A world heritage site is a place recognized as having a universal worth for the entire humanity, from both a cultural and historical perspective. When one ventures abroad, one is inspired to see the world heritage sites of the country one visits. As of December 2015, Japan has 19 places recorded in the UNESCO World Heritage list. Here, We would like to introduce 4 places from the cultural heritage sites in Eastern Japan.
No.4 Shirakawagō 白川郷 (Gifu)
Shirakawagō 白川郷 refers to a settlement of traditional Japanese-style houses with a rafter roof. The thatched roof is made from Japanese pampas grass. Commonly known asgashōzukuri 合掌造り, the shape of the roof gets its name from the term “gashō”, which means clasping one’s hands together in prayer.
The Shirakawa area experiences a lot of snowfall, and in the winter the thatched roofs are often covered in snow. The small enclave of buildings covered in snow can be quite magical.
It is best to travel by express bus from Tokyo to Shirakawa, with an expected travel time of 5-6 hours.
No.3 Hiraizumi 平泉 (Iwate Prefecture)
Hirazumi 平泉 is a municipality in the south-east area of Iwate prefecture. This area boasts many temples and monuments. Five of these are included in the Historical Monuments and Sites of Hiraizumi, declared world heritage sites by UNESCO in 2011.
Out of the 5 temples and monuments that received world heritage status, Chūsonji Temple中尊寺 is the most well-known (see the picture above). Steeped in history, this ancient temple was built in 850 A.D. The large-scale temple buildings (dōtō: generic term for temple buildings) were erected at the beginning of the twelfth century.
From Chūsonji’s many towers, by far the most stunning one is Konjikidō 金色堂. It’s a feast for your eyes! The entire hall and the statue of Buddha is embossed with gold leaf and mother of pearl (radenzaiku 螺鈿細工), making for an opulent sight.
If you are travelling to Hiraizumi from Tokyo, it is best to use a combination of local and bullet trains. You can get to Ichinoseki (Iwate prefecture) by the Tōhoku Shinkansen, then take a local train to Hiraizumi Station. Allow between 2 hrs 30 mins to 3 hrs for the journey.
No.2 The Shrines and Temples of Nikkō 日光の社寺 (Tochigi Prefecture)
In 1999 the shrines and temples of Nikkō City in Tochigi prefecture were given world heritage status. One of the places listed was Nikkō Tōshō-gū shrine (日光東照宮), which attracts many enthusiastic tourists. Out of the 55 buildings lining the precincts of this shrine, 8 buildings are designated as national treasures, and 34 buildings are considered important cultural properties. This shrine definitely provides an altogether jam-packed and jaw-dropping experience.
The picture above depicts the large temple gate (karamon 唐門 in Japanese). The entire gate has been painted with whitewash (gofun 胡粉, which is a white paint made from burnt clam shells) – thus giving the gate its classic white finish. The gate is also intricately decorated. The level of detail and grandeur will not fail to amaze you!
This is a pagoda. It’s heavily embellished and coated in a vibrant red color. Its majestic presence is a sight to behold.
Please consult the article below which outlines the routes between Tokyo and Nikkō.
No.1 Mount Fuji 富士山 (Shizuoka/Yamanashi prefecture)
It can be said that Mount Fuji 富士山 is the emblem of Japan. This world heritage site is registered as “a sacred place and source of artistic inspiration”. Artworks such as ukiyo-e(prints depicting life in the Edo period) and every day goods contain the image of Mount Fuji, which is almost synonymous with Japanese culture. An example of this is the ukiyo-e collection “The Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji” by Katsushika Hokusai. Hokusai depicted Mount Fuji from various different vantage points during the Edo period, inspiring many Japanese and overseas artists, such as the Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh.
By travelling on the highway express bus, it usually takes 3 hours from Tokyo to Mount Fuji. Travelling by train will take you an average of 2 hrs 30mins. Please get off at nearby Kawaguchi-ko station (河口湖駅). From the beginning of July to mid-September, one can climb Mt. Fuji during a limited period. Please check out the articles below for various information on climbing this peak, including preparation and necessary precautions.
The world heritage sites mentioned in this article are steeped in history and you can feel the authentic Japanese culture by visiting them. Please come and experience the magic with your own eyes!