Monday, January 14, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Before moving to Japan I hadn’t heard of World Heritage Sites, although I now find out that I had visited a few in other places before moving here. UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. A World Heritage Site is a place designated by UNESCO as having special cultural or natural significance. The program was started in 1972 and currently there are 962 designated properties: 745 cultural, 188 natural, and 29 mixed properties.  The US has 21 sites and Japan 16.  Some designations include more than one place, like Ancient Kyoto.  You can find out more about the history, the process, and the list of designated properties at the website here. On this trip, we visited several of the designated sites.

There are 17 properties in the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto designation including three we visited on this trip.

Established in 778, this temple has continuously attracted worshippers from among the populace since the Heian Period as "Kiyomizu-Kannon." The temple contains buildings from the 15th to 17th centuries, including Jishu - jinja Shrine. The Main Hall (Hondo), built in the "stage" style, is noted for its beautiful background scenery which changes with the four seasons - including the cherry blossoms and greenery of spring, and the leaves of autumn. Built atop a precipice, the main hall, which is a National Treasure, is famous as the "Kiyomizu Stage" - affording a magnificent view of the city below. The temple precincts contain fifteen buildings designated as Important Cultural Properties, including the inner Temple (Okunoin), Amida Buddha Hall (Amidado), and the three-tiered pagoda.

Built by Ashikaga Yoshimasa as a mountain villa in 1482, Jishoji Temple was later converted into a temple. Officially named Jisho - ji Temple, this temple is a great example of Higashiyama culture. The Ginkaku, or "Silver Pavilion," with its simple, noble design, is a National Treasure. It is also known as Kannon-dono (Kannon Palace). Togudo (Buddha Hall), also a National Treasure, is a relic of early shoin-zukuri, or library style. In the garden (designated as a special place of scenic beauty) are the so-called "Sea of Silver Sand" and the "Moon Platform," from which the light of the moon is said to reflect and shine on the Silver Pavilion.

Constructed as Toji Temple (literally, "East Temple") to protect the nation at the time of the establishment of Heian-kyo, this temple was converted by Kukai into a seminary of the Shingon sect (Esoteric Buddhism). In addition to the temple, which dates back to the Heian Period, Kyo-o-gokokuji Temple contains buildings dating from the 14th to 17th centuries. The Lecture Hall (Kodo) houses the oldest extant Esoteric Buddhist statues in Japan. The five-tiered pagoda, a National Treasure, rises above the landscape as a symbol of Kyoto. With a height of 57 meters, it is the tallest pagoda in Japan.

In Okinawa, we visited these Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu

Nakijin Castle ruins
The Nakijin-jô (Nakijin Castle) became the residence of the Ryukyuan Kingdom governor. Work began on its construction in the late 13th century and it had reached its final form by the beginning of the 15th century. The castle is strategically sited on a lone hill, well defended by natural features (river, cliffs and deep valley).

Shuri Castle
Shuri-jô (Shuri Castle) built in the second half of the 14th century, was the main castle of the kings of Chûzan and, after unification, of the Ryukyu Kingdom. The hill on which it stands dominates Naha City and its port. It is divided into inner and outer enclosures, conforming with the topography. The castle's enclosure walls, built with random bonding of coralline limestone, extend over 1,080 m.


Stone Gate of the Sonohyan Shrine
The Sonohyan-utaki Ishimon (Stone Gate of the Sonohyan Shrine) was erected in 1519 by Shô Shin, fronting a sacred forest (Sonohyan-utaki). It was considered to be the guardian shrine of the Ryukyu Kingdom, where prayers were offered for peace and security at annual ritual ceremonies. It represents the unique style of stone architecture developed in Ryukyu.

Tamaudun Tomb
The Tamaudun Royal was built by Shô Shin around 1501 as a symbol of royal power, and to take advantage of the Ryukyuan people's practice of worshipping at the tombs of ancestors. It is carved into the limestone bedrock and covered by a gabled pantile roof.

Shikinaen Garden
Shikinaen, a royal garden villa, is recorded as having been constructed in 1799. The plan shows Japanese influence, although Chinese features are to be found in some structures. The result is, however, uniquely Ryukyuan. Around the pool are disposed walkways, pavilions, artificial hills and flower gardens.


(On our trip last year we visited Kinkaku-ji and Nijo Castle in Kyoto and Tôdai-ji Temple in Nara).


1 comment:

Deano @ JTM said...

Awesome! It's cool to see your travels in Okinawa. Like you, I'm a big World Heritage fan and am still trying to see all 17 sites in Kyoto!