15.COM 8.B.35

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Japan has nominated Traditional skills, techniques and knowledge for the conservation and transmission of wooden architecture in Japan (no. 01618) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

The conservation and transmission of wooden architecture in Japan consists in a set of traditional skills, techniques and knowledge. Roughly seventy per cent of the country is forested. Therefore, wood has been used in houses since ancient times. In fact, the world’s oldest surviving wooden structure is the Horyu-ji temple that was built in the early seventh century. Some examples of the seventeen skills described in the nomination file, include sakan plastering, the harvesting of Japanese cypress bark, lacquer painting of traditional structures, the production of tatami mats (flooring material), and many more. Until the nineteenth century, master craftsmen trained apprentices as successors to transmit knowledge of the traditional skills. Due to modernization, however, this process became more difficult, so preservation associations were formed. Knowledge includes not only techniques for building new structures, but also restoring existing ones. Due to the country’s hot and humid climate, repair work must happen often. At restoration sites, craftspeople with different skills must complete the work together. Some maintenance work also requires the involvement of local residents. For example, reed or straw thatch on a roof needs to be completely renewed every twenty years, which is a labour-intensive job. The element thus serves a social function by fostering cooperation and social cohesion and strengthens Japanese people’s sense of cultural identity.

  1. Considers that, from the information included in the file, the nomination satisfies the following criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

R.1:   The State Party has provided a clear description of the skills, techniques and knowledge related to the conservation and transmission of wooden architecture as an element of intangible cultural heritage, particularly the skills related to traditional craftsmanship and knowledge and practices concerning nature. The file demonstrates how the element contributes to fostering cooperation and social cohesion and describes its cultural function as strengthening Japanese people’s sense of cultural identity. The bearers of the element are mostly the craftspersons, who are gathered in associations. Gender equality is respected, including in the terminology used in the nomination file.

R.2:   The file demonstrates how the inscription would contribute to ensuring the visibility and awareness both of the element itself, and of intangible cultural heritage in general. The file also makes a strong argument for the inseparable link between tangible and intangible heritage, describing the former as an intrinsic aspect of the latter. Since cooperation and communication are an essential part of the restoration work, the inscription will enhance dialogue among workers and with local residents in areas where restoration work is carried out. Furthermore, the file successfully demonstrates how regional diversity is fostered by the creativity involved in the design, structure and process of wooden architecture, as well as variations in the availability of raw materials.

R.3:   The file proposes a range of future safeguarding measures, in line with the measures implemented in the past and present. These include training successors, documentation, research and promotional measures, with subsidies from the government, support for the management of Historic Forest Reserves, and the allocation of resources to related activities. These measures have proven to have a long-term sustainable impact on safeguarding the practice through the generations, and they will be further strengthened and improved through additional actions. The initiative for the development and implementation of these safeguarding measures came from the communities concerned (associations made up of craftspersons). The state plays a supporting and facilitating role, providing assistance with specific initiatives, such as the forest reserves and annual fair.

R.4:   The initiative for this nomination originated from the associations concerned and the Promotion Council. The government has been in constant dialogue with the communities concerned, and has informed them about the possible positive and negative effects of the inscription. The lengthy process of preparing the nomination (undertaken since 2010) is reflected in the consents of the community members and other stakeholders.

R.5:   The element consists of seventeen skills, which have been included in the Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Japan in different years between 1976 and 2018. The inventory is updated every year in accordance with the advice of the Council for Cultural Affairs. The communities of craftspersons were actively involved in the process of creating the inventory.

  1. Decides to inscribe Traditional skills, techniques and knowledge for the conservation and transmission of wooden architecture in Japan on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity;

  2. Commends the State Party for a well-prepared file that can serve as a good example of how the inscription of an element on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity can contribute to ensuring the visibility and awareness of the significance of intangible cultural heritage in general;

  3. Further commends the State Party for proposing an element that highlights the intrinsic relationship between intangible cultural heritage and tangible or built heritage, and which is also in line with sustainable development;

  4. Also commends the State Party for presenting a nomination file that demonstrates an exemplary process of involving the communities concerned in the preparation of the nomination.

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