The government is considering designating highly skilled masters of Japanese cuisine and sake brewing as “living national treasures,” a title currently limited to performers and experts skilled in traditional arts and crafts, sources familiar with the matter said Friday.
The Cultural Affairs Agency also plans to count local cuisines as “intangible cultural assets.”
By elevating culinary artisans and local cuisines, the government hopes to further attract foreign interest in Japan, boosting tourism and food exports.
The agency will set up a unit specialized in Japanese food culture in April, and start surveying its food and drink landscape for potential nominees among highly skilled food and drink artisans, the sources said.
However, the prestigious designations may take several years to develop because the agency will have to devise its criteria while facing the challenge of determining how to evaluate the complexities of the food world.
Once chosen, the masters will receive government subsidies to help develop their skills further and build up successors.
The title of living national treasure, based on a 1950 law with a mandate to protect cultural assets, solely comprises performers such as kabuki and noh actors, and highly skilled craftsmen such as ceramics artists and goldsmiths. It is extremely difficult to win the designation and only 115 exist.
The government was spurred to consider adding culinary masters to the prestigious list when washoku, or traditional Japanese food, was registered as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2013.
It gained further momentum from a 2017 law that made food culture revival a government policy.
Additionally, the agency will explore the possibility of certifying sake, tea, miso and soy sauce as intangible cultural heritage, the sources added.
It will also consider recognizing local cuisines as “important intangible folk cultural properties,” which until now have included only festivals and traditional crafts. The timing for the designations has not been set, according to the sources.
The government hopes the designations will help revive local cuisines and boost tourism nationwide, as well as maintain traditional food culture as younger generations veer away from it, the sources said.