Response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage
The spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has been continually causing a serious impact on the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage at in Japan and abroad.
For example, in the field of traditional performing arts, performances face forced cancellation or postponement, or the reduction of the number of seats even if performances resume. The production of musical instruments and costumes to support traditional performing arts also has been suffering from a serious impact caused by the decline in demand. In the area of traditional craftsmanship as well, we can observe negative effects like restrictions on holding exhibitions, which serve as the occasions to present work, and limitation on opportunities and venues for sales. Furthermore, we know these traditional performing arts and craftsmanship are, in most cases transposed to the next generation through face-to-face training and skill transfer, facing serious diminution of such opportunities.
We can also observe serious impacts on folk performing arts, customs, and techniques handed down in local regions. Regarding these intangible folk cultural properties, it is true that the aging and declining population had already made it difficult for many of them to survive in local areas, It is concerned that this COVID-19 pandemic spurs them to further deterioration, now leading a number of them to face possible annihilation.
When it comes to international affairs, there are concerns that the existence of intangible cultural heritage handed down by ethnic groups is at stake in countries and regions already facing challenges in the medical system and sanitary environment.
Although the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are generally widespread on tangible and intangible cultural heritage, we believe that the effect on so-called living heritage including intangible cultural heritage is very serious. This is because such heritage is supported by the activities of living humans, and activities by humans are exactly what the COVID-19 pandemic restrains most.
The Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties has been widely collecting information on the effects of the COVID-19 on intangible cultural heritage in Japan and overseas since April 2020. Among them are information on cancellation and postponement of performances, exhibitions and festivities, information on their resumption, information on support (benefits, subsidies etc.) by the government, local public organizations and private organizations, information on new attempts including online distribution and disclosure of performances and exhibitions, information on situations in each country and attempts by international organizations including UNESCO.
We are also working to disseminate some of the collected information. For example, we launched the webpage of “COVID-19 and Intangible Cultural Heritage” (https://www.tobunken.go.jp/ich/vscovid19) on the website of the department. This webpage provides information on supports by the government, local public organizations and private organizations as well as discloses the analytic results of statistical information on postponement, cancellation and resumption of related businesses regarding the effects of the COVID-19 disaster on traditional performing arts. We also launched Facebook Groups “COVID-19 and Intangible Cultural Heritage” (https://www.facebook.com/groups/3078551232201858) on the Facebook page of the Institute to provide information on supports as well as information on new attempts and information on international trends. Anyone who has a Facebook account can join the group as a member and receive information on a regular basis. Also, anyone who has a Facebook account can read articles even without becoming a member.
We are also working to disseminate information through holding forums. In September, we are going to hold “Traditional Performing Arts and Novel Coronavirus” as the forum 1 of “Series Forum: COVID-19 and Intangible Cultural Heritage.” In December, we plan to hold “Intangible Folk Cultural Property in Novel Corona Virus Pandemic (tentative title)” as the forum 2. From the viewpoint of preventing the infectious disease, we have to limit the number of participants and have some presenters participate by recording or remote call. We plan to upload the videos of the forum online for a certain period of time. We will release the details of these forums in our future activity report.
The situation of the COVID-19 disaster is changing from moment to moment, making it already difficult even at present to obtain information on the preceding situation. Therefore, we are going to continuously collect information and comprehensively analyze the data including information not published on websites and in forums so that we will be able to effectively utilize them to contribute to the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage.