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When heritage laws and environmental laws collide: Artisans, guilds and government support for traditional crafts in Tokyo

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This article examines the legislative basis and operational effectiveness of the national and prefectural systems for designating and promoting traditional crafts in Tokyo. Traditional artisans participate in these systems primarily through their involvement in kumiai ('artisan guilds'), whose historical background and organizational structure are briefly summarized. To evaluate the usefulness of government support for contemporary craft practitioners, four broad and interrelated categories of kumiai activities are examined: promoting craft business, maintaining and enhancing craft skills and product quality, securing the future of craft traditions, and procuring craft materials. These goals are reflected in the frameworks of national and prefectural legislation that aims to support the efforts of kumiai. However, these goals and the resulting legislation have created a sustained discourse of tension palpably felt by many crafters themselves: the clash between laws designed to protect or promote 'traditional' crafts and other laws that aim to safeguard ecology or animal welfare. Examination of this tension as it is understood and discussed by artisans themselves reveals that, although the positive impact of traditional craft designation systems is widely recognized, it is also perceived that incompatible environmental protection laws can negatively affect their business and threaten the long-term sustainability of craft traditions.
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Keywords: Japanese craft; artisan communities; environmental law; guilds; heritage law; heritage preservation; traditional craft; traditional knowledge

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2019

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  • The aim of Craft Research is to advocate and promote current and emerging craft research, including research into materials, processes, methods, concepts, aesthetic and style. This may be in any discipline area of the applied arts and crafts, including craft education.

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