Important Cultural Properties (重要文化財)

Important cultural properties are tangible cultural heritage (such as constructions, buildings and the art craft articles) in Japan that are designated as being culturally, historically or academically important under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties by the Japanese government (or the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology). It is often abbreviated as ICP. National Institutes for Cultural Heritage refers to these important cultural heritages as "Important Cultural Properties" in English.

While a local public entity (prefectural or municipal) may refer to a certain tangible property under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties as a 'prefectural designated important cultural property' or a 'municipally designated important cultural property,' the term 'important cultural property' generally indicates that the tangible property is designated as a nationally important cultural property. This section describes, unless otherwise specified, the national designation of important cultural properties based on the regulations in Ordinance 27 of the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties.

Cultural Properties and Important Cultural Properties

The term "cultural properties" refers to all of those different cultural heritages (regardless of whether or not they are tangible) as designated, selected or registered by the nation or by a local government. Under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties (Ordinance 2, Clause 1), 'cultural properties' are classified into six categories: 'tangible cultural properties,' 'intangible cultural properties,' 'folk cultural properties,' 'monuments (historical sites, places of scenic beauty and natural monuments,' 'cultural scenery' and 'classic architecture'; among them, 'tangible cultural properties' are designated by the nation (or the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) as 'important cultural properties' (under Ordinance 27, Clause 1 of the same law).

As described above, "important cultural properties" as a legal and administrative term is not a general reference to all nationally designated cultural properties. Instead, the term refers only to nationally designated tangible cultural properties, so please be aware of this point.
Similar terms such as 'important intangible cultural properties,' 'important tangible folk cultural properties' and 'important intangible folk cultural properties' should not be confused with 'important cultural properties,' since they belong to different categories; for example, it's inappropriate to abbreviate 'important tangible folk cultural properties' as 'important cultural properties.'

National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties

Among the important cultural properties, those made with extraordinarily superb craftsmanship, or precious items with particularly high academic value such as historical significance, are designated as national treasures. Therefore, underin law, the classification national treasure is a subgroup of the category Important Cultural Property.

However, under the system that existed prior to the enforcement of the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties, which occurred in 1950, all of what are now designated as important cultural properties were called national treasures, so this point should be noted in order to avoid confusion.

Prefectural or Municipally Designated Tangible Cultural Properties

Under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties (Ordinance 182, Clause 2), a local public entity (prefectural or municipal) may also designate certain heritage (other than nationally designated cultural properties) within its territory as important properties, and may choose the measures necessary for their preservation or their proper use. Accordingly, each prefecture or municipality may legislate its own ordinances for the protection of cultural properties and may designate its own tangible or intangible cultural properties. These cultural properties are written as 'OO prefectural designated cultural property' or 'OO municipal designated cultural property' so as to distinguish them from the nationally designated cultural properties.

Regarding the prefectural or municipally designated tangible cultural properties, many cases are classified as and named with the suffix 'tangible cultural properties,' such as 'Tokyo municipally designated tangible cultural properties,' but the same kinds of cultural properties may be classified as 'Aomori prefectural treasures' in Aomori Prefecture, 'Nagano prefectural treasures' in Nagano Prefecture or 'Tottori prefectural designated cultural properties' in Tottori Prefecture; however, there is no preset rule, so each prefecture or municipality may individually name them in accordance with its ordinances for the protection of cultural properties. Among the 47 prefectures and municipalities, Fukushima, Gunma, Kanagawa, Gifu, Okayama, Hiroshima and Saga designate, based on their prefectural or municipal ordinances, some selected tangible cultural properties as 'OOprefectural/municipal important cultural properties'; these should not be confused with the nationally designated important cultural properties. Also, in tourist information leaflets or guidebooks the terms 'nationally important cultural properties' or 'NIC' can often be seen to distinguish them from cultural properties, but these aren't official terms; nationally designated tangible cultural properties under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties are officially known as important cultural properties.

Outline of the Designation Procedures

Concerning the designation for a candidate of important cultural property, the Agency for Cultural Affairs will conduct a preliminary investigation and the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology will consult with the Council for Cultural Affairs regarding the heritage that is to be designated. Within the Council for Cultural Affairs, the subcommittee on cultural assets will hold a discussion meeting to vote for the appropriate designation, after which the Agency for Cultural Affairs will submit to the Minister (of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) an approval application for being an important cultural property. Once the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology receives this, he/she will publish information such as the name and the ownership of the heritage for designation in an official gazette; subsequently, a letter of designation will be delivered to the owner of the important cultural property concerned (Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties, Ordinances 27, 28 and 153). Legally, from the date the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology indicates the approval in an official gazette, the designation of the important cultural property becomes effective.
Furthermore, the approval is based on 'Designation Criteria for National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties.'

