Accepted paper:

The Politics of Japan's Cultural Heritage Policy: Identity and Governance between the Local, the National and the Global


Ioan Trifu (University of Toulouse)

Paper short abstract:

What is the politics of cultural heritage in Japan? By focusing on recent developments in the governance of cultural heritage, involving local, national and global actors, this paper examines Japanese cultural policy-making processes as well as the complex identity politics ongoing in the country.

Paper long abstract:

On October 14th 2016, it was revealed that Japan was holding back its annual contribution to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). While "no specific reasons" was given by the Japanese authorities, this decision has prompted many observers to speculate that this was in retaliation to the inscription of China's "Documents related to the Nanjing massacre" in the UNESCO Memory of the World register in 2015. Yet, that same year, Japan was also involved in two other controversies at the UNESCO. In October, Russia protested to the listing by Japan of documents related to the internment of Japanese soldiers in Siberia after the World War II. A few months before, the Japanese state was severely criticized by South Korea of using UNESCO's famous World Heritage program to whitewash part of its troubled past with the nomination of heritage sites linked to the exploitation of forced labor during the war. Until these past two years of controversies, Japan had constantly remained one major financial contributor of the UNESCO, and was seen as a model-nation by the organization during more than two decades. Should we consider then the recent rise of heritage conflicts as just another consequence of Japan's turn to the right? These issues, however, also highlight how Japan's national cultural heritage policy has been increasingly influenced by the development of multi-level governance - from the Japanese localities to UNESCO - resulting in many divergent interests. In recent year, among Japanese local government for example, the most powerful discourse regarding cultural heritage has been the one reshaping it as asset for the economic regeneration of declining territories. Drawing from theoretical works on both public policy and identity politics, this paper investigates the various political processes involved in the intricate governance of cultural heritage in Japan. In particular, this research will look more closely to how Japanese cultural heritage policy reveals the evolutions of Japan's national and local identity in recent years. By doing so, this work will try to shed new lights on Japanese policy-making processes as well as on the complex identity politics ongoing in the country.

panel S9_11
Approaches to identity and foreign policy: heritage, territory and repertoires