Living National Treasure (人間国宝)

Living National Treasure is a Japanese popular term for individuals certified as Preservers of Important Intangible Cultural Properties by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology based on the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties. The term "Living National Treasure" is not formally recognized by the law, but is an informal term used as a reference to cultural properties designated as the National Treasures of Japan.


Living National Treasure is a term for those designated as holders of Important Intangible Cultural Property. Under the Law for Protection of Cultural Properties, intangible cultural properties are defined as dramatic, musical, artistic and other intangible cultural artifacts deemed as historically or artistically valuable to Japanese history (Article 2, Section 1, Part 2). Intangible cultural properties of special importance are designated as "Important Intangible Cultural Properties" by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (Article 71, Section 1) (For further information, see the section on Important Intangible Cultural Property). In other words, intangible cultural property refers to certain 'art,' such as arts and crafts or performing arts. Individuals or groups have attained a high level of mastery in certain skills. Individuals or groups who have attained mastery in certain skills can be certified by the Japanese government as the preservers of their art and they receive support to ensure their continuation.

Certification Methods

There are three types of certifications for individuals or groups who hold important intangible cultural property: 'Individual Certification,' 'General Certification,' and 'Preservation Group Certification.'
Individual Certification is given to individual holders, General Certification is given to holders as an organized group, and Preservation Group Certification is given to the holders of a group. Within the three types of certification, those referred to as 'Living National Treasure' is generally limited to those holding Individual Certification. Those who are given General Certification or Preservation Group Certification are generally not referred to as a Living National Treasure. Individual Certification' and 'General Certification' prevails within the fields of performing arts, such as plays and music, while 'Individual Certification' and 'Preservation Group Certification' mainly occurs in the field of technical arts.

Individual Certification
Certification is given to 'individuals who are able to embody a performing art designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property at the highest level,' or 'individuals who are a master of a technical art.'

General Certification
Certification is given to 'two or more persons who are working together to embody a performing art at the highest level' or 'two or more persons who are a master of a technical art that shares certain characteristics.'

Preservation Group Certification
Certification is given to a group of key members within all of the holders when 'the performing or technical art is not at all individualistic' and when 'there are many holders of the relevant performing or technical art.'

Support System

In order to preserve important intangible cultural assets, the Japanese government provides a special annual subsidy of 2 million yen to Living National Treasures (those with Individual Certification). In the case of groups, the government pays the costs of public exhibitions and successor training projects. The National Theater conducts training projects in order to foster successors to such arts as Nogaku (the art of Noh), Bunraku (Japanese puppet theater) and Kabuki (traditional drama performed by male actors).

List of Living National Treasures (performing arts)

The performing arts field consists of eight classes: Gagaku (ancient Japanese court dance and music), Noh (traditional masked dance and drama), Bunraku, Kabuki, Kumi Odori (combination dance), music, classical Japanese dance and entertainment.

General Certification in the field of performing arts

Individual Certification is intended for the what they refer to as 'Living National Treasure,' or in other words, highly skilled 'masters' in their field. On the other hand, General Certification is intended for people who have the minimum level of skills required to maintain and pass down the entertainment rather than having high individual skills. For all practical purposes, the value of the two certifications are completely different. In General Certification, rather than being applied to only a few masters of an art, the form of entertainment or craft as a whole is considered to be certified.

For general certification of Important Intangible Cultural Property, the following 11 groups are currently certified. In the case of general certification, the 'holder' includes staff members, the troupe and club members of the group.

Total number of people (accumulated number of members in the past, including the deceased) in 2000.

Shikibushoku Gakubu (Music Department) of the Imperial Household Agency (Gagaku)
50 people
The Association for Japanese Noh Plays (Nogaku)
653 people
Ningyo joruri Bunraku-za Theatre (Ningyo Joruri)
133 people
The Organization for the Preservation of Kabuki (Kabuki)
294 people
Traditional Kumi Odori Preservation Society (Kumi Odori)
64 people
Gidayubushi (musical narrative of the puppet theatre) Preservation Society (Music)
49 people
Tokiwazu bushi (Theatrical music) Preservation Society (Music)
51 people
Itchubushi Melody Preservation Society (Music)
15 people
Kato bushi (Theatrical music) Preservation Society
6 people
Miyazono-bushi (a style of joruri) Preservation Society
10 people
Ogie-bushi (a style of singing that split off from Nagauta in the late 18th century) Preservation Society
8 people
In many cases, these groups of have a parent organization called All Nippon Players Association. Individuals recognized by their high degree of skill are able to join the above mentioned groups (generally they are chosen or recommended by current members). One is certified with being a 'General Holder of Important Intangible Cultural Property' upon officially joining one of these groups. Each group has a parent organization that is responsible for the selection of candidates and additional certification occurs once every few years (in essence to increase the number of members).

List of Living National Treasures (technical arts)

The following 160 people were authorized by 2008 (including those authorized by September 11, 2008) as a holder of Important Intangible Cultural Property (individual certification) in a technical art field.

Preservation Group Certification' in the field of arts and crafts

When technical arts are not individualistic within their field, and there are many holders of the art, the following 14 subjects or 14 groups are certified as the groups as key members, meaning they hold the Preservation Group Certification.

[Original Japanese]