cultural history, heritage, History, Humanities, Intellectual history, japanese, Japanese Culture, literature, memory, Uncategorized

The Importance and Intangibility of Heritage


Dainichi-dō bugaku godai sonmai by Wc018 via Wikimedia Commons

Post Submission by: Dr Natsuko Akagawa

We often talk about heritage in relation to our familial and linguistic connections to countries, with these connections passed down from generation to generation. However, as the ABC recently reported it only takes three generations for many migrant families to lose their native tongue, leading some to suggest that Australia is a “graveyard of languages”. In order to understand how these cultural and linguistic linkages become muddied or even lost, it is important to look at the bigger picture, how the memories and objects in the world around us become elements of heritage to which people relate and hold dear.

Dr Akagawa, considers these questions and more in a number of publications that investigates the nature of heritage as it applies to people, nations and global interactions, and more specifically, the important links between heritage conservation and national identity.

In early 2019, Dr Akagawa was invited to participate in BrisAsia Symposium 2019 – Belonging, event sponsored by Brisbane City Council held at QPAC as part of public engagement. She took part in a panelCultural Diplomacy in the 21st Century: Cultivating the seeds of belonging drawing on her research and extensive publications, for example, Heritage Conservation in Japan’s Cultural Diplomacy:Heritage, National Identity and National Interest (Routledge 2014). She spoke about what people held dear to them and how this contributed to the rich diversity that was contemporary Brisbane. The markers of that cultural diversity are of course all around us, in food, art, clothing, languages, and cultural practices. But how do cultural differences square with our understanding of being Australian? What does it mean to ‘belong’ in Australia, if you’re of Asian heritage? That was the question Paul Barclay (ABC Big Ideas), who convened the last session ‘Cultural diversity and the Asian-Australian experience’, specifically posed later in conversation with four prominent Australian personalities of Asian background (Indira Naidoo – journalist, author, advocate, and TV and radio personality; Adam Liaw – chef, writer, and TV presenter; Chong Ali – Brisbane based rapper, MC, and producer; Anna Yen – performer, theatre maker, director, independent producer and physical theatre teacher) inviting them to speak about their personal stories of being Asian-Australian in multicultural Australia. You can hear the recordings from HERE.

brown bird on person s hand
Photo by TheOther Kev on

In November 2019, the National Trust of Queensland invited Dr Akagawa to give a talk at its Heritage Symposium: Expanding the Past – The Future of our Heritage, held in Brisbane. As an Expert Member of International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Intangible Cultural Heritage, Member of International Council of Museums (ICOM) and Member of International Committee of Memorial Museums, and someone who has been actively engaged with the heritage and collections institutes, she was able to bring a lot of experience and expertise to the symposium. Her recently released co-edited volume, Safeguarding Intangible Heritage (Routledge 2019), that followed her earlier Intangible Heritage (Routledge 2009), is internationally regarded as one of the first comprehensive texts on this topic and both have informed public offices that shape governmental policies in relation to heritage overseas.

Dr Akagawa presented a well-received paper entitled “Feeling the Intangible”, and applied her comments specifically to Queensland to “identify possible examples of intangible heritage … and how we might safeguard them”. As she pointed out, although Australia has not signed up to the 2003 UNESCOConvention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, there is much interest across the Australian heritage industry in the notion of intangibility as this relates heritage. However, “clearly defining what intangible cultural heritage (ICH) is, how we can recognise it and how we go about protecting it, remains challenging”. To throw light on these questions, Dr Akagawa discussed a number of examples of intangible heritage of particular relevance to Queensland. Drawing on her recent publication that examined a variety of intangible heritage elements across a number of different cultures and countries, she was able to suggested ways in which appropriate policies could be developed to protect them.

silhouette of man at daytime
Photo by Prasanth Inturi on

Dr Akagawa has previously co-edited a book entitled Intangible Heritage (2009), which has been internationally regarded as one of the first comprehensive texts on this topic. She has recently released a second co-edited volume as a companion piece entitled Safeguarding Intangible Heritage (2018)

The publisher notes that “this volume critically and reflexively examines these practices and policies, providing an accessible account of the different ways in which intangible cultural heritage has been defined and managed in both national and international contexts. As Safeguarding Intangible Heritage reveals, the concept and practices of safeguarding are complicated and often contested, and there is a need for international debate about the meaning, nature and value of heritage and what it means to ‘safeguard’ it. Safeguarding Intangible Heritage presents a significant cross section of ideas and practices from some of the key academics and practitioners working in the area, whose areas of expertise span anthropology, law, heritage studies, linguistics, archaeology, museum studies, folklore, architecture, Indigenous studies and history”.

The chapters in Safeguarding Intangible Heritage provide an analysis of “international policy and practice and critically frame case studies that analyse practices from a range of countries, including Australia, Canada, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Kyrgyzstan, New Zealand, Taiwan, the UK and Zimbabwe”.


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