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Kyushu professor set to travel world as head of UNESCO advisory body ICOMOS

Toshiyuki Kono (Mainichi)

Kyushu University professor Toshiyuki Kono, the newest president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), is looking forward to lots of travel after being named to head the organization at its annual general assembly in Delhi, India, at the end of last year.

Founded in 1965, ICOMOS acts as an advisory body to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in screening the registration of world cultural heritage sites. While the past seven heads of the council comprising roughly 10,000 experts from 153 countries have mainly been from Europe, the 59-year-old Kono is the first Japanese person to fill the role. His term will last through 2020.

Originally from Osaka, Kono graduated from the Kyoto University Faculty of Law, and moved on to graduate school there. Although he passed the bar examination, he chose to be a scholar instead. At 28, he joined the faculty of law at Kyushu University as a specialist in international private law, which focuses on cases such as international trade and marriages.

Soon after assuming his position, Kono spent time studying in Germany, where he participated in a workshop about the illegal trade of cultural assets, which changed the direction of his career. Becoming interested in the system of laws protecting cultural treasures, Kono became a member of ICOMOS in 1997. The scholar was involved in drafting the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, and became an ICOMOS board member in 2011 and one of the vice presidents in 2014.

The organization is headquartered in Paris, and while Kono will spend a third of the year traveling the world, his activities are not paid. While fluent in both English and German, his latest project is learning French.

There are over 800 world cultural heritage sites, covering the majority of the world's most famous locations. "Moving forward, we can expect recommendations for sites with no academic arguments (for inclusion)," says Kono. "We need to seriously assess whether or not the candidates really have universal value."

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