Participation in the International Symposium “Cultural Heritage and Religion in East Asia” at Academia Sinica, Taiwan
The international symposium “Cultural Heritage and Religion in East Asia” was held at the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan, from January 8th to 9th, 2018. The participants at this symposium, co-hosted by Academia Sinica and The Australian National University, included specialists in cultural heritage studies from Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Australia, the U.S., and the U.K. As a representative from Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tomo ISHIMURA, Head of the Audio-Visual Documentation Section, Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage, was invited to present at the symposium. In his presentation titled “Intangible cultural heritage and the protection system related to religion in Japan,” ISHIMURA argued that the Act on Protection of Cultural Properties in Japan can cover some elements of intangible cultural heritage with religious associations, but not other elements, by citing the examples of the Shunie ceremony held at Todaiji Temple and the Yamahoko Junko parade held as part of the Gion Festival. As a commentator, a South Korean researcher reviewed ISHIMURA’s presentation from various perspectives, making reference to Japan’s postwar policy of separating religion from the state.
The main takeaway from this symposium was that many East Asian countries and regions recognize religion as an important element of intangible cultural heritage and that this notion is often reflected in their heritage protection and tourism policies. ISHIMURA also learned that this has both positive and negative aspects; while religious elements of heritage are protected under such policies, these elements can lose their original forms in the process of tourism or development.
In contrast, Japan does not, in principle, apply the Act on Protection of Cultural Properties to religious elements. In reality, however, while festivals celebrated primarily by religious bodies are not easily designated as cultural properties to be protected under this act, those celebrated primarily by local communities can be designated as cultural properties. It is, in fact, often difficult to separate religious and secular elements of actual festivals.
This symposium served as a valuable opportunity for us to reflect on what is considered “cultural heritage” in Japan, that is, what “cultural heritage” means in Japan, by comparing our country’s situation with examples of other countries.