Photo/IllutrationThe Sakitsu settlement of Amakusa in Kumamoto Prefecture (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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A dozen sites related to the persecution of Japanese Christians during the Edo Period (1603-1867) have been recommended for World Heritage status, but another submission for a natural heritage site in southern Japan did not receive a similar blessing.

Sources said that the World Heritage Center in Paris informed the government on May 3 of the recommendations made by two UNESCO advisory panels.

The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) recommended that the "Hidden Christian sites in Nagasaki and Amakusa region" be included in the World Heritage List. However, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recommended that a submission from the government for wildlife found on islands in southern Kagoshima and Okinawa prefectures be held off for a number of years while various issues are addressed.

The final decision to include the hidden Christian sites to the list will be made at a World Heritage Committee meeting to be held in Bahrain from June 24.

The sites demonstrate how Japanese Christians secretly continued to protect their faith even as the Tokugawa Shogunate enforced a ban on the religion from the 17th to 19th centuries. The sites are located mainly in Nagasaki Prefecture with one location also in the Amakusa district of Kumamoto Prefecture.

Some of the persecuted Christians moved from Nagasaki to the Goto islands in the East China Sea. A number of the smaller remote islands, such as Kuroshima, Kashiragashima, Nozakijima, Hisakajima and Narushima islands, have been included in the nomination. Other locations, such as Hirado and Sotome in Nagasaki and the Sakitsu district of Amakusa in Kumamoto, were areas where Christians secretly worshipped.

Another site is the former Hara Castle in Minami-Shimabara, Nagasaki Prefecture, which was besieged during the Shimabara Rebellion of 1637-38 when peasants, mostly Christians, rose up in protest against the local lord.

Also included in the nomination is Oura Church in Nagasaki, one of Japan's oldest Western-style architectural monuments, which was built in the late Edo Period for Westerners living in secluded settlements.

Missionaries who subsequently served at the cathedral came to learn through confessions of the Japanese believers who had practiced their faith in secret for centuries. It was only in 1873 that the government finally lifted the ban on Christianity.

The natural heritage submission included four main areas--Amami-Oshima and Tokunoshima islands of Kagoshima Prefecture and the northern part of the main Okinawa island and Iriomotejima island of Okinawa Prefecture.

About 60 percent of the land mammal species found on the four islands and 80 percent of the amphibian species are indigenous. Some, such as the Okinawa rail, have been included in the IUCN Red List as an endangered species.

So far, 17 sites in Japan have been included in the World Cultural Heritage List and four are on the Natural World Heritage List.