Edict for the Preservation of Antiquities and Old Items

Antiquities and Old Items

In Japan, the earliest ordinance concerning cultural properties is the 'Edict for the Preservation of Antiquities and Old Items,' which was announced by the early Meiji government in 1871. Based on the edict and a checklist of 'antiques and old items' submitted to temples and shrines mainly in the Kinki region, Jinshin Kensa, the first investigation of cultural properties in Japan, was conducted from May through October of 1872 (a year after the edict). Incidentally, "Jinshin" is the astrological term for the year 1872, and "kensa" means "investigation" in the modern Japanese language. During this Jinshin Inspection, along with officials from the Education Ministry such as Hisanari MACHIDA (the first director of the Tokyo National Museum) and Noritane NINAGAWA, Yuichi TAKAHASHI (a painter) and Matsusaburo YOKOYAMA (a photographer) accompanied the team as recorders.

Treasures

In 1888, the Bureau for Provisional Inspection of National Treasures was established within the Imperial Household Ministry. The bureau's director was Ryuichi KUKI, who later became the president of the National Museum; the officials in charge included Tenshin OKAKURA and Ernest Francisco Fenollosa, who contributed significantly to modern Japanese art history. The "treasures" mentioned here are those 'works of arts and crafts' under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties; that is, they encompass tangible cultural properties other than buildings and structures.

Law for the Preservation of Old Shrines and Temples

National treasures and buildings under special protection

Based on the investigation, the first designation of cultural properties in Japan was made under the Law for the Preservation of Old Shrines and Temples, which was enacted in 1897. In the official gazette dated December 28, 1897, the first designation notification was published; it included 155 national treasures and 44 buildings under special protection. The national treasures and buildings or construction works under the Law for Preserving Old Shrines and Temples were equivalent to the present-day 'important cultural properties' under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties. As suggested by its name, the Law for Preservation of Old Shrines and Temples protected all the constructions and treasures belonging to a targeted shrine or temple, and therefore the national treasures and buildings under special protection designated under the same law might request expenditures from the National Treasury for preservation and repair purposes; this law called for the compilation of a list of candidate properties.

Law for Preservation of National Treasures

National treasures

Then in 1929, in lieu of the Law for the Preservation of Old Shrines and Temples, the Law for the Preservation of National Treasures was enacted. Under the new law, not only the properties owned by old shrines or temples but also the properties owned by the nation, a local government, a corporation or an individual might become candidates for designation as national treasures. Moreover, the designation "building under special protection" was abolished and such buildings or structures were reclassified as national treasures.

This law was enacted to address concerns that castles in various places were deteriorating and that the items of the old territorial lord families were being scattered or lost. Based on the Law for the Preservation of National Treasures, Tokugawa Family Mausoleum (personal ownership) in Tokyo and Nagoya Castle (owned by Nagoya City) and so on were designated in 1930 as national treasures; the next year (1931), the paintings, etc., which were housed in the Tokyo School of Fine Arts (the present-day Tokyo University of Arts) (and owned by the nation) were designated as national treasures. Designations in accordance with the Law for Preservation of National Treasures continued until 1944 during World War II, but the next year they were temporarily interrupted; during the postwar period there were only two designations (in February and May), each of which was in 1949.

Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties

Important Cultural Properties

In 1950, the Law for the Preservation of National Treasures; the Law for the Preservation of Historic Spots, Scenic Beauties and Natural Monuments; and the Law for the Preservation of Important Fine Arts (for the designation of important fine arts) were integrated and compiled as the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties. It is widely known that this legislation was triggered by the fire at the Golden Pavilion of Horyu-ji Temple and the damage to the mural painting that had occurred the previous year. With the announcement of this law, in lieu of the former term 'treasure,' terms such as 'cultural property' and 'important cultural property' came into official use for the first time. Moreover, because it included a designation system for intangible cultural properties (which had until then been outside the designation or protection), it was at the time an innovative law.

From 'national treasures' under the old law to important cultural properties

Between 1897 and 1949, based on the Law for the Preservation of National Treasures and the Law for the Preservation of Old Shrines and Temples, there were 5,824 cases involving treasures (art or craft items) and 1,059 cases involving buildings designated as national treasures, excluding those that had been burned in fires. These so-called 'old national treasures' all became known as important cultural properties on August 29, 1950, when the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties went into effect. Among these important cultural properties, the particularly valuable items with historical significance in Japanese culture were re-designated as national treasures. In other words, the official meaning of 'national treasure' was different before 1950 than it was afterward; a national treasure under the former law is equivalent to an important cultural property under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties.
To avoid confusion in this respect, the national treasures under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties are commonly referred to as 'new national treasures.'
It is in any case a misconception that some national treasures designated prior to World War II were demoted to the postwar status of important cultural properties.

