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World Heritage Convention

Decision 39 COM 8B.14
Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining, Japan

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Documents WHC-15/39.COM/8B and WHC-15/39.COM/INF.8B1,
  2. Inscribes the Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining, Japan, on the World Heritage List on the basis of criteria (ii) and (iv);
  3. Adopts the following Statement of Outstanding Universal Value:

    Brief synthesis

    A series of industrial heritage sites, focused mainly on the Kyushu-Yamaguchi region of south-west of Japan, represent the first successful transfer of industrialization from the West to a non-Western nation. The rapid industrialization that Japan achieved from the middle of the 19th century to the early 20th century was founded on iron and steel, shipbuilding and coal mining, particularly to meet defence needs. The sites in the series reflect the three phases of this rapid industrialisation achieved over a short space of just over fifty years between 1850s and 1910.

    The first phase in the pre-Meiji Bakumatsu isolation period, at the end of Shogun era in the 1850s and early 1860s, was a period of experimentation in iron making and shipbuilding. Prompted by the need to improve the defences of the nation and particularly its sea-going defences in response to foreign threats, industrialisation was developed by local clans through second hand knowledge, based mostly on Western textbooks, and copying Western examples, combined with traditional craft skills. Ultimately most were unsuccessful. Nevertheless this approach marked a substantial move from the isolationism of the Edo period, and in part prompted the Meiji Restoration.

    The second phase from the 1860s accelerated by the new Meiji Era, involved the importation of Western technology and the expertise to operate it; while the third and final phase in the late Meiji period (between 1890 to 1910), was full-blown local industrialization achieved with newly-acquired Japanese expertise and through the active adaptation of Western technology to best suit Japanese needs and social traditions, on Japan’s own terms. Western technology was adapted to local needs and local materials and organised by local engineers and supervisors.

    The 23 components are in 11 sites within 8 discrete areas. Six of the eight areas are in the south-west of the country, with one in the central part and one in the northern part of the central island. Collectively the sites are an outstanding reflection of the way Japan moved from a clan based society to a major industrial society with innovative approaches to adapting western technology in response to local needs and profoundly influenced the wider development of East Asia.

    After 1910, many sites later became fully fledged industrial complexes, some of which are still in operation or are part of operational sites.

    Criterion (ii): The Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution illustrate the process by which feudal Japan sought technology transfer from Western Europe and America from the middle of the 19th century and how this technology was adopted and progressively adapted to satisfy specific domestic needs and social traditions, thus enabling Japan to become a world-ranking industrial nation by the early 20th century. The sites collectively represents an exceptional interchange of industrial ideas, know-how and equipment, that resulted, within a short space of time, in an unprecedented emergence of autonomous industrial development in the field of heavy industry which had profound impact on East Asia.

    Criterion (iv): The technological ensemble of key industrial sites of iron and steel, shipbuilding and coal mining is testimony to Japan’s unique achievement in world history as the first non-Western country to successfully industrialize. Viewed as an Asian cultural response to Western industrial values, the ensemble is an outstanding technological ensemble of industrial sites that reflected the rapid and distinctive industrialisation of Japan based on local innovation and adaptation of Western technology.


    The component sites of the series adequately encompass all the necessary attributes of Outstanding Universal Value. In terms of the integrity of individual sites, though the level of intactness of the components is variable, they demonstrate the necessary attributes to convey Outstanding Universal Value. The archaeological evidence appears to be extensive and merits detail recording research and vigilant protection. It contributes significantly to the integrity of the nominated property. A few of the attributes are vulnerable or highly vulnerable in terms of their state of conservation. The Hashima Coal Mine is in a state of deterioration and presents substantial conservation challenges. At the Miike Coal Mine and Miike Port some of the physical fabric is in poor condition. The physical fabric of the Repair shop at the Imperial Steel Works is in poor condition although temporary measures have been put in place. In a few sites there are vulnerabilities in terms of the impact of development, particularly in visual terms. At the Shokasonjuku Academy, the visual integrity of the setting is impacted by the subsequent development of the place as a public historic site and experience. However, this development does not adversely compromise its overall integrity. The visual integrity of the Takashima Coal Mine is compromised by small scale domestic and commercial development, while at Shuseikan, the Foreign Engineer’s Residence has been relocated twice and is now located in the proximity of its original location. The residence is surrounded by small scale urban development that adversely impacts on its setting. The setting can only be enhanced if and when the surrounding buildings are demolished and any further development is controlled through the legislative process and the implementation of the conservation management plan.


