Preservation of Historical Materials

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Associate Professor: Daisuke SATO
Assistant Professor: Masashi AMANO

There is a wealth of historical materials, documents, art objects, implements and other objects, held privately throughout Japan. Each of these objects is a unique record of people’s lives within that region. We will conduct research based on our ongoing experience in actual practice to develop new approaches to locating and preserving historical materials, and the organizational and social structures necessary to implement these, so that we can protect these materials from disasters and pass these cultural resources on to future generations.

Each of these historical materials provides a record of the local history unique to the village or area they are derived from. In particular, the quantity and breadth of content of local written records produced within Japan between the 16th and 19th centuries is unparalled in world history. These records not only provide a record of natural disasters that occurred within Japan, but also of disasters in other countries and regions as well. In this sense, these records are not only the cultural heritage of Japan, but are also part of the human cultural heritage from this era.

At present, the responsibility for and burden of preserving and passing on most of these historical materials rests with private owners, or the community supporting such private owners. However, with the change in social values and the concomitant decline of interest in preserving historical materials, combined with the decline and disintegration of local communities, the rate of loss and destruction of historical materials is accelerating rapidly. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunami and floods further accelerate this manmade attrition. Typically, historical materials are housed in the old warehouses of established families. When these warehouses are damaged by a natural disaster, the historical materials kept within them are often “cleaned up” and thrown away en mass along with the rest of the rubble. Since large-scale natural disasters occur almost on a yearly basis in Japan, it is imperative that we take cognizance of the unique value of these historical materials and continue to conduct research on new ways to protect these materials from natural disasters.

The research activities of this division date back to the lessons learnt in our efforts to rescue and preserve historical and cultural materials in the wake of the serial earthquakes which hit northern Miyagi Prefecture in July, 2003. While many historical materials were rescued in the aftermath of these earthquakes, many other valuable materials were lost because volunteers arrived too late on the scene. From 2004, we have embarked on a projectin cooperation with local government and residents, to identify and record historical materials not in safefeeping before disaster strikes. This project received its baptism of fire in the Earthquake of Inland Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures of 2008, and we have continued to work to systematize the recording and preservation of historical materials over the years.

In the Great East Japan Earthquake of 11th March, 2011, countless historical materials were damaged in the affected areas, and many more were washed away in an instant by the tsunami. However, in the midst of this wholesale loss and wreckage of our historical heritage, we also were able to confirm the importance of recording historical materials before disaster strikes, and the value of building strong working relationships with local society. After the disaster, we are cooperating with preservation specialists, architects, informatics specialists and volunteers to gather practical experience in preserving historical materials in disasters. It is our responsibility as a university within a disaster area to systematize this experience and develop new theoretical approaches based on it. We will share what we have learned with the rest of the world, and by developing actual social systems for implementing our findings, we will contribute to recording and passing on an important part of the collective human memory and its records both within Japan and elsewhere.