Folk-cultural properties (民俗文化財)

Folk-cultural properties refer to material folk-culture with a particularly high value which require preservation measures, or measures or rules for such preservation are expected to be effective. They are designated as folk-cultural properties by the Government and the local public bodies in the context of the cultural heritage protection system. This section mainly describes the cases in Japan.

Folk-cultural properties in Japan are roughly categorized into folk-cultural properties tangible folk-cultural properties and folk-cultural properties intangible folk-cultural properties. The categories have a designation system for important tangible folk-cultural properties and important intangible folk-cultural properties, complemented by registered tangible folk-cultural properties and (commonly called) selected intangible folk-cultural properties, respectively. They are protected and managed in different manners.

Establishment of the folk-cultural property system in Japan

In Japan, folk-cultural properties became the cultural properties to be protected when the Act on Protection of Cultural Properties was enacted in 1950.
On this occasion, the present-day folk-cultural properties were designated as 'folklore materials,' and included in tangible cultural properties along with 'buildings' and 'arts and crafts.'
When the Act on Protection of Cultural Properties was revised in 1954 (commonly called 'primary revision'), the protection system for tangible material folk-culture was separated from the designation system for tangible cultural properties, and was refurbished as the designation system for 'important material folk-culture'. At the same time, a selection system for 'intangible folklore material for which records should be prepared' was introduced.
In the revision of 1975 (commonly called 'secondary revision'), the conventional term 'folklore materials' was renamed to 'folk-cultural properties,' and the conventional 'important folklore materials' came to be deemed as 'important tangible folk-cultural properties.'
In addition, a new designation system for 'important intangible folk-cultural properties' was introduced to complement the folk-cultural properties system. In the revision and enforcement of the law in 2005, a system for registered tangible folk-cultural properties was started to complement the designation system for important tangible folk-cultural properties system.

In the active Act on Protection of Cultural Properties, folk-cultural properties are defined in article 2, paragraph 1, item 3 as follows. Manners and customs related to food, clothing and housing, to occupations, religious faiths, annual observances, etc., folk performing arts and folk techniques, and clothes, implements, houses and other objects used therefor, which are indispensable for the understanding of changes in our people's modes of life. In this law, 'folk performing arts' (added in the revision in 1975) and 'folk techniques' (added in the revision in 2004) are added to the law revised in 1954.

Tangible folk-cultural properties

In Japan, the Government designates especially important items of tangible folk-cultural properties as important tangible folk-cultural properties, and takes protective measures. As of March 11, 2009, the following 207 items are designated.

Items used in relation to food, clothing and housing (28). Items used in relation to production and occupations (87). Items used in relation to traffic, transportation, and communication (18). Items used in relation to trading (1). Items used in relation to social life (1). Items used in relation to religious faiths (37). Items used in relation to folk knowledge (7). Items used in relation to folk performing arts, entertainments and playgames (23). Items used in relation to people's lives (3). Items used in relation to annual observances (2).

The local public bodies also designate 'tangible folk-cultural properties.'

Registered tangible folk-cultural properties

When the Act on Protection of Cultural Properties was revised in 2004, a registration system for folk-cultural properties was introduced, enabling tangible folk-cultural properties that require special preservation and utilization among those not designated by the Government or the local public bodies as such to be registered as registered tangible cultural properties. As of March 11, 2009, the following 12 items are registered.

Items used in relation to food, clothing and housing (1). Items used in relation to production and occupations (10). Items used in relation to folk performing arts, entertainments and playgames (1).

Intangible folk-cultural properties

In Japan, the Government designates especially important items among intangible folk-cultural properties as important intangible folk-cultural properties and takes protective measures. As of March 11, 2009, the following 264 items are registered.

Manners and customs
Production and occupations (6)
Life and rites (6)
Entertainment and athletic sport (7)
Social life (folk knowledge) (2)
Annual observances (28)
Festivals (religious faiths) (54)
Others (0)
Folk performing arts
Kagura (sacred music and dancing performed at shrines) (30)
Dengaku (ritual music and dancing in shrines and temples) (24)
Furyu (spectacular dancing) (33)
Narratives and entertainment for blessing (5)
Ennen (singing and dancing performed by priests and pages after Buddhist services in temples, which started from the mid Heian period) and deed (7)
Entertainment from abroad and stage performance (36)
Others (16)
Folk techniques
Production and occupations (8)
Food, clothing and housing (2)

Prefectural governments and local municipalities also designate 'intangible folk-cultural properties.'

Selected intangible folk-cultural properties

When especially necessary, the Commissioner of the Agency for Cultural Affairs selects folk-cultural properties among those other than important intangible folk-cultural properties as 'intangible folk-cultural properties for which records should be prepared' (commonly-called selected intangible folk-cultural properties), and supports researches and recording conducted by local public bodies. As of March 11, 2008, the following 572 items are selected.

Manners and customs
Production and occupations (49)
Life and rites (15)
Entertainment and athletic sport (14)
Social life (folk knowledge) (15)
Annual observances (40)
Festivals (religious faiths) (89)
Others (0)
Folk performing arts
Kagura (59)
Dengaku (42)
Furyu (116)
Narratives and entertainment for blessing (8)
Ennen and deed (14)
Entertainment from abroad and stage performance (75)
Others (35)
Folk techniques
Production and occupations (1)
Others (0)

Supplemental remarks

The items in the Act on Protection of Cultural Properties, article 2, paragraph 1 defines cultural properties as follows.
Tangible cultural properties
Intangible cultural properties
Folk-cultural properties
Monuments
Groups of historic buildings
Cultural scenery

Among these categories, the difference between 'intangible cultural properties' and 'tangible cultural properties' is explained below.

The Act on Protection of Cultural Properties defines intangible cultural properties as follows. Arts and skills employed in drama, music and applied arts, and other intangible cultural products which possess a high historical and/or artistic value in and for this country. Specifically, traditional performing arts such as nogaku (the art of Noh), kabuki and joruri (dramatic narrative chanted to a samisen accompaniment), and traditional crafts such as manufacturing of ceramics and lacquer ware.
The cultural properties here are deemed as intangible 'techniques' themselves, and the people or organizations that have such 'techniques' are certified as 'holders.'

On the other hand, the Act on Protection of Cultural Properties mentioned earlier states folk-cultural properties as follows, emphasizing the historical material aspect. Those which are indispensable for the understanding of changes in our people's modes of life.

According to the Act on Protection of Cultural Properties of Japan, 'intangible cultural properties' refer to 'highly sophisticated techniques' and 'professional skills,' and individuals and organizations that have such techniques and skills are certified as 'holders.'
On the other hand, those designated as 'intangible folk-cultural properties' are lives, customs and events of commoners themselves, such as manners and customs, folk performing arts and annual observances, for which individuals or organizations are not certified as 'holders.'

For this reason, in the Act on Protection of Cultural Properties of Japan, intangible folk-cultural properties are persistently categorized into 'folk-cultural properties' instead of 'intangible cultural properties.'
However, unlike the Japanese law that distinguishes 'intangible cultural properties' from 'intangible folk-cultural properties', Intangible Cultural Heritage does not differentiate the two.