UNESCO and “sacred heritage” in Japan
Three presentations on how a recent flood of World heritage listings has affected sites and practices in Japan, both by imposing new, national narratives on such sites, and by introducing new actors into the process of their management. Open for all.
Our focus will be on questions of signification and ownership at World Heritage sites in Japan.
Mark Teeuwen will talk about one of the largest and oldest city festivals of Japan, Kyoto’s Gion matsuri. This festival has undergone profound structural changes in recent years. Many of those changes occurred after the festival was listed as Intangible World Heritage in 2009. Mark asks the question whether there is a causal relationship between the listing and the subsequent restructuring of Gion matsuri.
Morgaine Wood’s presentation will be centered on Oura Church, one of her three proposed case studies. Oura Church is a Roman Catholic minor basilica in Nagasaki that is part of a larger ongoing World Heritage Site designation application; an application that has been met with delay and a deal of contention on the part of a number of stakeholder groups. Morgaine will discuss some of the issues that have arisen with the UNESCO application process, with particular focus on the construction of heritage narratives by Catholic Christians and the local government.
Aike Rots discusses the case of Sefa Utaki, a sacred grove in Okinawa that was registered as a World Heritage Site in 2000. Contrary to sacred sites in mainland Japan, Sefa Utaki is not legally classified as a religious organization, and there are no priests who have the authority to decide on ritual matters; nevertheless, it continues to be used as a place of worship by some Okinawans. In recent years, the number of tourists visiting the site has increased dramatically, which has given raise to tensions.