Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties Center for Conservation Science
Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems Japan Center for International Cooperation in Conservation
Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage


“Cormorant Fishing Boat Project” : Completion and Launch Ceremony

The completed boat and the Project members
The launch ceremony also featured the rite of “funa-kabuse,” in which the boat is capsized three times to pray for its safety on the water.

 The “Cormorant Fishing Boat Project,” which has been underway at the Gifu Academy of Forest Science and Culture from May 22, has been successfully completed. The 13-meter-long cormorant boat was displayed at a launch ceremony on July 22.
 The aim of this Project was to record and inherit boat-building techniques while actually engaging in building a cormorant boat, with the participation of American boat builder Douglas Brooks, under the guidance of boat builder Seiichi Nasu (86) of Mino City, Gifu Prefecture (also refer to our May 2017 Activities Report). Also participating were American naval architect Marc Bauer and Gifu Academy furniture student Satoshi Koyama. The boat-building process was open to the public in the shelter structure built within the Academy premises. Tobunken served in the roles of research and documentation, taking video records of virtually the entire building process. Going forward, we will be editing and assembling the records in a way that will be useful for acquiring the necessary building techniques, and plan to co-author written and video reports with Mr. Brooks by the end of the next fiscal year.
 While the Project itself has come to a conclusion, the utilization, transmission, and dissemination of cormorant boats and their building techniques will continue across many fields. The cormorant boat built in the Project will be purchased by Yui no Fune, an organization that offers guided boat tours of Nagara River, and will be used to introduce river boat culture to the general public. Meanwhile, at Gifu Academy, work is underway to explore how smaller, more manageable boats can be made using the traditional techniques learned in the Project. Since techniques will not be handed down if there is no demand for them, there is a need for flexible thinking to devise boats that meet contemporary needs and interests.
 The transmission of living techniques requires not only the compilation of academic records but also efforts to utilize them in contemporary ways and to make them more widely known to the general public. Tobunken intends to continue working with organizations and experts in a wide range of disciplines to explore better ways of transmitting these techniques.


Development of the record of ukaibune building

Mr. Douglas Brooks (left) and Mr. Seiichi NASU (right)
Ukaibune under construction

 Ukai, or a fishing method which uses trained cormorants to catch river fish, conducted in the Nagaragawa River in Gifu Prefecture is now famous as a representative tourist attraction of the prefecture. The ukai fishing conducted in the goryoba, or the Imperial Fishing Ground, is called goryo ukai, which has an important role of serving the caught ayu (sweetfish) to the members of the Imperial Family. Moreover, the technique has been designated as an important intangible folk cultural asset of Japan. Thus, ,ukai is historically and culturally significant. One of the essential elements to support the ukai fishing technique is the cormorant fishing boat called ukaibune that is helmed by the usho, the cormorant fishing master. There is a fear, however, that the technique of building ukaibune will not be handed down to the future generations, as at present, there are only two funadaiku, or boat builders, capable of building this type of boat.
 Under these circumstances, a project has started, in which Mr. Douglas Brook, a U.S. citizen, researcher of Japanese boats and funadaiku, who has experience in building tarai bune (tub boat) of Sado and sabani (small sail fishing boat) of Okinawa, has become an apprentice to 85-year old Mr. Seiichi NASU, one of the two remaining ukaibune builders, and is working with his master to build an ukaibune. The Gifu Academy of Forest Science and Culture and the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties participate in this project, the former providing a place for boat building and the latter producing a video record.
 The building of ukaibune began on May 22, 2017 and is scheduled to be completed in about two months. Agility and gracefulness are required in particular of ukaibune when compared to other wooden boats in general, and therefore, sophisticated techniques are required. It is a major target of this project to accurately and completely record the technique to help hand it down to the future generations.
 It is somewhat paradoxical that a non-Japanese is learning and mastering this traditional Japanese technique that is on the verge of extinction. We believe, however, that recording the intangible technique by positively taking advantage of this opportunity is one of the roles our institute should play since the conservation of cultural properties is our mission.


Study Meeting on Production of Recorded Videos for Intangible Cultural Properties

Having a discussion while watching the recorded video

 On February 22nd, 2016, the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage held a study meeting titled “Production of Recorded Videos for Intangible Cultural Properties,” where Takeshi ABE (Tohoku Institute of Filmed Cultural Properties) was invited as a guest speaker. He has been engaged in production of recorded videos for intangible cultural properties of Iwate Prefecture in Tohoku District. The meeting was held as one of the efforts of the “preparation of dynamic records for cultural properties protection” project that was governed by the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo as a part of the promotion program of the National Taskforce for the Japanese Cultural Heritage Disaster Risk Mitigation Network under the National Institutes for Cultural Heritage.
 In this meeting, the current state of folk performing art in the disaster-affected areas was reported based on the activities of Mr. Abe in Iwate Prefecture after the Great East Japan Earthquake and a discussion was held on how to utilize the recorded video for disaster prevention and mitigation.
 Today, due to the development of digital equipment, ordinary people who are not professional photographer can easily take moving pictures and a possibility to accept those pictures as a part of the records in a flexible manner was also discussed.
 The Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage held the Sub-conference on Video Recording of Intangible Fork Cultural Properties over the years from 2003 to 2007. Based on what was discussed there, the Conference on the Study of Intangible Fork Culture Properties was heled and relevant reports such as “Guidance on the production of recorded videos for intangible fork cultural properties” have been published. Based on the discussions held so far, it is considered necessary to address new challenges that have arisen and also to include intangible traditional techniques in local areas into our continuing discussion in the future meetings on production of recorded videos.


Seminar on the “Intangible Cultural Heritage and Disaster Prevention―Importance of Recording for Conservation of Traditional Techniques

Demonstration of winnowing-basket making process

 A seminar was held on December 22nd,2015 under the title of “Intangible Cultural Heritage and Disaster Prevention―Importance of Recording for Conservation of Traditional Techniques.” This seminar was organized under the “preparation of dynamic records for cultural properties protection” project that was governed by the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo as a part of the promotion program of the National Taskforce for the Japanese Cultural Heritage Disaster Risk Mitigation Network. As intangible cultural heritage specifically includes “immaterial” culture, use of recording is considered an important element for the purpose of disaster prevention/disaster reduction.
 This time, with a focus on the traditional techniques especially in the radiation-affected area in Fukushima Prefecture among the disaster-affected regions of Great East Japan Earthquake, two cases were introduced using the pre-disaster and post-disaster records to show what efforts have been underway towards disaster prevention and reconstruction.
 The cases introduced were “Obori-Soma Ware” of Namie Town, Fukushima Prefecture, and “Odaka Winnowing-Basket Making” of Minami-Soma City. The case of “Obori-Soma Ware” showed the reconstruction efforts that were in progress after the workshops had moved out of Namie Town after the disaster. Further, in the case of “Odaka Winnowing-Basket Making,” the current efforts to restore the technique by referring to the videos that had been recorded before the disaster were introduced. Further to explain acquisition of skill obtained in the recorded video, a part of the actual making process was demonstrated while discussion was held about importance of recording in intangible cultural heritage.
 As we need to think of a wide variety of cases for disaster prevention of the intangible cultural heritage, there is no single best answer to it. Based on continuous discussion, we will keep making efforts to contribute to disaster prevention/disaster reduction of the cultural heritage.


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