Make Active Use of Registration System to Protect Cultural Properties

These efforts are expected to lead to momentum in the protection of local festivals and culture familiar to people’s daily lives.

In order to expand the registration system for cultural properties, the government is aiming to submit a bill to revise the Cultural Properties Protection Law in the ordinary Diet session next year. Intangible cultural properties such as theatrical plays, music and crafts, and intangible folk cultural properties such as ritual culture will be newly covered.

The registration system is comparable to the designation system for national treasures and important cultural properties. Currently, it is applied to tangible cultural properties such as buildings and artistic crafts. The system is characterized by being able to cover a wide range of cultural properties in a relaxed manner.

While the designation system provides generous support for restoration and other matters, it also restricts sales and changes to a property’s current condition. In the case of buildings, once they are designated as national treasures or important cultural properties, owners are required to obtain permission from the government for reinforcement work so as not to damage their value.

Notifying the government is all that is required for such purposes regarding registered cultural properties. It is easy for the system to be understood. There are more than 12,000 registered buildings in Japan.

The policy of expanding the scope to include intangible cultural properties is a response to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

A number of festivals and performances have been canceled or postponed, and the impact on culture and art in general is spreading. The government’s efforts to utilize a mechanism to protect such cultural properties in addition to the emergency subsidies for continued activities are commendable.

Due to the nature of the registration system, large subsidies cannot be expected. Even so, it would be an opportunity for performers, artisans and local communities to take pride in a cultural activity that is recognized as a national asset.

With the aging of the population as well as depopulation, this step will help motivate people to protect and utilize traditional culture. It is also important to cooperate with local governments that pay attention to and support local conditions. The roles of the national government and local governments must be sorted out.

In the future, the government is considering expanding the scope to include more cultural assets that are close to people’s daily lives and registering them as cultural properties. It is planning to research such matters as the tea ceremony, calligraphy and culture linked to food and alcohol.

Such cultural assets differ greatly in terms of their origins or the circumstances of their performers and artisans. In order to make them eligible for registration, it is necessary to determine their historical value and the current status of activities. A thorough examination will be necessary.

If the scope of subjects to be protected is expanded, it is undeniable that the system will become more complicated. In the past, the focus has been on the value of such items as archaeological sites, scenic spots, landscapes and cityscapes, which have been included as subjects to be protected by the law. As a result, it has certainly become difficult to see the whole picture.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the enforcement of the law. The government must explain the system in an easy-to-understand manner so that an awareness of protecting cultural properties can be shared widely.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 12, 2020.