http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/en/state/Japan

A Living Human Treasure system

Strengthening transmission is one of the most important means to safeguard ICH. UNESCO encourages States to create national systems of “Living Human Treasures” that honour exemplary tradition-bearers and encourage them to transmit their skills and knowledge.

Introduction

The Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties which covers both tangible and intangible cultural heritage was enacted in 1950. Since then, Japan has worked to protect cultural heritage within the country, amending the Law when necessary. The establishment of the Law was prompted by the destruction by fire of the mural paintings of Horyuji Temple’s Kondo (Golden Hall) in Nara prefecture in 1949 shortly after the end of the Second World War, as well as by increased public awareness of the importance of protecting Japanese cultural traditions such as performing arts and craft techniques which were at risk of decline due to the tendency toward westernization and modernization prevalent since the late 19th century.

Legal measures

In 1950, the Government of Japan began to designate certain individuals or groups who are bearers of important intangible cultural assets as iving
national treasures. The title is awarded to masters of crafts that include wood-block printing, papermaking, basket weaving, swordsmithing and pottery, and to renowed actors and musicians of traditional performances.
In 1950, the Government of Japan began to designate certain individuals or groups who are bearers of important intangible cultural assets as iving national treasures. The title is awarded to masters of crafts that include wood-block printing, papermaking, basket weaving, swordsmithing and pottery, and to renowed actors and musicians of traditional performances.

Under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties of 1950, intangible cultural heritage is classified into three categories:

  • Intangible Cultural Properties, defined as drama, music and craft techniques and other intangible cultural products which possess a high historical and/or artistic value for Japan;
  • Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties, defined as items indispensable for understanding changes in the daily lives of the Japanese people, such as manners and customs concerning food, clothing, and shelter, occupation, religious faith, annual events, and other matters; folk performing arts; and folk techniques.;
  • Conservation Techniques for Cultural Properties, defined as traditional techniques or skills that are indispensable for the conservation of cultural properties.

The Minister of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (hereafter “MEXT”) designates particularly important items of intangible cultural heritage as Intangible Cultural Properties and Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties, while in the case of Conservation Techniques requiring preservation measures are selected. In addition, for Intangible Cultural Properties, individual or group holders are recognized; for Conservation Techniques for Cultural Properties individual holders or preservation groups are recognized, and for Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties protection groups are identified. Safeguarding actions are then taken for each category of intangible cultural heritage.

When the Law was first established in Japan in 1950, it provided support measures only in the case of Intangible Cultural Properties of high value which would be at serious risk of decline without State’s protection.

In 1955, the Law was amended in such a way that broader scope of Important Intangible Cultural Properties were designated and their holders recognized. Since then, designations of ICH items and recognitions of holders have been carried out as necessary.

In accordance with social and economic changes, the Law was amended to broaden the concept of Intangible Cultural Properties and means of their protection. The main amendment was carried out in 1975, when the Law defined “Folk-Cultural Properties”. New systems for the designation of Important Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties and for the selection and protection of Conservation Techniques for Cultural Properties were set up, since which time designations, selections and recognitions of holders have been carried out as necessary.

Further amendments were made in 2004, when the category of Folk Techniques was added as a distinct category of Intangible Folk-Cultural Property, and action taken for its protection.

Under the system, designation of Important Intangible Cultural Properties or selection of Conservation Techniques for Cultural Properties is accompanied by recognition of individual or group holders of the intangible cultural heritage in question; if no appropriate holder exists, no designation will be made. Likewise, if all of the holders have died, the designation or selection is annulled.

For Important Cultural Properties that are not designated as Important Intangible Cultural Properties, where necessary, items are selected as “Intangible Cultural Properties for which documentation and other measures should be taken”. The properties in question may be documented and, if necessary, displayed by the Government. In addition, appropriate persons or groups wishing to document and/or display the property are provided by the Government with funding to cover the necessary costs. In the same way, Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties of particular significance, which are not designated Important Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties, are selected as “Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties for which documentation and other measures should be taken”, and measures similar to those for Intangible Cultural Properties are taken.

Who are individual, group and collective holders?

Intangible Cultural Properties

When particularly significant Intangible Cultural Properties are designated as Important Intangible Cultural Properties, individual or group holders who embody or who have mastered to a high degree the techniques involved are also recognized with a view to transmitting traditional Japanese skills. Individual or group holders of designated intangible cultural heritage are classified in one of the following three ways:

Individual Recognized Holders are known informally in Japan as “National Living Treasures”, a term which, although not found officially in the Law, has nonetheless gained wide public recognition, and has succeeded in raising awareness of and support for Intangible Cultural Properties.

Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties

When particularly significant Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties are designated as Important Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties, preservation associations or other appropriate groups are also recognized as Protection Groups to promote the transmission of the heritage. However, as Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties consist of manners and customs of the people in a particular area, and their transmission is closely interwoven with the practices of everyday life, it is extremely difficult to identify any particular individuals or groups as holders; consequently, there is no system for recognition of holders for Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties.

Conservation Techniques for Cultural Properties

Those who can perform accurately the conservation techniques for cultural properties being particularly in need of preservation measures, and who are thoroughly familiar with them, are recognized as individual holders, while groups whose main aim is the preservation of a Selected Conservation Technique, and who are able to carry out projects appropriate for its preservation, are recognized as preservation groups.

