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

The 18th Conference on the Study of Intangible Folk Cultural Properties: Handing Down Mingu Folk Implements-To Prevent Them from Being Mindlessly Discarded

 In recent years, there have been an increasing number of cases throughout Japan in which collected Mingu* have to be reorganized. It is always best to properly preserve and pass on collected materials in their original form. However, local museums and public organizations with limited storage space, personnel, and budgets are forced to consider reorganization, including disposal of their Mingu collection.

 On December 8, 2023, the 18th Conference on the Study of Intangible Folk Cultural Properties, Handing Down Mingu Folk Implements-To Prevent Them from Being Mindlessly Discarded, was held at the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (TOBUNKEN).

 More than 200 people, far exceeding expectations, attended the conference, indicating the high level of interest in the subject. The results of the survey also strongly indicated how urgent the issue of organizing Mingu has become, and how those in charge are struggling alone.

 To share and discuss these issues, four presenters gave case reports on the collection, organization, removal, and utilization of Mingu. This was followed by a general discussion among all the speakers, including two commentators. The discussion focused on how to protect as many Mingu as possible and pass them on to future generations. Various viewpoints and opinions were presented, but an important premise was that Mingu as cultural properties are very different from other cultural properties in terms of their meanings and characteristics. For example, it is a common viewpoint among researchers of Mingu that it is necessary to collect multiple examples of the same types of materials for comparative study, and that the value of Mingu can only be determined by combining them with ethnographic information (which region, when, and by whom they were used, etc.) that accompanies the materials. However, it was pointed out that this is not well understood or well known within government agencies or the general public, and that this is a part of the background to the various problems surrounding Mingu in recent years. The commentators and floor participants also reiterated the significance of “not discarding” such items, saying that some seemingly mundane tools have important meanings and that it is important to preserve as many of them as possible for comparison purposes.

 Mingu are the crystallization of wisdom and skills nurtured by our ancestors in their daily lives, and are extremely important and eloquent materials for understanding the way of life, history, and culture of the people of each region, as well as the changes in such history and culture. At the conference, we shared anew the sense of crisis that these extremely useful materials are on the brink of disappearance. It was a great achievement for us to recognize and share the need for new measures to protect the Mingu. For the protection of Mingu, the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage plans to set up a study group next year to continue discussions with all concerned parties.

 A full report of the conference will be compiled by the end of the fiscal year, and a PDF version will be made available on the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage website.

*Mingu, or folk implements, is a collective term for tools and fabricated objects made or used out of needs in life. It includes implements related to people’s living, such as tools related to production and livelihoods (farming and fishing tools, etc.), items related to everyday life (pots, clothing, etc.), and religious instruments. It does not include objects that are generally mass-produced by modern machine industries.

Survey on the Restoration of Common Reeds around the Mouth of the Kitakami River – Raw Materials for Rozetsu of Hichiriki

Common reed field at the mouth of the Kitakami River selected for 100 Soundscapes of Japan: Preserving our Heritage (Agency of the Environment (at that time) 1996)

 The Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage investigates the common reeds (Phragmites australis) used for a rozetsu (reed) of hichiriki (Japanese traditional flute) as a part of a project to investigate the raw materials essential for intangible cultural properties. We conducted a survey of common reeds growing around the mouth of the Kitakami River in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, where such reeds are produced. We had two goals for this survey: the first was to assess the suitability of the common reeds in this area for rozetsu of hichiriki by analyzing their characteristics; the second was to find ways to “restore common reeds” in the riverbeds of the Yodo River (Osaka Prefecture), which is known as a production field of the common reeds suitable for rozetsu of hichiriki, by understanding the common reed restoration process and the present conditions of the Kitakami River area, which was severely damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.
 We visited Kumagaya Master Thatchers Co., Ltd., which is working on restoring the common reed field in the Kitakami River area. We interviewed them, about the current common reed field situation and were given samples of common reeds with external diameters large enough to make rozetsu. Kumagaya Master Thatchers thatches roofs of temples, shrines, and other traditional Japanese architecture using traditional techniques and also works on the conservation and restoration of Important Cultural Properties designated by the Japanese government.
 We requested two craft persons to make rozetsu from the common reed samples of the Kitakami River that we were given. We plan to compile findings, including evaluations by hichiriki players on the rozetsu made from those common reeds.
 We also visited the Kitakamigawa-karyu River Office of the Infrastructure and Transport Tohoku Regional Bureau, the Ministry of Land, which manages the Kitakami River, and Prof. YAMADA Kazuhiro of Tohoku Institute of Technology, is investigating the common reed field before and after the Earthquake and is active in promoting the field. