Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Mibu no Hana Taue, ritual of transplanting rice in Mibu, Hiroshima has been designated as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property. © Kitahiroshima-cho (2009), courtesy of UNESCO

The Most Fundamental Work of ICH Safeguarding: Making an ICH Inventory in Japan

Presently, there are three inventories of intangible cultural heritage in Japan: List of Important Intangible Cultural Properties, List of Important Intangible Folk- Cultural Properties, and List of Holders of Selected Conservation Techniques. These lists are compiled and administered annually by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, a governmental organization.

Three Types of Inventory and the Contents Thereof

List of Important Intangible Cultural Properties

This inventory consists of traditional performing arts and craft techniques that have particularly important artistic and/or historical value; the holders of these skills are also in the inventory. Information in the inventory includes

  • Individual recognition: Class, designation name, designation date, name of holder (real name, stage name, or artist’s appellation), holder’s date of birth, date of recognition, address of holder, and other comments (history of major awards, etc.)
  • General recognition, holder group recognition: Name, designation requirements, name of the applicable holder or the representative thereof (performing arts) or the name of the applicable holder group or the representative thereof (craft techniques), the name and contact information of the applicable affiliated institution or group (performing arts) or the address of the offices of the holder group (craft techniques), and designation date

List of Important Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties

This inventory consists of manners and customs, folk performing arts, and folk techniques that are particularly important in terms of understanding the changes in the lives of the Japanese people. Information in this inventory includes: Name of prefecture, designation name, address, name of preservation group, and designation date.

List of Selected Conservation Techniques

This inventory consists of traditional techniques and skills that are essential for the conservation of cultural properties and for which preservation measures need to be implemented. Information in the inventory includes

  • Recognition of holders: Name of technique, selection date, name of holder (real name, artist’s appellation), holder’s date of birth, recognition date, and address
  • Recognition of preservation groups: Name of technique, selection date, name of preservation group, recognition date, name of the group representative, and address of the offices of the preservation group

Procedures for Designating, Recognizing, and Electing

Preliminary Surveys

The designation, ICH selection, and the recognition of holders and holder groups are based on the results of preliminary surveys. As the number of applicable intangible cultural properties and the number of conservation techniques for cultural properties are comparatively limited, these surveys are primarily conducted by investigators in the Agency for Cultural Affairs. In these cases, it is important to adequately ascertain the research trends by relevant academic societies, the research results of researchers related to the applicable field, and other types of information.

At the same time, because there are numerous applicable intangible folk cultural properties in existence nationwide, it would be difficult to have sufficient basic surveys conducted by only the investigators working in the Agency for Cultural Affairs. However, most intangible folk cultural properties have already been designated at the prefectural or municipal level prior to being designated at the national level, which means that the surveys that are required for a certain degree of basic value assessments have already been made; in many cases, survey reports and video recordings are also available.

Candidate Selection

A candidate is chosen according to the following steps based on a preliminary survey.

Final Decision

The Minister submits the advisability of including the candidate in an inventory to the Culture Council. While the Culture Council then investigates this submission through the Cultural Properties Subcommittee, a request to engage in deliberations is further issued to an expert panel comprising specialist researchers in the given field. Matters that have been carefully discussed by this panel of experts are reported to the Cultural Properties Subcommittee and the Culture Council. Finally, the results of this process are submitted to the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Based on these results, the government publicly announces the designation, recognition, or selection, and the candidate is then included in the applicable inventory.

Key Points for Each Inventory

Important Intangible Cultural Properties / Selected Conservation Techniques

What is designated as important intangible cultural properties and selected as the chosen preservation techniques is the “intangible technique” itself, such as performing arts, craft techniques, and conservation techniques for cultural properties. However, it only theoretically declares the importance. It is essential to have technique holders who have mastered and embodied the techniques to a high degree in order to show it to the public in a visible way and to ensure that such techniques are passed on to future generations of experts. Therefore, when another technique is designated or selected, recognition of holders, holder groups, and preservation groups is required at the same time. What we must take notice of here, in particular, is the case when an individual person is designated as a holder.

For the candidate, all pertinent information, such as the conditions and award history, must be understood. It must also be known whether the person has a successor. All related information must be kept as confidential as possible.

Important Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties

In the case of important intangible folk-cultural properties, only the national government has the resources to grasp the situation in detail since the objects range widely across Japan. The national government must build close relationships with prefectural and municipal governments that understand the status of local important intangible folk-cultural properties in detail.

As for the designation of important intangible folk-cultural properties by the nation, it is important to consider the intentions of each community with such properties. It requires enormous effort by the local community to inherit properties even after the nation designates them. Therefore, when designating, the nation should consider the thoughts of each community and assign academic value to the properties.


Inventory making is the most fundamental work of safeguarding ICH. If we don’t have any ICH inventories, we cannot make effective safeguarding projects, documentation, projects to train successors, and so on. As shown above, Japan has some experiences in this matter. Of course, since the ICH environment in each country differs, it may be rare for this experience to be directly helpful. If ICH is a representative symbol of cultural diversity in the world, the measure taken to preserve it should be equally as diverse. I hope that our experience will be helpful for other countries trying to start a difficult but meaningful effort for safeguarding ICH.