Report on the “Asia-Pacific Regional Workshop on Intangible Cultural Heritage and Natural Disasters”
Seven staff of our Institute, including the Deputy Director General Emiko YAMANASHI, participated in the “Asia-Pacific Regional Workshop on Intangible Cultural Heritage and Natural Disasters” co-organized by the International Research Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region (IRCI) and our Institute and held in Sendai on December 7th to 9th, 2018. This workshop was conducted as the conclusion of the “Research on Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) Safeguarding and Disaster Risk Management in the Asia-Pacific Region” conducted by the IRCI since 2016. Additionally, the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage of our Institute cooperated in this project and dispatched staff for field surveys in Vietnam, the Philippines, and Fiji.
Cultural heritage and disaster risk management experts from eight countries in the Asia-Pacific Region were invited to this workshop. Together with experts from Japan and other countries, they reported and discussed how to protect intangible cultural heritage from natural disasters. On the second day, Hiromichi KUBOTA of the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage conducted an excursion to Onagawa-cho, Miyagi Prefecture, to show the participants the roles the intangible cultural heritage played in the reconstruction after the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Each country and region’s seemingly different perception of the relationship between intangible cultural heritage and natural disasters marked the discussions in the workshop. For example, while Japanese experts emphasized that intangible cultural heritage formed a bond in the disaster-affected communities and became a source of strength for the reconstruction, several foreign experts highlighted that traditional knowledge contains knowledge to forecast and prepare for natural disasters. The UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage lists “knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe” as a form of intangible cultural heritage, and traditional knowledge is generally recognized as intangible cultural heritage. On the other hand, Japan’s Act on Protection of Cultural Properties does not clearly consider traditional knowledge as a category of intangible cultural properties.
In Japan, attention has been paid to the folkloric records and knowledge related to natural disasters, such as tsunami monuments; however, they were not much discussed in the context of the relationship between intangible cultural heritage and natural disasters. This workshop was a meaningful opportunity to know different perceptions from each country and region, discuss with people who have diverse ideas, and widen our perspective.