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WOW! JAPAN

There is a total of twenty world heritage sites in Japan, including cultural and natural heritages. Which are the best ones to visit in the limited amount of time you'll be traveling? For those of you with that question, here is a ranking of the most popular sites.

1. Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto

Kyoto is a popular tourist site with more than 55 million visitors annually. Since the capital was established in Heian-kyo, as the city was known then, in 794 AD, Kyoto was Japan's political, economic and cultural center for more than 1000 years and played a definitive role in the creation of Japanese cultural traditions. To this day, Kyoto has many cultural properties important for understanding Japan's history, and in 1994, 17 cultural properties including Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Shimogamo-jinja Shrine, Byodo-in Temple, and Mt. Hiei were registered as World Cultural Properties as a part of the "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto." If you're not sure which of the many famous tourist sites in Kyoto to go to, why not start by visiting the World Cultural Properties?

1. Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto

1-294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto

2. Itsukushima Shrine

This is a popular tourist spot floating in the Seto Inland Sea. It is said to have originated in 593 AD, and the graceful shrine buildings we can see today were built in the 12th century. The shrines were built at the base of a mountain to worship the mountain and nature, and were registered as a World Cultural Property in 1996 in recognition of the beauty of the buildings that combine harmoniously with the surrounding environment. Most of the buildings stand in the sea, creating a mystic scenery at high tide when it looks as if they are floating on the sea. The scenery encompassing the blue sea, red building, and the dark green of the mountains in the background takes one's breath away.

2. Itsukushima Shrine

1-1 Miyajima-cho, Hatsukaichi-shi, Hiroshima

3. Himeji Castle

This is an outstanding castle representative of Japan. It is also referred to as "Shirasagi-jo" (white heron castle) because the white plaster (made from starch mixed into calcium hydroxide) and the beautiful form of the seven-story, five-tiered tenshu tower (the main building of the castle) resembles the graceful form of a white heron spreading its wings. In 1993, it was registered as a World Cultural Property for the beauty of the architectural structure which is at the highest level of wooden castle architecture unparalleled around the world, for the level of preservation, and for its representation of Japanese castle structure. Between 2009 and 2015, it went through extensive renovation and now visitors can enjoy its original beauty and splendor!

3. Himeji Castle

68 Honmachi, Himeji-shi, Hyogo

4. Shiretoko

This long peninsula protruding into the Sea of Okhotsk in eastern Hokkaido is said to be Japan's last hidden place of scenic beauty with untouched nature. It was registered a World Natural Property in 2005 for its unique ecosystem made of interacting marine and terrestrial ecosystems and for being the wintering ground of endangered species. There are many spots to visit including the Shiretoko Goko Lakes and Eight Views of Shiretoko on the peninsula, but it is particularly recommended to take a tourist boat to see it from the sea. In particular, you can feel the strength and beauty of mother nature from the Sea of Okhotsk where you'll see the dramatic view of the sharp cliffs along the coast and the Shiretoko mountain range in the background.

4. Shiretoko

Bunko-cho, Shari-cho, Shari-gun, Hokkaido

5. Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama

The villages of Ogimachi in Shirakawa-go, Ainokura, and Suganuma in Gokayama are in a valley surrounded by high, steep mountains in the Chubu region of Honshu, and is known as one of the heaviest snow areas in Japan. The area was registered as a World Cultural Property in 1995 for the Gassho-style houses which were recognized as unique among Japan's wooden structures with their steeply sloped thatched roofs made with Japanese silver grass and Japanese blood grass that withstand the heavy snow and the design allowing for rearing silkworms. The scenery of thatched-roof houses and rice fields surrounded by paths is the image of "hometown" in the Japanese mind. Why not visit to experience the halcyon days of Japan by visiting here?

5. Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama

2495-3 Ogimachi, Shirakawa-mura, Ono-gun, Gifu

6. Yakushima

This is a circular island about 130 km in circumference made from an upthrust of granite located about 60km to the south-southeast of Cape Sata at the southern tip of Kyushu. With 90% of the island's land mass covered by forest, and with approximately 1,900 types of plants ranging from subtropical plants to alpine plants, 16 types of mammals, and 150 types of birds, it is blessed with a unique ecosystem and exceptional natural beauty. It was registered a World Natural Property in 1993 in recognition of its outstanding natural beauty and unique ecosystem process. The scenery created by its rich nature, which includes Jomon Sugi Cryptomeria trees estimated to be 2,000 to 7,200 years old and green, moss-covered forests, is so beautiful it is almost godly.

6. Yakushima

Yakushima-cho, Kumage-gun, Kagoshima

7. Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area

The Buddhist structures in the Horyu-ji area, which are the first group of Buddhist temples in Japan and contributed tremendously to the development of Buddhist architecture in Japan over 1300 years, was registered as a World Cultural Property in 1993. It consists of 47 buildings in Horyu-ji Temple and the three-tiered tower of Hokki-ji Temple, 11 of which were built before the 8th century and are the oldest standing wood structures in the world. The effects of the Chinese Northern Wei and T'ang dynasties' architectural styles and architectural methods of ancient Greece can be seen in the structures, indicating that there was active cultural exchange between Japan and other countries at the time. This is a spot that will be particularly enjoyable to history buffs.

7. Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area

1-1 Horyuji Sannai, Ikaruga-cho, Ikoma-gun, Nara

World heritage sites are recognized as treasures that must be handed down the generations as precious property shared by all mankind. Please visit them.

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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