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Cultural heritage explained

Types of Cultural Heritage

World Heritage Site

"World Heritage" refers to cultural or natural sites, or landmarks, considered to have a notable and universal value, as defined in the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1972, and this convention officially went into effect in 1975. The convention aims to establish a system of international cooperation to provide assistance in preserving these forms of cultural heritage around the world, for humanity as a whole. Japan signed this convention in 1992. As of December 2018, 1,092 entries have been inscribed in UNESCO’s list worldwide, with seventeen Cultural Heritage entries and four Natural Heritage entries for Japan. In Toyama Prefecture, Ainokura Village and Suganuma Village are counted among the Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama, a World Heritage Site.

Intangible Cultural Heritage

"Intangible Cultural Heritage" refers to forms of culture inscribed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List, per the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 2003, and this convention officially went into effect in 2006. It was established with the aim of protecting Intangible Cultural Heritage and raising awareness of the importance of mutual evaluation regarding these forms of culture. Japan cooperated with this project from its initial creation, and officially signed on in 2004. As of December 2018, 508 Intangible Cultural Heritage entries have been inscribed in UNESCO’s list worldwide, with 21 from Japan. The entry "Yama, Hoko, Yatai, Float Festivals in Japan" includes 33 cultural properties from throughout Japan. Three of these can be found in Toyama Prefecture: the Takaoka Mikurumayama Festival, the Uozu Tatemon Festival, and the Johana Hikiyama Festival in Nanto.

Japan Heritage

Japan Heritage is a program whereby the Agency for Cultural Affairs recognizes the unique stories of regions’ historic charm and local characteristics, based on a particular theme. This program was established in 2015 with the aim of recognizing the significance of various cultural properties, such as temples, shrines, castles, festivals, and traditional crafts, that are indispensable parts of these unique regional stories, and to proactively promote their appeal to domestic and international audiences as a means of revitalizing their home regions. In Toyama Prefecture, three such stories have been certified.

World Heritage, Intangible Cultural Heritage, and Japan Heritage in Toyama Prefecture

Category Name Date of Registration Location within the Prefecture
World Heritage Site Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama December 9, 1995 Nanto
Intangible Cultural Heritage Yama, Hoko, and Yatai Float Festivals November 30, 2016 Takaoka, Uozu, and Nanto
Japan Heritage Flourishing Folk Culture Under the Rule of the Maeda Family of Kaga April 24, 2015 Takaoka
Japan Heritage The Kitamae-Bune Sea Routes: Ports and Residences Built on the Dreams of Brave Seafarers April 28, 2017 Toyama, Takaoka (added later, on May 24, 2018)
Japan Heritage Inami Woodcarving Museum Born from the Chisels of Master Carpenters May 24, 2018 Nanto

Cultural Properties Explained

Cultural properties are properties collectively owned by the people of Japan, created and cultivated over the course of Japanese history, and which have been preserved to this day. The term "cultural property" was first defined in the Act on Protection of Cultural Properties (1950). People often tend to think of cultural properties as things like shrines, temples, Buddhist statues, or paintings, but the term also includes artisanal crafts, traditional festivals, rare flora and fauna, and natural landscapes. Cultural properties are selected, designated, registered, and protected at both the national and local levels, based on laws and ordinances.

Main cultural properties

Category Details
Tangible Cultural Properties Cultural properties with a tangible, visible form. This includes buildings (residences, temples and shrines, dams, etc.) and works of art (paintings, sculptures, documents, archaeological items, etc.). Items of particular importance to the country as a whole are classified as "important cultural properties,"" and those of further importance still are considered "national treasures."
Intangible Cultural Properties Cultural properties that are not physically observable. This includes traditional techniques and skills, such as delicate artisanal metalworking. People who have inherited these skills are officially known as "holders," but they are often colloquially referred to as "living national treasures."
Folk Cultural Properties Clothing, tools, and other everyday items used by people of old, that convey their traditional way of life, are referred to as tangible folk cultural properties, while traditions like ancient songs and dances are referred to as intangible folk cultural properties.
Natural Monuments (Protected Species) The remains of sites where people once lived and worked are known as "historic sites." Beautiful gardens or views of landscapes such as mountains or bodies of water are known as "scenic landscapes." Lastly, flora and fauna, as well as geological formations and rocks of importance, are referred to as "protected species" or "natural monuments." Those of particular importance are classified as "special historic sites," considered akin to national treasures.
Cultural Landscapes "Cultural landscape" refers to an area’s unique culture or climate, which is the result of that area’s way of life or work, such as farming or fishing villages. Those specially designated at the national level are classified as "important cultural landscapes."
Preservation Districts for Groups of Traditional Buildings Preserved historic streetscapes and village roads lined with old homes and storehouses, as found nationwide in castle towns, post towns, and towns built around temples or shrines, may be selected for preservation. Those specifically designated at the national level are classified as "important preservation districts for groups of traditional buildings."
Archaeological Cultural Properties This category refers to traces of ancient ways of life found in artifacts or sites buried underground. Archaeological excavations of these sites allow for a better understanding of the history and culture of a given region. When there are particularly important findings, the excavation sites are classified as "historic sites," while the artifacts themselves are classified as "important cultural properties (archaeological materials)."