With the backing of the Ministry of Transport, the Japanese Diet has passed a controversial new law providing central governmental support for the "preservation and invigoration" of local "traditional arts" by providing funds for the maintenance of such art forms.
Festival events which are already known widely will be omitted from the program of support, but it is expected that over 1000 locally known traditional arts will be eligible.
Tentatively titled the "Bill for the Employment of Traditional Arts for the Revitalization of Local Tourism, Business and Industry," or more commonly, the "Festival Bill," the bill was sponsored by the Ministry of Transport. Ministry support for the bill was reportedly based on consciousness of the growing need for Japanese to utilize spare time and the rapid increase in foreign visitors to Japan, and it was hoped that the bill would help produce new tourist attractions in localities throughout the country. According to the new bill, traditional performing and other arts transmitted in local areas are to be nominated by each prefecture, and final selection is to be made by the central government. Local governments will then construct event plans centered on the approved list of traditional artistic activities. The central government will foot about twenty percent of the cost of carrying out the planned activities, in addition to promoting the events through international tourist organizations. An official close to the bill was quoted as saying, "Everything depends on the inventiveness devoted to it," thus expressing official hopes that localities will vie in their use of "creative imagination."
Unfortunately, not all observers are as sanguine in their opinions regarding the purposes and effects of the bill. Some scholars have expressed reservations, pointing out that the bill may do little more than encourage the crass exploitation of events which have hitherto been closely associated with local social and religious customs. For example, Professor Kojima Tomiko of the National Museum of Ethnology has recently said that since "folk arts will be performed as a source off-income, ... those which are unappealing to tourists will be abandoned or their performances changed, no matter how important they might have been from the perspective of traditional religious customs and faith" (Geino, March 1992, p. 62).
Kojima goes on to note that "as such customs become no more than tourist attractions, they will become divorced from the lives of local villagers," and transformed into "sacred dance shows" or "folk music shows." This, she warns, will lead inevitably to the abasement of the customs themselves.