Having ratified the 2003 Convention in 2004, the current report is the second one submitted by Japan on its implementation at the national level. Japan has a long history of safeguarding intangible aspects of cultural heritage, dating back to the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties (1950). The Agency for Cultural Affairs is the national implementing agency for the 2003 Convention under this Law. The Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (an independent institution) conducts research for the safeguarding, documentation and transmission of intangible cultural heritage. The Japan Arts Council (National Theatre) promotes, researches and documents traditional performing arts.
The Agency for Cultural Affairs carries out training in the management of intangible cultural heritage for administrators in the local governmental bodies of each region. In addition, the Japan Arts Council trains the next generation of performers on traditional performing arts and improves the skills of current performers. The Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, in addition to its research role, provides guidance and advice to local public organizations on matters related to the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage elements.
The following governmental institutions gather and hold documentation on intangible cultural heritage: the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, which conducts research on and documents intangible cultural heritage and develops documentation methods and technology; the Japan Arts Council, which records oral traditions and expressions and performing arts; and the Agency for Cultural Affairs, which administers the Cultural Heritage Online database, including each element inscribed on the national inventory with images, movies and links to other relevant websites. The research and studies conducted by the National Research Institute are accessible through its website and other tools and the Arts Council makes its audio-visual records accessible to the public. The unit for Audio-visual Documentation creates documentation archives related to intangible cultural heritage and studies methods and techniques for documentation. These archives are also made available to the public.
The Agency for Cultural Affairs has established and administers an inventory known as the Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Japan, which covers three categories. The first category is represented by the Important Intangible Cultural Properties and comprises drama, music, applied art and other intangible cultural products and the main criterion for selection is that they have a significant historical or artistic value to Japan. They are arranged according to the bearers, individuals or groups and then according to domains of intangible cultural heritage and the year of inscription. The second category includes the Important Intangible Folk Cultural Properties and comprises manners and customs (related to food, clothing, and housing, occupations, religious faiths, annual festivals etc.) and folk performing arts and folk skills. The selection criteria include (for manners and customs) that they typically represent unique features of the basic lifestyle and culture in Japan, and (for folk performing arts and folk skills) that they illustrate how the performances/skills began and evolved, represent a transition in the performing arts/folk skills and express regional characteristics and features. Finally, the third category concerns the Selected Conservation Techniques and the Holding Groups or Holders (arranged according to domains of techniques). A further category, entitled Element Included Based on the Decision of the Council for Cultural Affairs of the Government, was added to the inventory in 2012. The viability of the elements is also taken into account and appropriate measures such as documentation are taken for those in danger of disappearing. Each year, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) proposes elements for inscription that fulfil the criteria. The inventory is updated annually by the Agency for Cultural Affairs through research into elements in different domains, in cooperation with the communities concerned. The elements identified through such research are also examined by the Council for Cultural Affairs, which consists of experts for different fields of intangible cultural heritage and those elements considered to have fulfilled the criteria for each type and domain are included in the inventory.
With regard to other safeguarding measures, and as a general measure to promote the function of intangible cultural heritage in society and to integrate its protection into planning programmes, the Government has embarked upon projects to utilize elements of cultural heritage in local communities, support comprehensive and specific local events, such as public performances of traditional rituals and performing arts, train successors and foster sustainable local economic development. Local governments formulate plans in cooperation with communities and bearers and receive financial support from the Government. The Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, universities and many non-state institutes are engaged in studies on intangible cultural heritage and can receive funding from the MEXT and civil foundations. The Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Tokyo National Research Institute conducts basic investigations and research on several domains. In particular, research into intangible folk cultural properties (as defined in the inventory) and their safeguarding is based on field investigations and, from 2011 to 2015, field investigations were conducted on the current state of intangible folk cultural properties, which has changed significantly in recent years. In addition, preparations are underway to digitize the records and materials collected and held by the Tokyo National Research Institute. To further research on folk cultural properties after the 2011 earthquake, which devastated the coastal areas of the Tohoku region, an ‘Information Network on Intangible Cultural Heritage’ was set up together with other institutions, organizations, NGOs and local communities, and information was gathered, published and made available online.
With regard to awareness raising and promotion, the Japan Arts Council (National Theatre) was established in order to promote and disseminate traditional performing arts, and the Agency for Cultural Affairs holds exhibitions featuring works and materials related to craft techniques and techniques for protecting cultural properties in order to facilitate the understanding for the transmission of such techniques. The National Government also supports local governments in the dissemination of intangible cultural heritage in the form of training, exhibitions, workshops and the production of audio-visual recordings. With regard to formal education, a curriculum covering intangible cultural heritage is included in all stages of the formal education school curriculum and children can learn about their living culture also as part of lessons on morals, during school meals and by being introduced to traditional instruments in music classes. Many schools also organize workshops for children on such topics as local festivals or traditional crafts where visitors experience papermaking among other craft skills. The Agency for Cultural Affairs also provides extra-curricular opportunities for children and parents to experience activities related to folk performing arts, craft techniques and traditional music.
As part of the educational and training programmes for the communities and groups concerned, the Japan Arts Council conducts training workshops to train successors in performing arts. The Agency for Cultural Affairs and local governments subsidize training programmes for intangible cultural heritage apprentices. Although the relevant knowledge is transmitted within communities and/or families as an everyday activity, many elements in Japan are now facing a lack of bearers and practitioners, and changes in the local communities, due to an aging and declining population. Various measures are being undertaken to provide support that is comprehensive but adapted to the regions, such as utilizing tangible and intangible cultural heritage resources to promote regions, tourism, and industry while considering their continued transmission. Since 2008, the Agency for Cultural Affairs has encouraged local governments to ensure the long-term conservation as well as the utilization of the various cultural elements found in their communities.
Japan’s bilateral, sub-regional, regional and international cooperation in this area dates back to 1993 when the Government established Funds-in-Trust in UNESCO for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage. Up until 2016, 16.4 million US dollars had been disbursed and more than 100 projects worldwide supported by these funds. Japan also played an important role in the development of the 2003 Convention and, after 2006, subsidised projects to help many countries ratify the Convention. Currently, it is supporting capacity-building training in several States Parties to the Convention. Japan adopted a Law on the Promotion of International Cooperation for Protection of Cultural Heritage Abroad in 2006 to allow it to enhance international cooperation in this field. Based on this Law, Japan established the International Research Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region (IRCI) in 2010, a category 2 centre under the auspices of UNESCO in Sakai City, Osaka. The IRCI supports researchers and institutions engaged in research on safeguarding intangible cultural heritage in the Asia-Pacific region and provides an international platform to enhance research in related fields, with the financial and administrative support of the Agency for Cultural Affairs.
Japan has twenty-one elements inscribed on the Representative List and reported on all of them in its current report.