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Smithsonian Folklife Festival
The Silk Road

Nara Gate

Global & Local

Tradition and Modernity

Why do we preserve our cultural treasures, and how do we define what cultural treasures are? In Japan the objects in the imperial treasure house, the Shosoin, reflect a rich and cosmopolitan period of Japan's history. Their preservation connects the Japanese with their ancestors. In addition, because so many objects come from elsewhere along the Silk Road, they acknowledge the importance of the enormously active cultural interchange in a large portion of our world in the 7th–10th centuries.

A unique aspect of the Japanese reverence for their cultural traditions is a government program, started in 1950, that recognizes and rewards cultural treasures in the broadest sense. These treasures include buildings, properties, artworks, living traditions, and artisans. This program has served as a model for other nations and for an international program sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Since the middle of the 20th century Japan has emerged as a major industrial and global economic presence. The Japanese embrace of television, contemporary music in all its forms, fashion, fast food, video games, and the Internet is juxtaposed with a strong pride and desire to preserve ancient traditions as a living cultural heritage. The Japanese, as do people around the globe, balance tradition and modernity in an ever-fluid world.

Click to enlarge and view captions

Click images to enlarge and view captions