Japan cheers nod for Mt. Fuji as World Heritage, saddened over Kamakura

Japan's pursuit to put its iconic Mt. Fuji and a group of cultural assets in the ancient city of Kamakura on the World Heritage list was a mix of success and failure, as officials and residents on Wednesday cheered only for the country's highest peak.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a statement he is "very happy" for Mt. Fuji but finds it "very unfortunate" that Japan's request to recommend Kamakura assets was turned down.

With Mt. Fuji expected to be formally listed in June when the World Heritage Committee of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization meets in Cambodia, the top government spokesman said Tokyo will do its "utmost" in making it possible.

Suga issued the statement after the Japanese government announced late Tuesday night that an advisory panel to UNESCO had decided to recommend only Mt. Fuji.

The registration of Mt. Fuji, however, faces a challenge as the panel, known as the International Council on Monuments and Sites, or ICOMOS, wants the exclusion of Miho-no-Matsubara pine grove, which Japan had sought to include as part of the asset.

ICOMOS said the pine grove is 45 kilometers away from the 3,776-meter mountain and cannot be considered as part of the peak, according to Japanese officials.

Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu said at a news conference he will continue to fight for the pine grove to be recognized, saying the reasoning that the grove is far from the mountain is "not justified."

Bearing in mind such a request from ICOMOS, Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs is making arrangements with municipal governments on how to address the matter. There is a precedent in 2011 of excluding a part of the assets associated with the historic Hiraizumi area to get the approval of the UNESCO panel.

If formally approved, Mt. Fuji will be Japan's first registered World Heritage site since the Hiraizumi area in northeastern Iwate Prefecture was listed in 2011 and would bring the total number of Japanese cultural World Heritage sites to 13.

In its request for registration, the agency said Mt. Fuji covers roughly 70,000 hectares in Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures, including five major lakes and the Shiraito Falls.

IMOCOS noted that the mountain is a national symbol of Japan and blends religious and artistic traditions, the officials said.

Local residents and officials had attempted to register Mt. Fuji as a world natural heritage site but gave up partly due to illegal dumping of garbage and decided to go for cultural heritage.

Residents near Mt. Fuji are hopeful tourism will get a boost.

Former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, who is now chairman of a nonprofit corporation known as the National Council on Mt. Fuji World Heritage, said he is "confident that Japan's treasure will become the world's treasure."

In contrast, ICOMOS rejected the request to add the assets in Kamakura to the World Heritage list due to scarce assets directly linked to the medieval shogunate rule, prompting local officials to decide whether to withdraw the candidacy or continue to push their case through diplomatic channels and other means.

"I feel regret as I had been waiting for good news," Kamakura Mayor Takashi Matsuo said at a news conference Wednesday.

The request for Kamakura covered a roughly 2,000-hectare area including the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, the Enkaku Temple and the Great Buddha. Kamakura, located southwest of Tokyo, was the seat of a samurai government from the late 12th to 14th centuries that nurtured cultural practices including the tea ceremony and Zen rituals.

The Japanese government formally made the request to UNESCO in January last year.