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Needless to say, Japanese culture is supported by all citizens who appreciate and participate in various cultural activities. However, it is mainly the free-minded creative activity conducted by artists and artistic groups that creates diverse and rich art and leads our culture to new heights.
In order to meet the demands of the people for a higher culture, and for Japan to contribute to the progress of humankind in the field of arts as well as in other fields, artists and artistic groups need to be actively engaged in creative activities.
In order to engage in creative activities in the arts, one must train constantly and be experimental and pioneering in his or her engagements in artistic activities. Because in many cases it is difficult for artists and artistic groups to finance this with their own earned income, it is necessary to improve the environment in which they can engage in creative activities.
For this purpose, many European countries have established national cultural facilities, national symphony orchestras and national theater companies. It is said that these reflect a history in which kings and aristocrats embraced artists as the guardians of culture.
In Japan, despite the example of the art of the tea ceremony and Noh which were protected by the Shoguns as well as regents and advisors in the imperial household, art and culture has largely been developed and promoted by the wealth of private companies and citizens in developed cities since the early stages of history, rather than being protected by those in power. The Meiji government worked to import and develop the arts and cultures of Western countries in order to construct a nation to rival them, but its efforts were primarily focused upon the development of human talents.
Following this trend, Japan, like the United States and the United Kingdom, has committed to maintaining a certain distance from artistic and cultural activities and respecting their autonomous nature. Through such measures as financial support for artists and artistic groups for their exhibitions and performances and the organization of exhibition and performances at national cultural institutions, the Japanese government is promoting the improvement of the environment in which artists and artistic groups can engage in creative activities and providing opportunities for the Japanese people to appreciate high-quality artistic activities.
The Japan Arts Fund, which was created as a part of the Japan Arts Council in 1990 through a government grant and private contributions, and the Arts Plan 21, which was established in 1996 through the reorganization of various pre-existing supporting measures, play pivotal roles in providing financial support for performance expenses, etc.
Of these, the Agency for Cultural Affairs has been making efforts to increase the budget for the Arts Plan 21 as one of its priority measures, and in allocating financial support particular emphasis has been placed on performances by those groups which could be expected to be the driving force in advancing the level of modern theatrical arts in Japan.
The detailed plan for the allocation of funds by the Japan Arts Fund and the Arts Plan 21 are not finalized solely through the internal processes of the Agency for Cultural Affairs and the Japan Arts Council. An examining board, composed of external specialists, is established for each artistic category, which receives applications from a broad spectrum of society, examines them from a specialist and impartial point of view, and determines the allocation of funds.
National cultural institutions are also playing important roles in promoting culture. The National Museums in Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara, the National Museum of Modern Arts in Tokyo and Kyoto, the National Museum of Western Arts, and the National Museum of International Arts are, as core museums in Japan, organizing exhibitions, carrying out research and surveys, and offering training courses that no other public and private institutions can match.
Concerning national theaters, the Japan Arts Council has established the National Theater and the New National Theater, and is organizing public performances of Kabuki, Noh and Bunraku at the National Theater and of modern theatrical arts such as opera, ballet, modern dance, and modern plays at the New National Theater. Public performances of traditional performing arts serve not only as an opportunity to perform these arts, but also as a unique venue for carrying out creative activities such as the trial of new Kabuki plays, the revival of the forgotten Kabuki plays of the past and the performance of Kabuki plays in their entirety. At the New National Theater, operation centers on the performances planned and organized by the theater itself, and the theater is experimenting with the use of various theatrical devices. The Agency for Cultural Affairs continues to promote these performances with a view to encouraging creative activities.
The Agency for Cultural Affairs is also preparing for the establishment of the Kyushu National Museum (tentative name) which carries with it a new perspective of Japanese cultural formation in the context of Asian history, the National Art Exhibition Center (tentative name) which serves as the venue for the exhibition of nationwide contests and large-scale planned exhibitions, and the National Kumiodori Theater (tentative name) which serves as the center of exchanges in the Asia-Pacific region through Okinawan traditional culture and the preservation and promotion of Okinawan traditional performing arts such as Kumiodori.
The National Arts Festival, organized by the Agency for the Cultural Affairs and started in 1946 just after the end of World War II, is also providing opportunities for the development of high-quality arts and the appreciation of them by the Japanese people.
In addition, a series of awards are provided, such as membership in the Japan Art Academy and the Art Encouragement Prize for artists, Creation Encouragement Prizes and Excellent Film Awards for specific works, Encouragement Prizes by the Minister for Education, Science, Sports and Culture for nationwide exhibitions, and appointment as a Person of Cultural Merit who is selected from a wide range of fields including academia. A national honor called the Order of Culture is awarded to selected persons who have been appointed as Persons of Cultural Merit. This Order, which praises artists with highly valuable achievements and encourages creative activities, plays an important role as a part of support measures for the promotion of creative activities.
This section has outlined the activities of the Japanese government to promote artistic and creative activities as well as the basic ideas behind those activities. However, in order to promote creative activities, it is desirable to utilize not only public support, but also various resources existing in society. It is of importance for the stability of creative activities by artists and artistic groups that they have multiple resources.
Mecenat activities by enterprises have already been mentioned, and the Agency for Cultural Affairs plans to continue its efforts to improve the environment in which artists and artistic groups can engage in creative activities, for example through the promotion of corporate support.
The Order of Culture and Persons of Cultural Merit were established to praise and honor those persons with outstanding contributions to the advancement and development of Japanese culture in a variety of fields such as academia, arts and others.
The Order of Culture
The Order of Culture, based on the Government Ordinance on the Order of Culture issued in February 1937, is a national honor awarded to those persons with outstanding contributions to the advancement of culture. Taikan Yokoyama (Japanese painting), Professor Hantaro Nagaoka (physics) and seven others became the first persons to be awarded the Order of Culture. Since then, a total of 296 people (as of 1999) have been awarded this prize. In recent years, five persons on average are awarded the prize every year. The Emperor himself presents the honor at the award ceremony, which takes place at the Imperial Palace on 3 November, the Day of Culture. Candidates for the Order of Culture are selected from the Persons of Cultural Merit by the Minister for Education, Science, Sports and Culture upon hearing views of all the members of the selection committee for the Persons of Cultural Merit. The Minister then recommends the candidates to the Prime Minister so that they can be decided by the Cabinet.
Persons of Cultural Merit
The system for Persons of Cultural Merit was established by the Law on Pensions for the Persons of Cultural Merit of April 1951, in order to honor people with outstanding contributions to the advancement and development of culture by providing a pension (presently 3.5 million yen). Naoya Shiga (literature), Professor Hideki Yukawa (physics) and 32 other persons were the first persons to be appointed as Persons of Cultural Merit, and as of 1999, a total of 576 people have been selected as Persons of Cultural Merit. Since 1955, the appointments have been announced on the Day of Culture, the same day as the award ceremony for the Order of Culture, and in recent years 15 persons in each year are selected to become Persons of Cultural Merit. The Minister of Education, Science, Sports and Culture finalizes the selection of the Persons of Cultural Merit following the recommendation by the Selection Committee for the Persons of Cultural Merit and approval by the Cabinet.
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