Osaka welcomes UNESCO support for burial mounds as world heritage

2019.05.14 | Osaka

Photo taken May 14, 2019, from a Kyodo News helicopter shows the Emperor Nintoku mausoleum (back), Japan's largest ancient mound, officially called Daisen Kofun, one of the sites collectively called the Mozu-Furuichi tumulus clusters in Osaka Prefecture. Japan's Cultural Affairs Agency said the same day that the tumulus clusters, including Emperor Richu's mausoleum (front), have been recommended for addition to the World Cultural Heritage list by an advisory panel of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (Kyodo)

OSAKA - People in Osaka on Tuesday welcomed a UNESCO advisory panel's recommendation to add two clusters of ancient burial mounds in the western Japan prefecture to the World Culture Heritage list.

"We are happy that the ancient tumulus clusters were deemed appropriate as world heritage sites," said Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura. "We will do our best to realize Osaka's first world heritage site listing."

Some 150 people dressed in ancient clothing took part in an event to celebrate the panel's recommendation in the city of Sakai, where some of the tombs are located.

The recommended Mozu-Furuichi tumulus clusters include the keyhole-shaped Emperor Nintoku mausoleum in the city.

The burial mound, officially called Daisen Kofun, is one of the three largest graves in the world, together with the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor in China and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.

Tomomi Matsunaga, 47, who has been holding the Sakai Kofun festival to build momentum for the tombs' listing, said local people still have much to do in preparation for the possible listing as well as an expected influx of tourists to the area.

She said she began selling accessories, snacks and other products related to the ancient tombs at a local cafe after finding that "although the tombs are there, there were no souvenirs related to them" and feared people may find their visits to the sites unsatisfactory.

Problems may also arise as roads leading to the tombs in residential areas are used by local residents and a flood of tourists using the same roads could prove a hindrance.

"We want tourists to come, but we don't want this to end in just moneymaking. We want to aim for a cycle in which we would use that money to arrange the environment around the ancient tombs and preserve them," said Matsunaga.

"Among the Mozu-Furuichi tumulus clusters are many massive tombs designated as mausoleums of emperors. Such tombs are strictly managed by the Imperial Household Agency and are conserved perfectly," said Kazuo Ichinose, an archaeology professor at Kyoto Tachibana University.

As people are unable to enter the tombs or their premises, Ichinose said it is crucial for Japan to utilize virtual reality technologies and other visuals to depict their history and significance.

Local operators have been providing sightseeing flight services to enable people to see the tombs from the air since last fall, while the city of Sakai has been keeping its government building's 21st floor open as an observatory deck and welcoming many tourists.

Local authorities first proposed the tomb clusters as a World Cultural Heritage site candidate to Japan's Culture Affairs Agency in 2007. But the agency waived recommending them to UNESCO in 2013, 2015 and 2016, putting priority on the listing of other sites.

It was not until 2017 that the Osaka sites were recommended, with the prefecture and its cities of Sakai, Fujiidera and Habikino having narrowed down the comprising tombs to 49 from 61 by excluding those that are not in good condition.

"I would like to express my respect for the efforts made by local people involved," said culture minister Masahiko Shibayama while calling the recommendation "perfect" as it covered all 49 tombs Japan has sought to list.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government will work to promote the listing at a meeting of the World Heritage Committee of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Culture Organization from June 30.


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