13 Japanese cultural traditions included in UNESCO list

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Koshikijima no Toshidon, a traditional event depicting a visiting deity. (Photo courtesy of the Agency for Cultural Affairs)

Thirteen Japanese cultural traditions including a float ceremony of the Kyoto Gion Festival were inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity at a session in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

The Japanese government had originally submitted an additional tradition, the process of repairing wood carvings, for inclusion in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s list, but withdrew the submission after a screening panel criticized it.

Proposals for inclusion in the list began in 2008, and successful candidates were selected by the 24 member states of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage. In contrast with World Heritage sites, there is no on-site screening, and the candidates can be included on the intangible cultural heritage list through paperwork alone.

Japan’s Ningyo Joruri Bunraku Puppet Theatre, Kabuki and Nogaku Theatre, which had received praise from UNESCO, were all inscribed on the list without screening in 2008.

Wood carving repair is a government-designated preservation art involving the repair of Buddhist statues, wooden masks and the like, performed by the Nihon Bijutsuin (The Japan Art Institute). Out of 111 candidates submitted by countries across the world, the repair art was one of 35 deemed unsuitable for inclusion on the list for reasons such as a lack of information.

At first the Japanese government had thought that almost all of the candidates would be approved.

“It was unexpected for something to be dropped like this (during a preliminary screening),” a representative of the Agency for Cultural Affairs said. It will make a new suggestion in 2010 to include the carving repair art on the list in 2011.

The Japanese government is placing precedence on proposing candidates starting from the earliest to receive government recognition, considering the balance between different fields and regions. It submitted another 13 candidates in 2009.

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