Changes on the way for Japan’s cultural property law

Posted on: July 19, 2018 by

On 1st June 2018, the Kokkai, the National Diet of Japan, enacted the Substantial Amendment to the Law for the Protection of Cultural Property. The new Act will come into force on 1st April 2019.

Under the 1950 Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties, cultural property with historical or artistic value is selected by the government and is designated as ‘Important Cultural Property’, or registered as ‘Registered Cultural Property to be Protected’. An owner of such Important or Registered Cultural Property is given subsidies and other supporting measures from the government for its preservation and conservation.  In exchange, the owner is obliged to abide by the government’s instructions and restrictions.  Utilising, altering, exporting and disposing of the cultural property are subject to governmental approval, for example. Under the existing system, the selection of Important or Registered Cultural Property is at the government’s discretion.  Neither private owners, nor non-profit organisations or corporations, are involved in any decision making or implementation procedures.

The new Substantial Amendment to the Law for the Protection of Cultural Propertyaims to rectify this by providing a system which involves owners and the private sector in the protection andutilisationof cultural property.  First, an owner of Important or Registered Cultural Property may draw up a plan for its protection andutilisationto be approved by the government.  If approval is granted, the owner mayutilise, preserve and alter the property in accordance with the plan, without obtaining specific approval for each activity. Second, the private sector will play a role in the protection of cultural property if the organisation or company is designated a Support Group, to provide owners with advice and assistance in the preservation andutilisationof their cultural property. Third, an educational council of the municipality may, upon consultation with a Support Group and others from the private sector, draw up a plan for the protection andutilisationof the cultural property in its regional jurisdiction, and submit it to central government for approval. If the plan is approved, the municipality may propose that the government registerthe cultural property.

Under the new Act, owners and the private sector will serve certain functions in the implementation of the Law for the Protection of Cultural Property. By this amendment, it is expected that unknown and unregistered cultural properties with value will be identified more effectively and Important and Registered Cultural Properties will be protected and utilised more efficiently.

According to the government, the new Act will facilitate the utilisation of known and unknown local cultural properties as resources for attracting tourists, to promote regional development, as well as preventing their depletion.

Makoto Shimada is Professor of Law at Keio University, Japan, and Visiting Professor at City Law School, United Kingdom. He is also a contributor to our Art Antiquity and Law journal