World Heritage sites are irreplaceable treasures passed down from the past to the present. They have been created by the earth’s formation and humankind’s history.

They are the common heritage of humanity that people around the world today must inherit from the past and hand down to future generations.

In 1972, the World Heritage Convention (officially, the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage) was adopted at UNESCO’s General Conference.

The Convention aims to establish a system of international assistance and co-operation to protect, conserve and preserve cultural and natural heritage from damage, destruction, and other threats as the world heritage of mankind as a whole.

Currently, there are more than 1,000 inscribed on World Heritage List and 194 States Parties. Japan accepted the Convention in 1992.

There are three types of World Heritage. Only tangible heritage can become World Heritage.

  • Cultural Heritage Monuments, groups of buildings, archaeological sites, cultural landscapes, and other similar sites of Outstanding Universal Value.
  • Natural Heritage Landforms, geological features, ecosystems, habitats of endangered plants/animals, and other similar sites of Outstanding Universal Value.
  • Mixed Heritage Sites with value as both cultural and natural heritage.

※Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) Cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity.

World Heritage Sites in Japan

In order to be inscribed on the World Heritage List, properties must have Outstanding Universal Value. They are considered such by meeting one or more of the below criteria (set forth in the “Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention”), by fulfilling the conditions of integrity and/or authenticity, and by being subject to an adequate protection and management system under the domestic laws of the State Party.

Representing a masterpiece of human creative genius
Exhibiting an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design.
Bearing a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared.
Being an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history.
Being an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change.
Being directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria).
Containing superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.
Being outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features.
Being outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals.
Containing the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of Outstanding Universal Value from the point of view of science or conservation.

※Properties registered under (i) to (vi) are cultural heritage, properties registered under (vii) to (x) are natural heritage, and properties registered under both cultural and natural heritage criteria are mixed heritage.

Hikone Castle aims to be inscribed as a cultural heritage site under inscription criteria (iii) .

Integrity is a measure of the wholeness and intactness of the natural and/or cultural heritage and its attributes. Examining the conditions of integrity, therefore requires assessing the extent to which the property fulfills the below conditions.
  • including all elements necessary to express its Outstanding Universal Value
  • being adequately sized to ensure the complete representation of the features which convey the property’s significance
  • suffering from adverse effects of development and/or neglect
Depending on the type of cultural heritage, and its cultural context, properties may be understood to meet the conditions of authenticity if their cultural values (as recognized in the nomination criteria proposed) are truthfully and credibly expressed through a variety of attributes including:
  • form and design
  • materials and substance
  • traditions, techniques and management systems
  • location and setting
  • language, and other forms of intangible heritage
  • spirit and feeling
  • other internal and external factors
Protection and Management
The World Heritage Convention states, "Protection and management of World Heritage properties should ensure that their Outstanding Universal Value, including the conditions of integrity and/or authenticity at the time of inscription, are sustained or enhanced over time.” The following three conditions must be met.
  1. (In Japan) Protected by designation (Important Cultural Property, Historic Site, Place of Scenic Beauty, etc.) under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties.
  2. A buffer zone is provided around the property to protect it.
  3. A management plan is developed.
Adapted from “Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention” on Cultural Heritage Online by Agency for Cultural Affairs