Participation in the 8th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage

Baku, the site of the session
Discussion by the Intergovernmental Committee

 The 8th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage met in Baku, Azerbaijan from December 2 to 7, 2013. Three researchers from the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo attended the meeting to examine trends related to the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (the UNESCO’s 2003 Convention).
 In the Intergovernmental Committee, State Parties are most interested in discussion of elements to inscribe on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (the Representative List). During the session, discussion by the Intergovernmental Committee resulted in 25 elements being inscribed on the Representative List. Five of these, including “Washoku, traditional dietary cultures of the Japanese, notably for the celebration of New Year,” concerned cuisine. Inscription of Washoku was a topic of conversation in Japan. The items to be inscribed on the Representative List are cultural activities or traditions related to cuisine, but few people may be aware that what was inscribed on the list is not Japanese food (i.e. ways to prepare Japanese dishes) but is actually Japanese cuisine (i.e. Japanese dining culture).
 Another important topic was the ceiling of the number of files nominated for discussion. There had been a ceiling of 60 files a year that could be discussed by the Intergovernmental Committee, but the decision was made to lower that ceiling to 100 files in total for 2 years. Japan has long provided legal protection to intangible cultural properties, and Japan has numerous elements it wishes to nominate. Japan has adopted an approach of nominating a group of elements like Washi (Japanese paper), which it nominated this year. However, States Parties that have already inscribed a number of their elements on the Representative List are often asked to refrain from making nominations. In the future, Japan will probably be unable to vastly increase the number of its nominations. However, the aim of UNESCO’s 2003 Convention is to recognize diversity in intangible cultural heritage and protect that heritage through the inscription of various elements on the Representative List. Thus, countries must identify their intangible cultural heritage and they must accurately discern and document the properties of that heritage, but some countries are lagging in those efforts. Thus, Japan has ample latitude with which to make the principles of UNESCO’s 2003 Convention a reality by having Japanese experts provide support to countries around the world.

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