    In terms of the authenticity of individual sites, though some of the components’ attributes are fragmentary or are archaeological remains, they are recognisably authentic evidence of the industrial facilities. They possess a high level of authenticity as a primary source of information, supported by detailed and documented archaeological reports and surveys and a large repository of historical sources held in both public and private archives. Overall the series adequately conveys the way in which feudal Japan sought technology transfer from Western Europe and America from the middle of the 19th century. And adapted it to satisfy specific domestic needs and social traditions.

    Protection and management requirements

    A number of existing legislative protection instruments, both national and regional, provide a high level of protection for the sites and associated buffer zones. The relationship between the different types of legislation is provided in the conservation management plans for each area. The most important of these instruments are the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties that is applied to the non-operational sites, and the Landscape Act that applies to the privately owned and still operational sites that are protected as Structures of Landscape Importance. This applies to the four components owned and operated by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. at Nagasaki Shipyard, and the two components owned and operated by Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation at Imperial Steel Works. The Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties is the primary mechanism for regulating any development and change of the existing state of a designated place and under this law permission must be granted by the national government. Similarly, under the Landscape Act permission must be sought to change any Structure of Landscape Importance and owners of such structures must conserve and manage them appropriately. The control of development and actions within the buffer zones is largely controlled by city landscape ordinances that limit the height and density of any proposed development. Conservation management plans for each of the components have been developed that detail how each component contributes to the Outstanding Universal Value of the series. “Basic Policies” in the plans provide an overarching consistent conservation approach though there are variations in the level of detail provided for the implementation of work in each component.

    The Japanese Government has established a new partnership-based framework for the conservation and management of the property and its components including the operational sites. This is known as the General Principles and Strategic Framework for the Conservation and Management of the Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Kyushu-Yamagachi and Related Areas. Japan’s Cabinet Secretariat has the overall responsibility for the implementation of the framework. Under this strategic framework a wide range of stakeholders, including relevant national and local government agencies and private companies, will develop a close partnership to protect and manage the property. In addition to these mechanisms, the private companies Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation and Miike Port Logistics Corporation have entered into agreements with the Cabinet Secretariat to protect, conserve and manage their relevant components. Attention should be given to monitoring the effectiveness of the new partnership-based framework, and to putting in place an on-going capacity building programme for staff. There is also a need to ensure that appropriate heritage advice is routinely available for privately owned sites. What is urgently needed is an interpretation strategy to show how each site or component relates to the overall series, particularly in terms of the way they reflect the one or more phases of Japan’s industrialisation and convey their contribution to Outstanding Universal Value.

  4. Recommends that the State Party give consideration to the following:
    1. Developing as a priority a detailed conservation work programme for Hashima Island;
    2. Developing a prioritised conservation work programme for the property and its component sites and an implementation programme;
    3. Defining acceptable visitor threshold levels at each component site to mitigate any potential adverse impacts, commencing with those most likely to be at risk;
    4. Monitoring the effectiveness of the new partnership-based framework for the conservation and management of the property and its components on an annual basis;
    5. Monitoring the implementation of the conservation management plans, the issues discussed and the decisions made by the Local Conservation Councils on an annual basis;
    6. Establishing and implementing an on ongoing training programme for all staff and stakeholders responsible for the day-to-day management of each component to build capacity and ensure a consistent approach to the property’s ongoing conservation, management and presentation;
    7. Preparing an interpretive strategy for the presentation of the property, which gives particular emphasis to the way each of the sites contributes to Outstanding Universal Value and reflects one or more of the phases of industrialisation; and also allows an understanding of the full history of each site[1];
    8. Submitting all development projects for road construction projects at Shuseikan and Mietsu Naval Dock and for new anchorage facility at Miike Port and proposals for the upgrade or development of visitor facilities to the World Heritage Committee for examination, in accordance with paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines;
  5. Requests the State Party to submit a report outlining progress with the above to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 December 2017, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 42nd session in 2018;
  6. Also recommends that the State Party consider inviting ICOMOS to offer advice on the implementation of the above recommendations.

[1] The World Heritage Committee takes note of the statement made by Japan, as regards the interpretive strategy that allows an understanding of the full history of each site as referred to in paragraph 4.g), which is contained in the Summary Record of the session (document WHC-15/39.COM/INF.19).

Decision Code
39 COM 8B.14
Inscriptions on the World Heritage List, Outstanding Universal Value
States Parties 1
Decisions adopted by the World Heritage Committee at its 39th session (Bonn, 2015)
Context of Decision