|Painting of the haibutsu kishaku from 1907 showing temple bells being|
smelted for the bronze.
The feudal era of Japan ended abruptly when the Tokugawa shogunate was usurped by the Meiji Restoration around 1867. Thus began a haibutsu kishaku, which literally means "abolish Buddhism and destroy Shākyamuni", an anti-Buddhist movement where Buddhist temples, images, and texts were destroyed, and monks were defrocked and forced to return to a secular life. This occurred with the rise of industrialization and westernization, and any valuable objects that evaded destruction were exported.
|Detail of an eleven-faced Buddha (ekadaza mukha) image from the Heian period (9th century)|
made of wood from a temple in Fujidera, Osaka, Japan, now a National Treasure.
In 1871, a decree was issued to protect Japanese antiquities, called the Plan for the Preservation of Ancient Artifacts, instigated by the universities. Prefectures, and the temples and shrines left, were ordered to make lists of important buildings and arts. This had little effect, but nine years later the government allotted funds for the preservation of ancient shrines and temples. Fortunately, Japan was a quick learner, and in the wake of westernization perceived the idea of paternity. Soon the first Japanese books on architecture and art were published.
|Himiji Castle, Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. Made a National Treasure in 1931.|
The Ancient Temples and Shrines Preservation Law was passed in June of 1897, calling for the preservation of historic art and architecture. A second law was passed in December of 1897 designating works of art as "National Treasures", and religious architecture to be designated as "Specially Protected Buildings". The categories at first included paintings, sculptures, calligraphy, books, and handicrafts, but later swords were added. This law only protected items held in religious institutions; those in private hands were unprotected. Private collections were required to be registered with the newly created museums, who had first option in future sales.
|Circa 1330 document with Priest Mongaku's 45 article rules and regulations.|
This was the foundation for the preservations laws of today. When first enacted only England, France, Greece, and a few other European nations had done something similar. Prominent men lobbied for conservation efforts, which resulted in the Historical Sites, Places of Scenic Beauty, and Natural Monuments Preservation Law of 1919, offering these properties the same protection as architecture and artifacts.
|Akasaka Palace, the former imperial residence, is today the "State Guesthouse" for |
visiting dignitaries. It is the first 20th century building made a National Treasure.
In 1929 the National Treasures Preservation Law was passed, replacing the 1897 laws, and extending protection to items owned by private hands and public institutions, and widening the scope to secular buildings. The designation of "National Treasure" was to be applied to these historical buildings and art, and permission was required for any alterations. By 1933, facing the Great Depression and in an effort to protect objects not designated National Treasures, a new law was passed - the Law Regarding the Preservation of Important Works of Fine Arts. This offered temporary protection, but more importantly prevented objects from exportation.
|Pigeon on a peach branch, color on silk mounted on a hanging scroll,|
by Emperor Huizong of Song Northern Dynasty, circa 1108.
During WWII, 206 designated buildings were destroyed. When the kon-dō of Hōroyū-ji, one of the oldest wood structures, dated circa 700, caught fire 7th century wall paintings were damaged. This resulted in the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties of 1950. This combined all the previous laws and expanded coverage to "intangible cultural properties" such as performing arts, as well as folk arts, widely broadening what properties were covered.
|Kon-dō and the five-storied pagoda at Hōryū-ji are two of the world's oldest|
wooden structures, circa 700. Located in Ikaruga, Nara prefecture.
Two standards were established: Important Cultural Property and National Treasure. Something becomes a National Treasure only if it is outstanding or has a high value in world culture. Previous National Treasures were demoted to Important Cultural Property, although some were returned to National Treasure status. Any property nominated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO is required to be protected.
|The Yomikaki Power Station in Nagano Prefecture is an Important Cultural Property.|
While the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties is still in force, there have been supplements. The Law for the Preservation of Ancient Capitals was added in 1966, restricted to areas where there are a large number of National Treasures. In 1975 the law was amended to include groups of historic buildings not in capitals. This law also protected conservation techniques, necessary due to the lack of skilled craftsmen in traditional techniques.
|Buddhist ritual gong stand with bronze gilt from Nara.|
Placed in 734 CE in the Western Golden Hall. Lost and
reproduced in the late 12th/early 13th century.
An additional standard was added in 1996 for items in need of preservation called Registered Cultural Property. This is sort of a waiting list for Important Cultural Properties. This gives owners less responsibilities. Owners are typically provided with advice on restoration and on public display.
|Pair of two folded screens made of paper covered with gold leaves, drawings of|
colors and ink of the Wind God and the Thunder God, 17th c. in Kyoto National Museum.
Although it is not mentioned by law, there is an informal reference to individuals who are certified as Preservers of Important Intangible Cultural Properties, or Living National Treasure. These are people who have certain artistic skills and have attained a high level of mastery in those skills. The Japanese government provides an annual grant (roughly $26,000 at this time). In the case of groups with this designation, the government helps with the costs of public exhibitions and activities. There are two basic categories: performing arts - Gagku, Noh, Bunraku, Kabuki, Kumi Odori, Music, Dance, and Drama; and crafts - ceramics, textiles, lacquerware, metalworking, dollmaking, woodworking, papermaking, and miscellaneous crafts.
|"A Fat Young Sparrow" woodcarving with kirikane decoration by Living|
National Treasure Nichide Daizo, 1988. Image courtesy of this site.
Other countries have a Living National Treasure designation for people or groups, following Japan including Australia, France, the Phillipines, Romania, South Korea, and Thailand. UNESCO set forth some guidelines for supporting these programs.
|Feminist writer Germaine Greer is one of Australia's Living Treasures.|
Notice that the U.S. is not one of them. The protection of cultural property should be attended to by all nations. People who have a mastery of traditional skills should be honored and treasured. History belongs to us all, and extant artifacts and buildings should be valued and made available to all interested parties, regardless of nationality. Kudos to Japan for such a comprehensive program!
Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of Wikipedia.