UNESCO on Monday added 78 nominations to its Memory of the World heritage program, including old diplomatic records of Korean envoys to Japan and three ancient stone monuments north of Tokyo.
Meanwhile, a panel of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recommended postponing a decision on whether to add documents on so-called "comfort women" forced into wartime Japanese military brothels, calling for dialogue between relevant parties on the issue that has hurt Japan's ties with its neighbors.
UNESCO also did not add the records of late Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who helped some 6,000 Jewish refugees escape Nazi persecution during World War II, to its heritage program. The organization did not disclose the reason for the decision.
The 333 documents on envoys sent by the Korean Dynasty to Japan, mainly in the Edo period between the 17th and 19th centuries, were jointly filed by Japanese and South Korean local governments and private entities.
They include diplomatic papers and pictures of the envoys stored in 12 prefectures across Japan and in parts of South Korea.
Campaigners in Japan and South Korea working for the listing of the historic documents expressed their joy and hopes for a deeper friendship between the two countries.
Yu Jong Mok, the representative chair of the Busan Cultural Foundation, the South Korean group that promoted the registry, said, "I hope to see active exchanges and development of both South Korea and Japan based on the envoys' sincere spirit."
Kazuyuki Matsubara, the chair of the Japanese group that collaborated with the foundation, said, "We want to further strengthen the ties between Japanese and Korean sites related to the heritage."
The three ancient stone monuments called the "Three Stelae of Kozuke" in Gunma Prefecture, north of Tokyo, were built in the seventh and eighth centuries, with Korean immigrants who settled in the area assisting in their design.
With their inscriptions in Chinese characters, the monuments reflect cultural interactions that existed in East Asia. One of the three, built in 681, is the oldest stone monument in Japan that exists in complete form.
The addition of the documents brings to seven the number of Japanese items on the UNESCO archive register.
UNESCO this time received around 130 applications for listing under the program.
The issue of comfort women remains a thorn in diplomatic relations between Japan and other Asian countries.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said UNESCO made an appropriate response by postponing the decision on the comfort women issue while a South Korean Foreign Ministry official expressed regret, saying that the government will continue to make diplomatic efforts so that the records will be given objective and legitimate assessments.
The International Solidarity Committee, which consists of private groups from seven countries and one region, had led the campaign to seek UNESCO registry of the comfort women documents. They have demanded that the Japanese government acknowledge legal responsibility for sexual exploitation of Korean comfort women.
Japan has maintained that all legal claims were resolved under a 1965 Japan-South Korea treaty that normalized bilateral diplomatic relations.
Tokyo also says the possible registry would go against a deal struck by the Japanese and South Korean governments in 2015 to "finally and irreversibly" settle the comfort women issue.
The International Advisory Committee of the heritage program released a statement, recommending facilitating a dialogue among the nominators of the comfort women documents and concerned parties.
It also recommended "setting a place and time convenient to the parties for this dialogue, with a view to leading to a joint nomination to encompass as far as possible all relevant documents."
In 2015, Japan strongly protested against UNESCO and temporarily withheld its obligatory dues to the body after documents submitted by China on the 1937 Nanjing Massacre were added to the heritage list.
Tokyo then called on UNESCO to improve the transparency and fairness of the screening and registration process as well as take account of opposing views.
In response to such calls, UNESCO on Oct. 18 approved a plan for a new procedure that will heed the views of nations concerned with its Memory of the World heritage registration process and improve transparency.
Although the new procedure will apply from the next registration screening process in 2019, UNESCO appears to have borne it in mind during the current process.