Domains of the intangible cultural heritage

Intangible Cultural Properties

All the domains of Intangible Cultural Properties defined by the Law are designated into either performing arts or craft techniques.
Performing arts are classified into eight forms: Gagaku court music, Nohgaku, Bunraku, Kabuki, Kumi-odori, Music, Buyo dance, Engei.
Likewise, craft techniques are classified into eight forms: pottery, textile weaving and dyeing, lacquer work, metalwork, wood and bamboo work, doll-making, paper-making, cut-gold leafing (kirikane).

Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties

When designated, Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties are classified into six forms of manners and customs, and seven forms of folk performing arts. In 2004, the category of Folk Techniques was added to the field of Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties, and designations are planned for the future.

Conservation Techniques for Cultural Properties

Current selections in the category of Conservation Techniques include techniques for the restoration of musical instruments, production of raw materials, and skills used in the crafting of tools, that are indispensable for the creation of Japanese tangible cultural properties.

The Organization Responsible for the System

The Agency for Cultural Affairs established under the MEXT is responsible for the promotion of culture and international cultural exchange. The safeguarding of the above-mentioned categories of intangible cultural heritage falls under its jurisdiction. Administration of matters related to intangible cultural heritage is carried out by experts with specialized knowledge of Intangible Cultural Properties, Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties and Conservation Techniques for Cultural Properties working in the Traditional Culture Division of the Cultural Properties Department within the Agency for Cultural Affairs.

The Council for Cultural Affairs (hereinafter “the Council”) was established within the Agency for Cultural Affairs as an advisory body on cultural policy for the Minister of MEXT. The Council includes the Sub-Division on Cultural Properties composed of specialists who offer expert analysis of matters related to intangible cultural properties, including designations and recognitions.

Procedures for Designation and Recognition

The designation and recognition foresee three phases:

  1. In response to ministerial inquiry concerning cultural heritage to be designated or selected, the Sub-Division on Cultural Properties assigns an investigative sub-council of specialists to prepare a research report for the Council.
  2. On the basis of that report, the Sub-Division investigates and makes a recommendation on the items of intangible cultural heritage to be protected as Intangible Cultural Properties, Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties and Conservation Techniques for Cultural Properties.
  3. The recommendation is then submitted by the Council to the Minister, who designates or selects ICH for safeguarding on the basis of the Council’s recommendations.

Recognition of individual or group holders of designated intangible cultural heritage follows the same procedure as for designation and selection, after which recognition is carried out by the Minister. After designation, selection, or recognition, the inventory of designations and recognitions is regularly updated by the Agency for Cultural Affairs.

Criteria for Designation and Recognition

The criteria for the designation of ICH and for recognition of holders are established and overseen by the Agency for Cultural Affairs.

Intangible Cultural Properties

Among the domains of Intangible Cultural Properties defined in the Law (drama, music and craft techniques, as well as other intangible cultural products which possess a high historical and/or artistic value in and for this country), specially important items are designated as Important Intangible Cultural Properties.

Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties

Among the domains of Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties defined in the Law (items indispensable for understanding changes in the daily lives of the Japanese people, such as manners and customs concerning food, clothing and shelter, occupation, religious faith, annual events, and other matters; folk performing arts; and folk techniques), particularly important items are designated Important Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties.

Conservation Techniques for Cultural Properties

Among the domains of Conservation Techniques for Cultural Properties (traditional techniques indispensable for the preservation of tangible and intangible cultural properties, including restoration techniques, production of raw materials and skills needed for the crafting of tools), those requiring preservation measures are selected.

Rights and obligations of Individual and Group Holders

Intangible Cultural Properties: Individual Recognized Holders (National Living Treasures) receive special grants of two million yen annually to develop their knowledge and skills as well as to train successors to carry on those skills. Recognized collective or group holders of Intangible Cultural Properties are also provided with financial assistance for projects to train successors and for public exhibitions.

For Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties, financial assistance is provided from the Government to protection groups to subsidize partially the expenses required for research, transmission and utilization of the heritage.

For Conservation Techniques for Cultural Properties, in addition to documentation and training of successors carried out by the Government, individual and group holders receive subsidies as needed for projects to develop their knowledge and skills, and to train successors.

Annulment of Designation and Recognition

In the event that an Important Intangible Cultural Property or Important Intangible Folk-Cultural Property has lost its value, or where other special circumstances exist, the Minister of MEXT may annul the designation. In addition, in the event that an individual or group holder has been recognized to no longer fit, or where other special circumstances exist, the Minister of MEXT may annul the recognition of the individual or group holder. Similarly, for Selected Conservation Techniques, in the event that measures are no longer required for the preservation of the technique, or where other special circumstances exist, the Minister may annul the selection. If the holders or preservation groups for a Selected Conservation Technique are recognized to no longer fit, or where other special circumstances exist, the recognition of the holder or preservation group may be annulled.

More information

  • Website of the Agency for Cultural Affairs:
    http://www.bunka.go.jp/english/index.html
  • Extract of the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties (English)
  • Criteria…
  • Tables of the Important Cultural Properties and number of the recognized holders, of the Conservation Techniques for Cultural Properties and of the Important Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties (English)