The Living National Treasures of Japan

At the end of the Second World War, Japan set about reconstructing itself : in parallel with its industrial development, boosted by modernisation and technological inventions, the country make a concerted effort to preserve and promote their important craft traditions. This is how the “Living National Treasures of Japan” list came to be created in the 1950s. Similar to France’s Légion d’Honneur, it serves to acknowledge the intangible heritage of a selection of exceptional arts and crafts which are passed down through the generations orally, or indeed physically.

These Treasures reward artists and artisans for maintaining “Important Intangible Cultural Properties” in their work, in such diverse sectors as the theatre, martial arts, music, ceramics, laquerware and woodwork. Among the hundred masters of decorative arts who have been awarded this prize for their work in textiles are Fukumi Shimura and his natural dyeing of silk, Hyoji Kitagawa and his brocades which have lasted 18 generations, Kunihiko Moriguchi, disciple of Balthus and the art of yuzen, Yasuo Nakajima and the indigo dyeing which has been in the family since the 19th century…

What each of these crafts has in common, is that the techniques used are executed to the point of perfection. They have been preserved over years and refined over time.  Honoured for being an important part of Japan’s influence around the world, they represent a point where history and modernity meet and where ancestral traditions become potential tools for the development of a country.