EDITORIAL | Preservation of Japan’s cultural treasures is in jeopardy
The Cultural Affairs Agency (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) is set to launch a new initiative in 2022 to ensure that the nation’s cultural treasures will be available for the future generations.
Called the “Takumi Project for Cultural Property”, the initiative aims to ensure that there will always be artisans with the skills and materials necessary to repair and preserve national treasures and important cultural property. This is extremely important, as skilled artisans increasingly run out of successors and the few sources that produce the valuable raw materials are aging. Takumi means “artisan” or “artisan”.
Whether they are works of art, crafts or buildings, important cultural assets require periodic restoration and maintenance. However, in recent years, in addition to a shortage of skilled craftsmen and essential raw materials, it has become increasingly impossible to estimate even when the necessary work could be completed.
While in 2020, the authorities wanted to restore 207 important artistic and craft properties, they were only able to approve the work on 190 of them. Likewise, for historic sites, natural monuments and places of scenic beauty, only 57% of the amount requested for preservation measures has been made available.
As a result, it became impossible to establish firm schedules for the required work. In the meantime, the properties continue to deteriorate, further compounding the vicious cycle. And, in the long run, this will translate into higher costs.
Currently, the Cultural Affairs Agency has a system to certify and support selected preservation skills, including restoration techniques for cultural property and production skills needed to make the materials and tools needed to Restoration. In this context, he provided assistance to 54 people and 39 groups.
The list is dominated by areas where skills and materials are threatened, such as the restoration of lacquer and samurai armor, the production of handmade paper used to hang paper scrolls and screens, and dyeing in Japanese indigo. The average age of these experts is 73, and their invaluable technical knowledge could be lost anytime at any time.
As part of the Takumi project, the cultural agency will provide support aimed at increasing the number of artisans with the necessary skills to continue these craft and restoration work. It will, for example, provide generous support to trainees wishing to learn to exercise these skills, for example through grants for training expenses.
Another problem is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain the tools and raw materials needed for restoration work. For example, hybrid mulberry (kozo) provides the raw material used in the bindings of paintings and books. But due to the considerable time and hard work required to produce it, only a limited number of farm households are willing to make the effort.
As it stands, subsidies are given to partially offset the cost of producing five items, but this number needs to be increased. In other words, the first steps are being taken to establish a new framework for stabilizing production and distribution.
One of the challenges has been to ensure adequate facilities for the restoration work. Since the workspace within the Kyoto National Museum is both outdated and cramped, the cultural agency plans to establish a new National Cultural Property Repair Center (tentative name). The agency included funding for the center in its budget request for fiscal year 2022. The new center should also support the development of new skills and research into raw materials.
The cultural properties of Japan are the crystallization of Japanese aesthetics and symbolize the spiritual culture that we have inherited from our ancestors. The Japanese government and public must realize how their preservation is currently in jeopardy and their role in helping to preserve them.
Urgent action is needed if we are to be sure that Japan’s national treasures are passed on to our descendants.
(Read it Sankei Shimbun editorial in Japanese at this link.)
Author: editorial board, The Sankei Shimbun