Japan Towns Seek to Obtain Historic Site Status to Get on UNESCO List; Mie Pref. Towns Hope to Achieve Status by FY25

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Ishibutsuan Kannon-do hall stands along the Kumano Kodo trails in Tamaki, Mie Prefecture.

TSU — Municipalities in Mie Prefecture are working to obtain national historic site status for locations around Meki-toge Pass, which is part of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes, by the end of fiscal 2025.

Some of the routes are collectively designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the municipalities are aiming for the pass to be included.

Obtaining national historic site status is a prerequisite for becoming a World Heritage site.

The town of Taki, in Mie Prefecture, is hoping to gain this status by conducting a survey of the Meki-toge Pass.

The town of Tamaki in the prefecture has already completed the survey of the Ishibutsuan, a Kannon-do hall housing 33 small stone statues, situated along one of the Kumano Kodo trails. The Ishibutsuan is believed to have been built around 1800 in the late Edo period (1603-1867). The statues represent the principal objects of worship of the 33 temples and locations of the Saikoku Kannon Pilgrimage, where travelers are believed to have prayed for their safety along the way.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range” becoming a World Heritage site.

The “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range,” which include the Kumano Kodo routes, was registered as a World Cultural Heritage site in July 2004. However, of the roughly 170-kilometer-long Iseji trail connecting Ise and the area of the three Kumano Sanzan grand shrines, only about a 50-kilometer section was registered. The registered section is located south of Tsuzurato-toge Pass, straddling the towns of Taki and Kihoku.

The northern part of the Iseji trail, which goes through Taki and Tamaki, was excluded from the registered assets as the area is not designated as a national historic site due to its ambiguity in terms of the original route and as the road is paved with asphalt.

Meki-toge Pass is the first ridge when heading from Ise, Mie Prefecture, to the Kumano region, which stretches from southern Wakayama Prefecture to southern Mie Prefecture. The mountain road is about 2 kilometers long, and there are two routes to reach it — Edomichi, a route built in the Edo period, and Meijimichi, made during or after the Meiji era (1868-1912).

To get the Meki-toge Pass area designated as a national historic site, Taki plans to conduct measurement of Edomichi. Tamaki surveyed the Ishibutsuan.

Mie Prefecture hopes to apply to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry for the locations to become national historic sites as early as fiscal 2024 in order to obtain the designation in the first half of fiscal 2025.

To gain the historic status for other areas, including the Yanagihara Kannon Senpukuji temple in Odai and Misesaka-toge Pass in Taiki, the prefectural board of education plans to discuss the situation with the towns.

In 2016, UNESCO expanded the range of the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range” and added the Tokei Shrine in Tanabe and the Nyoninmichi trail in Koya, both in Wakayama Prefecture, among other locations, to the World Heritage listing.

Wakayama Prefecture is preparing to make a second addition to the listing, mostly focusing on the Kiiji route of the Kumano Kodo trails. In cooperation with Wakayama Prefecture, Mie Prefecture is aiming to get more locations in the prefecture added to the World Heritage site listing.

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Nyoirinkannon, the principal object of worship of Seigantoji temple, is enshrined near the top of the Meki-toge Pass