Number of designated cases

Important cultural properties can be classified into the buildings category and the artworks and crafts category; the artworks and crafts category is further divided into seven sections, namely paintings, sculptures, crafts, calligraphies and books, archaeological resources, ancient documents and historical resources.
The numbers of designated cases are as follows:

Buildings - 2,328 cases or 4,210 buildings (among which 213 cases or 257 buildings are national treasures) (designated up to December 21, 2007)

Art works and crafts - 10,283 cases (among which 861 cases are national treasures) (designated up to June 8, 2007)

Paintings - 1,952 cases (among which 157 cases are national treasures)

sculptures - 2,623 cases (among which 126 cases are national treasures)

crafts - 2,410 cases (among which 252 cases are national treasures)

calligraphies and books - 1,860 cases (among which 223 cases are national treasures)

Ancient documents - 722 cases (among which 59 cases are national treasures)

Archaeological resources - 564 cases (among which 42 cases are national treasures)

Historical resources - 152 cases (among which two cases are national treasures)

Management Body

In accordance with the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties, Ordinance 32, Clause 2, "If it is unclear as to the owner of an important cultural property, or if it is obviously admitted that the management by the owner or the management representative is noticeably difficult or improper, the chief officer of Agency for Cultural Affairs may then assign a suitable local public entity or other corporation to perform the necessary management (…details omitted…) in order to protect the important cultural property concerned." Based on this ordinance, the corporation thus assigned is called the 'management body' of the concerned important cultural property.
Examples of such management bodies are as follows:

Concerning the castles owned by the national government, the local municipality is assigned as the management body (an example is Himeji Castle, which is owned by the national government but managed by Himeji City government as the management body).

For a common edifice such as a statue of Buddha or a stone monument, the local municipality is designated as the management body.

Regarding edifices such as a Buddha statue or a Buddha hall belonging to a temple or a shrine with no chief monk or priest, another temple or shrine in the vicinity or the local municipality is designated as the management body.

Particular examples include the Sutra Warehouse and the Honchi-do Hall located in Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture. For these two edifices, since it is not certain whether they belong to Nikko Tosho-gu Shrine or Rinno-ji Temple, the foundation Nikko Cultural Assets Association for the Preservation of Shrines and Temples is designated as the management body.

Cancellation of the Designation

The Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties, Ordinance 29, stipulates, 'When a national treasure or an important cultural property has lost its value as a national treasure or an important cultural property, the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology may, given these special circumstances, cancel its designation as a national treasure or an important cultural property.'
The majority of cancellations of designations as important cultural properties based on this ordinance are in reference to those that have burned in fires.
The following are examples in which designations have been canceled for reasons other than because the properties have burned down:

On April 10, 1961, three pieces of earthenware had their designations as important cultural properties canceled. Although these were designated as excellent goods of the old Seto during the Kamakura period, scientific investigations revealed that they were in fact modern pieces of work (refer to the section 'Einin no Tsubo Scandal').

On April 15, 1982, a deep-pot type of pottery of the Jomon period had its designation as an important cultural property canceled. Although the earthenware dated back to the Jomon period, the characteristic ear with decoration shaped like a snake near the rim of the mouth was not original; therefore, since it was presumed that this was the result of restoration, its designation as an ICP was canceled.

Designations as Modern Masterpieces

Paintings

In 1955, Hogai KANO's "Hibo Kannon, (Mother of All Creatures; Goddess of Mercy)" and "Fudo Myoo (Acala, God of Fire)," and Gaho HASHIMOTO's "White Clouds and Autumn Leaves" were the first designated modern masterpieces. Thereafter, both Japanese-style paintings and Western-style paintings from various painters have been designated as modern masterpieces. And Gyoshu HAYAMI's "Autumn Scene of a Famous Camellia Tree" was the first to be designated as a modern masterpiece in 1977 in the Showa period.

Sculptures

The first work to be designated as a modern masterpiece in 1967 was Morie OGIWARA's work entitled "A Woman." The 'modern masterpiece' designation was given to a work by Vincenzo Ragusa, an Italian who came to Japan and taught sculpture at a school of craft and art.

Crafts

Ornament of a Bronze Eagle' by the caster Chokichi SUZUKI was the first to be designated as a modern masterpiece in 2001. In pottery, works by Hazan ITAYA and Kozan MIYAGAWA were the first to be designated in 2002.

