Living National Treasure is a term for those designated as keepers of important intangible cultural properties. Under the 1950 Law for Protection of Cultural Properties, intangible cultural properties are defined as dramatic, musical, artistic, and other intangible cultural artifacts of high value in terms of Japanese history or art (Article 2, Section 1, Part 2). Those intangible cultural properties of especial importance can be designated as "Important Intangible Cultural Properties" by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (Article 71, Section 1). In other words, intangible cultural properties are certain artistic skills. Those individuals or groups who have attained high levels of mastery in those certain skills can be designated as preservers of them by the Japanese government for the purpose of ensuring their continuation.
Individual Certification(各個認定,Kakko Nintei?): this designation is for individuals who "have attained high mastery" of an art or craft.
Collective Certification(総合認定,Sōgō Nintei?): this designation is for groups of 2 or more who as a group working in common have attained high mastery of an art or craft.
Preservation Group Certification(保持団体認定,Hoji Dantai Nintei?): this designation is for large groups who have mastered an art or craft in which individual character is not emphasized.
Of the three types, generally only those to have received "Individual Certification" are referred to as Living National Treasures. Those working in artistic fields such as drama and music receive Individual and Collective Certifications, while those working in the crafts receive Individual or Preservation Group Certifications.
The Japanese government, with the goal of preserving important intangible cultural assets, provides a special annual grant of 2 million yen to Living National Treasures. In the case of groups, the government helps defray the costs of public exhibitions and activities necessary to continue the group. The National Theater of Japan provides training programs to help train successors in such arts as Noh, Bunraku, and Kabuki.