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties. The government then recommended the A-bomb Dome to the World Heritage Site Committee, saying that it serves as a shared peace monument for humanity that could permanently appeal, from generation to generation, for the ultimate elimination of all nuclear weapons and the importance of everlasting world peace from generation to generation.

The A-bomb Dome is the second wartime heritage site related to World War II to be registered on the World Heritage List, following the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland. In the wake of the A-bomb Dome’s registration as a World Heritage Site, Hiroshima is expected to play an even more important role as a stronghold for pursuing peace and for conveying to the whole world the tragic devastation caused by nuclear arms.

The buildings that make up Itsukushima Shrine consist of six buildings (including the honsha complex forming the main shrine), which is designated as a national treasure, and 14 national important cultural properties including the big torii gate, a five-story pagoda, and a Noh drama stage. In line with the recommendation emphasizing that Itsukushima Shrine is a uniquely scenic place, the island boasts bright orange-colored structures of religious and architectural splendor alongside the sea with green mountains rising behind them. This aspect of the recommendation, stressing the value of the site’s natural beauty and the buildings integrated within it, no doubt were also highly evaluated during the World Heritage Site voting process.

In September 1995, after gaining approval from the Council for the Protection of Cultural Properties and the government, the Agency for Cultural Affairs recommended the A-bomb Dome and Itsukushima Shrine to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in Paris as properties to be globally valued and protected. The World Heritage Committee, composed of members from 21 countries, then asked the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) to evaluate their registration.

One prerequisite for registration on the World Heritage List is that recommended sites be fully protected under domestic laws. Since both the A-bomb Dome and Itsukushima Shrine are already covered under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties, the Agency for Cultural Affairs has no plans to pursue additional protective measures such as applying new rules or providing further assistance in connection to the World Heritage Site registrations.

(Originally published on December 7, 1996)