Buildings

The first ferroconcrete building to be called an important cultural property was the former Yamamura family house which was given that designation in 1974 (the Yodoko guest house, Ashiya City, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, completed in 1924). It was also the first building of the Taisho period to receive the first designation; its value was recognized just 50 years after its completion. The Meiji Life Building (designed by Sinichiro OKADA, completed in 1934) was the first structure of the Showa period to be designated in 1997 as an important cultural property. Other buildings of the Showa period designated as important cultural properties included the Mitsui Life Main Building (designated in 1998), the former Tokyo Imperial Museum Main Building (currently the Tokyo National Museum Main Building, designated in 2001), and the Cotton Building (designed by Takashi WATANABE, designated in 2003). Moreover, in 2006 the Memorial Cathedral for World Peace (designed by Togo MURANO, completed in August 1954), which is for holding funerals for victims of the atomic bomb and praying for global peace, and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (designed by Kenzo TANGE and opened in August 1955), which is a central facility in Hiroshima Peace Park, were the first postwar buildings designated as important cultural properties. Furthermore in 1978, Meiji Maru was the only ship designated as an important cultural property.

Designations of Private Houses

It was after World War II that private houses such as farmhouses, fishermen's houses and merchant houses came to attention as cultural properties. Commensurate with high economic growth, the Japanese lifestyle has changed; when traditional private houses began rapidly disappearing in the 1960s, the designation of private houses as important cultural properties was accelerated. Only two cases involving private houses received national designation before the end of World War II: the Yoshimura Residence (designated in 1937) in Habikino City, Osaka Prefecture, and the Ogawa Residence (a.k.a. 'Nijo-jinya,' designated in 1944) in Kyoto City.

Designation of a Building and Its Land

With the 1975 revision of the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties, a building and its land could be designated as an important cultural property. In the first statement of Ordinance 2, Clause 1 of the same law, the concept that the building and 'the land or other construction that forms the value' is a 'tangible cultural property' that is eligible for designation as an important cultural property was included and clearly described. Based on this regulation, the first designation of such land as an important cultural property was done in 1976; together with the building of a private house, the site was designated as an important cultural property. In fact, the designation of a private house as an important cultural property together with the land implies the intent to preserve the entire residence for posterity, thus encompassing not only the private house main building but also the attached construction such as the gate, fence, warehouse, well, shrine, structures such as stone walls, the waterway, garden, and moat, housing lot, forest, etc. Regarding land and building designated as important cultural properties, besides this private house there are also cases such as temples or shrines, as well as some modern structures.

Designations of Historical Resources

With the 1975 revision of the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties, the category entitled 'Historical Resources Section' was established. The first designation of an historical resource designated as an important cultural property occurred in 1977; at that time two cases were designated, namely 'Christian materials of the Nagasaki Magistrate Office' (Tokyo National Museum) and 'Printing block of a Kasuga print' (Kofuku-ji Temple, Nara City). Additionally, there were some designated important cultural properties that were originally classified as paintings or calligraphies and books but were moved to the historical resources classification. As one example, 'materials related to the mission to Europe in the Keicho era,' kept at the Sendai City Museum, was designated as an important cultural property in the paintings section in 1966, but with the above-mentioned revision of the Law for the Protection for Cultural Properties it was moved to the historical resources section; in 2001, it became the first historical resource to be designated as a national treasure.

The historical resources thus far designated cover a wide range of types: they may be a batch of materials concerning a politician, a scholar or some person in history, old photographs and their negative plates, old maps, old printing type, materials related to science and technology or materials related to industry. Batches of materials thus designated have been in reference to the following people: Choei TAKANO, Rinzo MAMIYA, Ryoma SAKAMOTO, Toshimichi OKUBO and Tomomi IWAKURA. For historical resources related to science and technology, there are the electrical works of Gennai HIRAGA, an early astronomical telescope, a celestial globe, a Morse telegraphic instrument, etc. The historical resources related to industry include an early printing press, spinning machine, railway carriage, etc.

The Designation of Modernization Heritage

These are construction heritages related to industrial, traffic and civil engineering works attributed to the modernization of Japan since the Meiji period. In more concrete terms, they include collieries, power plants, dams, watersheds, canals, railway installations, port installations, etc., and since the end of the twentieth century they've received attention as a new genre of cultural properties. These are collectively called 'modernization heritage'; since 1993 they have become candidates for designation as important cultural properties in the 'buildings' section. Incidentally, two cases were designated in 1993: 'Water supply installations of the Fujikura watershed' in Akita City, and 'Railway installations of the Usui Pass' in Gunma Prefecture. The designation regarding 'water supply installations of the Fujikura watershed' includes the land and facilities such as the dam, reservoir and settling pond; as for the designation of 'railway installations of the Usui Pass,' in addition to the connecting bridge and the tunnel, the entire system--including the land and the attached facilities such as the power plant--was designated as the object of preservation.