UNESCO heritage list adds 33 Japanese festivals as single entry

Kyodo, JIJI, AFP-JIJI

Thirty-three traditional festivals from across Japan have been added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list, the international body said.

The festivals, most of which date back to the Edo Period (1603-1868), are held in 18 prefectures and feature parades involving floats made with traditional woodwork and metalwork techniques and decorated with lacquered products and dyed fabrics.

Listing of the festivals was officially approved on Wednesday at a meeting in Ethiopia of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Intergovernmental Committee.

Among the 33 festivals are the Yamahoko parade portion of the Gion Festival in Kyoto and the Hikiyama float parade portion of the Karatsu Kunchi festival in Saga Prefecture.

Noting that the festivals have been handed down over generations in various regions, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a statement, “We would like to pass them on to future generations and promote them domestically and internationally with pride.”

“I could not be any happier,” he said.

Local government leaders in the regions with festivals that made the list also expressed their joy.

“It is very delightful and we are filled with pride,” said Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura. “We would like to further engage in developing the float culture from now on,” he added.

Aichi Prefecture in the center of the nation boasts five cultural properties, the most among the prefectures whose festivals were selected for the honor.

“It will support our disaster recovery,” said Ikuo Kabashima, the governor of Kumamoto Prefecture, which is recovering from a powerful series of earthquakes that struck in April.

The 33 festivals will be registered under a single entry, raising the total number of Japanese assets on the intangible cultural heritage list to 21. Previously entered Japanese registrations include washoku (traditional Japanese cuisine), and the performing arts of Kabuki and noh.

Meanwhile, Cuba’s sensual rumba dance and Belgium’s thriving beer culture also made the UNESCO list.

The U.N. body gave the nod to the rumba, which it said evokes “grace, sensuality and joy”, while it said “making and appreciating beer is part of the living heritage … throughout Belgium,” which has more than 1,500 varieties.

The Cuban delegation that attended the UNESCO meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa dedicated the rumba’s selection to longtime leader Fidel Castro, who died on Friday at the age of 90.

UNESCO said the rumba sprang from poor communities where the dance is an enduring “expression of resistance and self-esteem.”

Belgium, meanwhile, toasted the recognition, with culture minister Alda Greoli noting that the country’s beer culture “has been handed down from generation to generation since time immemorial.”

Belgian beer’s “communal identity resulted in … an explosion of artisanal creativity and love for the brewing craft,” she said.