Heritage, Volume 8, Number 3, Summer 1990 Page: 15
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Tabayashi (ritual rice planting) on mall in Washington D.C. Japan Program, 1986 Festival of American
Folklife. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Institution.
1929, this law was broadened to become the Law for the
Preservation of National Treasures. The Law for the Preservation
of Historic Sites, Scenic Spots, and National Monuments was
passed in 1919. These laws were consolidated in the 1950 Law for
the Protection of Cultural Properties.7
It is the 1950 law which is of most concern to folklorists because
it included provisions not only for the material manifestations of
tradition, but also for the tradition bearers. Law No. 214 of 1950
provided for "intangible cultural products that are of considerable
historical or artistic importance for the country as well as
traditional techniques for the conservation of cultural heritage."
An item of intangible culture may be designated as an "important
cultural property," hence entitled to special protection. An
important cultural property of especially high value may be
designated as a national treasure.
Japan's leading folklorist of the period, Yanagita Kunio, was a
member of the Cultural Properties Commission in the early 1950s
and was instrumental in shaping the provisions that gave special
recognition to folklife materials. Yanagita's definition of folklore
was holistic-including material, verbal, and customary aspects of
culture-and, although he was non-ideological, he saw folklore as
an area of scholarship that would serve the public good.9 In
contrast, during the same period, American folklore scholars
tended to restrict the definition of folklore to oral literature and
were generally not involved in the public sector.
The "intangible cultural properties" category of protection
recognizes that many cultural resources are manifested by the
actions of human beings. For instance, the traditional performing
arts have no real existence outside of their performance by living
individuals. Interestingly enough, the skills employed in the
applied arts-such as pottery, woodcarving, lacquering,
swordsmithing, and weaving-are also recognized as intangible
cultural properties. While the products themselves are material,
the tradition is preserved by humans.
The designation is twofold. The arts or skills are designated as
important intangible cultural properties, while the artists or
craftspeople are designated as their "Holders." The best known
aspect of this Japanese policy is the designation of "Holders of the
Most Important Intangible Cultural Properties," popularly known
as "Living National Treasures." Of these "Living National
HERITAGE * SUMMER 1990 15
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 8, Number 3, Summer 1990, periodical, Summer 1990; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45427/m1/15/: accessed September 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.