Photo/IllutrationFireworks explode over a large float at the Chichibu night festival. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • Photo/Illustraion

Thirty-three traditional float festivals from around Japan have been recommended for collective inclusion in UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage list, the Agency for Cultural Affairs announced on Oct. 31.

A screening committee for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has decided to inscribe the "Yama, Hoko, Yatai float festivals" nominated by Japan in the list.

The three Japanese terms all refer to large floats that are pulled or carried by participants through local streets as part of a festival.

The Intergovernmental Committee meeting scheduled from late November to early December in Ethiopia will grant final approval to include the group nomination in the list.

Agency for Cultural Affairs officials said there has never been a case of a recommended candidate being rejected at the Intergovernmental Committee meeting.

UNESCO's list of intangible cultural heritage includes performing arts, festivals, social practices and traditional arts and crafts.

A total of 336 items have been inscribed worldwide, including 22 from Japan, such as Kabuki, Noh, "washi" (Japanese-style paper) and Japanese cuisine.

The Yamahoko, a float ceremony that is part of the month-long Gion Festival in Kyoto, and the Hitachi Furyumono event held in Hitachi, Ibaraki Prefecture, were added to the UNESCO list in 2009.

With the increasing number of intangible cultural heritage items on the UNESCO list making it more difficult for individual festivals to gain inclusion, the government decided to expand the range of festivals to be covered and included the Yamahoko and Hitachi festivals along with 31 other float festivals held around Japan in the new nomination.

Many of the festivals have been held for centuries and have served important functions of building a sense of community among local residents as well as serving as a means to pray to the gods for peace and protection against natural disasters.

About a third of the festivals included in the new list are held in the Tohoku and Kanto regions of eastern Japan, including the Yatai event and "kagura" traditional Shinto dancing held as part of the Chichibu Festival in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture.

The 33 festivals are held in 18 prefectures around Japan from the Tohoku to Kyushu regions and include such events as the Yatai event of the Takayama Festival in Gifu Prefecture, the "hikiyama" (pulled float) event of the Nagahama Hikiyama Festival in Shiga Prefecture in central Japan, and the Hakata Gion Yamakasa event in Fukuoka city.

All the events have been designated by the central government as important intangible folk cultural properties. A common element of the 33 items is that the floats used in the events are structural objects intended to symbolize gods as well as to create a festive mood, which is meant to comfort the gods.

The government nominated the 33 festivals in 2014 on the basis that they had been preserved for several centuries through the use of traditional folkcraft techniques.