Granting autonomy to religious bodies in the management of their sacred places (forests and temples)

Published: 05 October 2020
Last edited: 05 October 2020

Through the whole process that the sacred places in the Kii Mountains were being designated as cultural heritage and natural heritage (as part of a national park), and later included in the Biosphere Reserve, to finally be part of the World Heritage property, the religious bodies were officially granted their protection and management following the traditional knowledge carried for centuries, based on religious beliefs and sacred values. For instance, due to their sacred character, primeval forests have been conserved under strict felling prohibitions by the different religious communities. The mountain landscapes are interpreted as materialized “mandalas” by Shingon Buddhists, and Shugendo practitioners reproduce “mandalas” by doing pilgrimage and performing their ascetic practices in these natural environments. For pilgrims, the Kii Mountains represent the paradise on earth. Another example is the Nachi sacred forest that has been designated as a “Natural monument” under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Property, and the management has been done by the Kumano Nachi Shinto shrine, as part of their sacred place. The Nachi waterfall is regarded as sacred. This means that the sacred waters cannot be touched or diverted.

Classifications

Category
Co-management building
Management planning
Scale of implementation
Local
Subnational
Phase of solution
Entirety

Enabling factors

  • Persistent cultural practices, traditional and local knowledge based on the belief of sacredness of nature.
  • Legal protection under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Property and the Natural Parks Law are designed to relegate and uphold the traditional nature-human relationship without imposing frameworks that are inconsistent with religious-based protection.

Lessons learned

  • Sacredness has protected the Kii Mountains primeval forests for more than 1,000 years and continuing. Enabling religious stewardship to continue practicing their traditions of forest conservation facilitates the conservation process.
  • Importance of the safeguarding of traditional knowledge and the spiritual values of local people to continuously protect the primeval forests.