Online Observations of the Fifteenth Session of the Intergovernmental Committee on the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO

 The Fifteenth Session of the Intergovernmental Committee on the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO was held from December 14th to 19th, 2020. It was originally to be held in Jamaica but owing to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the meeting of the Committee was held using a fully online modality. The secretariat was at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris; however States Parties as well as the committee member states, including Jamaica, the Chair, participated in the online meeting from their respective locations. The meetings were broadcasted in real time on the UNESCO website, and two researchers from our Institute observed the proceedings.
 The number of agenda items to be discussed was kept to a minimum because it was online, and the session was scheduled from 1:30 pm to 4:30 pm local time in Paris (9:30 pm to 0:30 am Japan time) each day. In spite of these constraints, three elements were inscribed on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding (Urgent Safeguarding List), and 29 elements on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (Representative List). Further, three programmes were added to the Register of Good Safeguarding Practices. In addition, one of the elements added to the Urgent Safeguarding List has been approved for international assistance from the Intangible Cultural Heritage Fund.
 Among them, “Traditional skills, techniques and knowledge for the conservation and transmission of wooden architecture in Japan” was added to the Representative List. This element includes 17 conservation techniques selected by the government. They are “building repair,” “building woodwork,” “roofing with Japanese cypress bark or with wood shingles,” “thatching,” “cypress bark harvesting,” “roof panel production,” “thatch harvesting,” “building decoration,” “building coloring,” “building lacquer painting,” “clay tile roofing (using both round and square tiles),” “plastering (Japanese walls),” “fittings production,” “tatami mat production,” “repair and conservation skills for paintings and calligraphies,” “Japanese lacquer production and refinement,” and “gold leaf production.” Until now, most of the elements nominated by Japan and successfully inscribed on the List are nationally important intangible cultural properties and intangible folk cultural properties. However, the set of nationally selected conservation techniques was inscribed for the first time. Japan is famous for its many great historical wooden structures that have been handed down in good condition to the present generation by the skilled craftsmen and technicians who repaired and maintained them in excellent condition. Therefore, the inscription of traditional building techniques is also significant because it highlights the work of those artisans working “behind the scenes.” It is also an example of the relationship between tangible and intangible cultural heritages, which has received international acclaim.
 Nominations from other States Parties that were newly added to the Representative List include “Hawker culture in Singapore, Community Dining and Culinary Practices in a Multicultural Urban Context” (Singapore), which refers to the popular street food culture in Singapore, and “Taijiquan” (China), which has many enthusiasts in Japan. A large number of nominations for elements related to lifestyle and culture, such as these mentioned above, was one of the international trends. In addition, “Craft techniques and customary practices of cathedral workshops, or Bauhütten, in Europe, know-how, transmission, development of knowledge and innovation” (Germany, Austria, France, Norway, Switzerland) were selected for being registered as Good Safeguarding Practices. These practices are related to Bauhütten, a cooperative of artists and artisans involved in the construction and repair of cathedrals. It is similar to the traditional building techniques nominated by Japan. However, what is interesting is that while Japan nominated them to the Representative List, Europeans proposed inclusion of these techniques to the Register of Good Safeguarding Practices as an example of heritage conservation activities, showing the difference in approaches.
 As Jamaica was the chair country of the session, reggae music, which had been added to the Representative List in 2018, was played in the background of the online broadcast. Unfortunately, there was no scope to experience live reggae music in Jamaica. However, we would like to express our respect to Jamaica, the Chair, as well as the staff of UNESCO, the secretariat, for successfully completing the first online committee session.

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