world heritage

Sites of Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution (UNESCO) See how Japan transitioned from a samurai state to a modern society

Journey to the sites that played a crucial role in Japan's modern development

From the mid-1850s to the early 1900s, Japan underwent a radical transformation, transitioning from an isolated feudal society to an industrial power with a navy that triumphed neighboring Russia in the Russo-Japanese war. For a period characterized by Western colonialism and imperial ambitions, such rapid and sophisticated industrialization for a non-Western nation was unprecedented.

The World Heritage sites of Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution comprise 23 locations centered in Yamaguchi Prefecture and the Kyushu Region. Visiting each site, you'll learn about Japan's rapid development of industrial shipbuilding technologies, coal mining, and the institutions and ideas that helped propel the country forward during this radical period.

Highlights

  • Exploring the charming town of Hagi in Yamaguchi Prefecture while learning about the fascinating journey of the Choshu Five
  • A trip to the island of Hashima off the coast of Nagasaki, where you'll find the eerie remnants of a Meiji-era coal mine
  • Visiting the oldest slip-dock in Japan, and the well-preserved residence of its facilitator, Thomas B. Glover

The founding fathers of modern Japan

The central political philosophies that led to Japan's modern development originate with the Choshu Five, a group of elite students who left Japan to study in Great Britain in 1863. Though one student died of tuberculosis prior to completing his studies, the remaining four returned to Japan to hold major roles in transitioning the country into a modernized nation. One of the five, Shunsuke Ito, went on to become Japan's first prime minister in 1885, establishing a cabinet and writing a constitution.

The five students came from samurai families based in the town of Hagi , in Yamaguchi Prefecture . Today, the town has several sites designated as part of this world heritage, including the Hagi reverberatory furnace, the Ebisugahana shipyard, and Shokasonjuku Academy .

Ebisugahana shipyard

Shokasonjuku Academy

Coal, ships, and heavy industry

Further south in Kyushu, the city of Nagasaki is home to several notable Meiji era (1868-1912) sites.

Visit the Kosuge Slip Dock to see the oldest preserved Western-style slip dock in Japan, along with the country's oldest brick building (erected in 1869). The dock was imported from Aberdeen, Scotland as part of a joint venture with the merchant Thomas B. Glover. Glover's residence in Nagasaki is also one of the World Heritage sites and is known as the oldest surviving Western-style house in the nation.

Kosuge Slip Dock

Fifteen kilometers from the city is the island of Hashima , also known as Gunkanjima , an abandoned slab of land that served as a coal mine from 1887 to 1959. The well-preserved buildings and facilities opened to the public in 2009, welcoming visitors via ferry.

Gunkanjima

Perhaps Nagasaki's most notable Meiji-era site is the Mitsubishi Nagasaki Shipyard, where you'll find a dry dock, crane, pattern shop, and guest house dating back to the early 1900s. While many of the structures are not presently open to the public, you can visit the pattern shop with an advanced reservation.

To the northern mines of Iwate

While most of the sites associated with the Meiji era are located in Yamaguchi Prefecture and Kyushu, Iwate Prefecture (in northeastern Japan) is home to the notable Hashino Iron Mining and Smelting Site. This 19th-century ironworks showcases early techniques utilizing blast furnaces, which were used alongside Japanese iron making techniques to smelt iron ore. To reach Iwate, take an E5 Shinkansen from Tokyo bound for Morioka . Change at Shin-Hanamaki Station for the Kamaishi Line and disembark at Tono Station; the journey will take roughly 4.5 hours. From Tono Station, take a taxi to reach the Hashino Iron Mining and Smelting Site (35 minutes).

Hashino blast furnace ruins

How to Get There

The sites associated with Japan's Meiji-era industrialization are centered in Yamaguchi Prefecture and Nagasaki.

From Tokyo, Osaka, and Fukuoka, the city of Yamaguchi is accessible via the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen. Ride the Nozomi train to Shin-Yamaguchi Station. From there, you can rent a car or take a taxi to the town of Hagi, and the other affiliated sites.

To reach Nagasaki, take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to Fukuoka, and transfer to the JR Kamome Line. Upon arriving at Nagasaki Station, you can rent a car or take a taxi to reach nearby attractions.

Nirayama Reverbatory Furnaces

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