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Outside the glass case: The social life of urban heritage in Kyoto



Recent anthropological and other literature tends to assume that the uses of heritage in modern societies lead to the falsification, petrification, desubstantiation, and enclosure of the things and practices so designated. Yet two traditions of Japan's ancient capital Kyoto—the historic town houses (kyô-machiya) that have found a new appreciation since the 1990s and the Gion matsuri, one of the most famous festivals of the nation—contradict these assumptions. Their well-documented histories are not widely distorted; they are not forever fixed but allowed to evolve; they are valued not only for their traditionality but also for other, substantive qualities; and their appreciation is not dominated by a concern for social boundaries. This is influenced by the urban, relatively sophisticated and cosmopolitan background of both traditions, as it is in parallel cases elsewhere. Greater attention to the perspectives of their carriers, however, will very likely show that the social uses of other traditions too are more complex than the standard assumptions lead one to believe. [Japan, cultural heritage, invention of tradition, vernacular architecture, festivals, urban anthropology]