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Mobilizing Meiji Nostalgia and Intentional Forgetting in Japan's World Heritage Promotion

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 September 2020

Ryoko Nakano*
Kanazawa University, Kanazawa, Japan
*Corresponding author. Email:


The language of shared heritage for humanity holds a central position within UNESCO's World Heritage. However, the “Sites of Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution” as World Heritage is primarily Japan's national project for globalizing a glorious historical narrative of Meiji Japan. While this national nostalgia matches the contemporary political discourse of overcoming domestic and international challenges in twenty-first century Japan, it also encourages people to forget alternative perspectives related to Korean memories of forced labor, colonialism, and war. Ministry officials and cultural council members expressed concerns over possible critical reactions from South Korea, but the Japanese government accelerated its campaign for UNESCO's World Heritage designation and achieved its objective in 2015. Why did the Japanese government take this step despite the alarming voices within Japan? This paper uncovers the process in which Japan's industrial heritage was constructed and promoted as World Heritage. It points to the role of Japanese and Western heritage experts in a newly established committee outside the conventional procedure for Japan's World Heritage nomination and concludes that Japan's heritage diplomacy pushes alternative historical narratives into oblivion.

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Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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