As an American, it’s sometimes kind of strange to me that other countries have Ministries of Culture. The US, being the melting pot that it is, doesn’t really have the same sort of shared cultural heritage that other countries value so highly.
But for countries like Japan that aren’t quite as diverse as the US, holding on to that cultural identity is crucial. It’s always important to remember where you came from and acknowledge your cultural history.
That’s why the Japanese government keeps a registry of National Treasures – people, places, and things that are so crucial to Japanese culture that they’re recognized and preserved for future generations.
Don’t make the same mistake I made when I first saw the words “National Treasure” and assume it was about the Jerry Bruckheimer movies. Although it is cool thinking about Nic Cage working for the Japanese government, and it hasn’t stopped me from adding every Nic Cage movie on Netflix to my queue
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) decides what is and is not a National Treasure. For the most part, National Treasures are about what you would expect: incredible, ancient temples; beautiful, complex tapestries; hand-forged swords.
Oh, and this scroll of a bunch of frogs kickin’ it with a rabbit. There’s that, too.
(Sadly though, the illustrious fart scrolls have yet to be added as a National Treasure.)
There are also Living National Treasures; people who are so awesome at what they do, the government says that they’re treasures. These people are masters of traditional Japanese crafts who have spent decades perfecting their craft and are usually the latest in a long line of masters.
If you’ve been following the Ukiyo-E Heroes project that’s been turning old-school video game characters into even-older-school Japanese woodblock prints, then you actually might be familiar with a Living National Treasure. (No, not Mario.)
All of the woodblock prints made by Ukiyo-E Heroes were printed on special washi paper made by Ichibei Iwano, a living national treasure.
It’s interesting to think about what kind of places and people will become National Treasures in the future. Right now, the requirements are very traditional, but that could change in the future.
What places and things will be National Treasure in the future? Right now, National Treasures are limited to specific time periods (mostly pre-Meiji), but obviously as time goes by, more modern things and landmarks should be added to the registry. (Imagine some place in Akihabara being proclaimed a National Treasure . . .)
Same goes for Living National Treasures. Why couldn’t somebody like Miyazaki one day be honored by the government in the same way that other master craftspeople are?
And who knows, maybe one day — Koichi for Living National Treasure?