IRCI, the International Research Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region, was established in October 2011, as a Category 2 Centre of UNESCO by the agreement concluded between the Japanese government and UNESCO. The Centre is one of the institutions of the National Institutes for Cultural Heritage (NICH) of Japan. The centre is located in Sakai City, Osaka, which is about 500 km to the west from Tokyo.
UNESCO Category 2 Centres are the institutions that serve to contribute to the achievement of UNESCO’s strategic objectives. In the field of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) safeguarding, there are currently 7 UNESCO Category 2 Centres around the world.
In the Asia-pacific region, there are four Category 2 Centres and each of them has a different mandate; IRCI in Japan is research, ICHCAP in the republic of Korea is networking, CRIHAP in China is training, and Teheran ICH Centre is covering the region of West and Central Asia. Three centres in East Asia cooperate each other to achieve UNESCO’s strategic objectives for safeguarding ICH.
IRCI has 3 main objectives, promote the 2003 Convention and its implementation, enhance the safeguarding of ICH through developing and mobilizing research as a tool for safeguarding ICH and foster coordinate and develop scientific, technical and artistic studies, as well as research methodologies.
To achieve our goals, IRCI works in close cooperation with UNESCO and other related institutions such as universities, research institutions, governmental and non-governmental organisations, museums, and communities in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.
IRCI has two Activity Focuses:
Under the Activity Focus I “Promoting Research for ICH Safeguarding”, 3 projects are being conducted.
- Sustainable Research Data Collection
About the project, I will give a detailed explanation later;
- The IRCI Researchers Forum
The aim of the forum is having a wide range of academic discussions among researchers in the field of ICH and other related areas. This year, the forum was held as online webinar on 29 October to review the progress on the research for the safeguarding of ICH in the past 10 years, reflecting on IRCI’s research projects since its establishment, and discuss the direction of research in the future.
- ICH’s Contribution to SDGs: Education and Community Development.
Since the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was adopted in 2015, UNESCO has been emphasizing the potential contributions of culture to the achievement of SDGs, and “ICH and sustainable development” is one of the priorities of the 2003 Convention for the safeguarding of ICH. This project aims to analyze the relationship among ICH, education, and communities by collecting a series of case studies in three countries of Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Kyrgyz republic.
IRCI has been collecting research information on ICH and its safeguarding since 2013, and the former project was called “The Mapping project” that was comprised of three components as shown here. The project started originally to identify key issues in the safeguarding of ICH in the Asia-Pacific region and what kind of research is needed. This required us to have information on what kind of research has been done in which places; this led to the development of literature survey to gather available information relating to ICH and its safeguarding. This also led to the development of IRCI Research Database.
In this project, IRCI collaborated with researchers in the countries marked in this map. The information collected from each country was analysed by the collaborators, and then discussed at the International Expert Meetings. From the Kyrgyz Republic, Dr Gulnara Aitpaeva joined the project.
The collected information was added to IRCI Research Database. Currently, about 2,500 entries covering 43 countries are available on the database. The information can searched by key words, research focus, ICH genre, or sub-region. The database is open to public. For better usability and content, IRCI is regularly updating the database.
Through the project, however, IRCI found challenges. For example, the number of experts in the academic field related to ICH is limited, Quality and focus of collected information varied researcher by researcher, information sharing among research institutions are also limited, a basic understanding such as the definition of ICH has not been popularised. Also, how to keep this database updated with the latest information remains as a big challenge.
In order to overcome these challenges, IRCI launched the “Sustainable Research Data Collection” project and adopted a new system of working with research institutions.
The difference of this project from the former Mapping Project is that we are trying to emphasize the sustainability of data collection, by cooperating with research institutions and by continuing data collection for multiple years.
In this project, IRCI aims to;
- First; collect research data on ICH and its safeguarding, and make it accessible through IRCI Research Database. The database is open to the public, so anybody can access the research data. This means that communities or individuals who hold ICH can refer to the information and utilize it to safeguard their own ICH. At the same time, many of the registered publication data have English abstracts, even if the articles are written in languages other than English. Therefore, it is expected to be referred worldwide and also to contribute to grasp research trends in the region.
- Second; enhance the network among research institutions and thereby encourage information sharing on ICH research.
- Third; develop a more comprehensive database. It is important that the database covers a wide range of approaches for ICH safeguarding.
- Fourth; hold workshops, inviting ICH researchers including young researchers and students, thereby enhancing ICH research and promoting an understanding of ICH.
Cooperating institutions are called National Counterparts. In the Kyrgyz Republic, the National Counterpart is Aigine Cultural Research Center.
The National Counterparts are expected to conduct data collection by following the guidelines distributed by IRCI. In Phase 1, they collect 10 research data, such as reports, books, proceedings, or even unpublished theses. In phase 2, they become a focal point in each country and continue data collection in cooperation with 2 other research institutions in their respective countries. In the next phase, they further expand their data collection network. The amount of the research data to be collected becomes bigger as moving on to the next phase.
In the case of the Kyrgyz Republic, however, IRCI applies a slightly different way. Namely, in the first year, Aigine CRC will conduct data collection by their own and collect 10 research data. In this process. In the second year, they will conduct data collection in cooperation with collaborating institutions to collect 70 research data in total.