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Japan: Promotion of Exhibitions of Foreign Art Works

(May 5, 2011) In March 2011, the Diet (Japan's parliament) passed two laws to facilitate exhibitions of art objects that are borrowed from abroad. In 2009, a law was enacted that exempted works of art borrowed from a foreign government from any form of judicial process, such as attachment or injunction, in Japan. One of the newly adopted laws extends immunity from judicial process to art objects that are possessed by non-governmental organizations. (Kaigai no bijutsuhin tō no wagakuni ni okeru kōkai no sokushin ni kansuru hōritsu [Law Concerning Promotion of Exhibitions of Art Objects from Overseas], Law No. 15 of 2011 (promulgated on Apr. 1, 2011).)

To be immune from judicial process, an exhibition organizer must apply to the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to obtain the designation of “arts” exhibition under this new law. The Minister must consult with the Minister of Foreign Affairs before assigning the designation, which must be made public. One Member of the House of Representatives wrote in his blog that he had made the effort to pass this law in order to make possible the exhibition in Japan of items from Taiwan's National Palace Museum. (Keiji Furuya, Kaigai no bijutsuhin tō no wagakuni ni okeru kōkai no sokushin ni kansuru hōritsu seiritsu!! [Law Concerning Promotion of Exhibitions of Arts from Overseas Enacted!!] KEIJI FURUYA INTERNET ANNOUNCEMENT (Mar. 29, 2011).) “[T]he National Palace Museum seldom sends its treasures overseas for fear that they might be seized by the Chinese authorities, who believe the treasures belong to China.” (New Japan Law Opens Way for Exhibits, THE CHINA POST (Mar. 26, 2011).) The United States enacted similar legislation in 1965, the Act to Render Immune from Seizure Under Judicial Process Certain Objects of Cultural Significance Imported into the United States for Temporary Display or Exhibition, and for Other Purpose (79 Stat. 985, 22 U.S.C. 2459).

The other new law enables the Japanese government to establish a contract with an art exhibit organizer whereby the government will pay a part of any restitution needed due to loss or damage of art objects borrowed from overseas. (Tenrankai ni okeru bijutsuhin songai no hoshō ni kansuru hōritsu [Law Concerning Compensation of Damages for Art Objects at Exhibitions], Law No. 17 of 2011 (promulgated on Apr. 4, 2011).) To be eligible for such a contract, the organizer and the exhibition must satisfy certain criteria set by an Order of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. If works of art from a foreign country are damaged, the government will pay limited restitution; if the amount of the restitution exceeds a certain level the exhibit organizer must pay the remaining amount due. The Diet sets the maximum amount of contracted restitution permitted each fiscal year.