• Kyodo

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Traditional Japanese architectural craftsmanship used in timber-framed structures was approved Thursday for addition to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list, a committee of the U.N. cultural body said.

Traditional skills, techniques and knowledge that comprise the craftsmanship cover 17 areas essential for repairing and restoring shrines, temples and old houses, which are traditionally made of wood.

Such structures include Horyuji, a World Heritage Buddhist temple said to have been built in 607. The building in Nara Prefecture is the world’s oldest surviving wooden structure.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in a statement that he “truly rejoices” at the UNESCO listing.

“Structures like Horyuji and Himeji Castle can still be seen to this day thanks to repair work based on traditional techniques,” he said, also referring to the ancient castle in Hyogo Prefecture, which is a World Heritage site.

Among other techniques recognized Thursday by UNESCO were sakan plastering, the harvesting of Japanese cypress bark for roofing, lacquer painting of traditional structures and the production of tatami.

People involved in the preservation of traditional Japanese architectural craftsmanship celebrate at Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto on Friday after the skills were approved for addition to UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage list. | KYODO
People involved in the preservation of traditional Japanese architectural craftsmanship celebrate at Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto on Friday after the skills were approved for addition to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. | KYODO

Despite using natural materials, the centuries-old techniques are still indispensable today to enhance the resilience of old buildings to earthquakes and typhoons. They can also be used to restore structures damaged in natural disasters.

One such example is Kumamoto Castle, which was heavily damaged by earthquakes in 2016.

The architectural craft will be formally listed on the final day of the committee’s meeting on Saturday as the country’s 22nd entry. It follows other intangible heritages such as the performing arts of noh and kabuki as well as washoku traditional cuisine.

The Paris-based UNESCO had initially planned to convene an intergovernmental committee meeting in Jamaica from late November, but it was postponed due to the pandemic and it was instead held online from Monday.

Japan next hopes to have the furyū-odori folk dance placed on the Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2022. The U.N. screens nominees every two years.

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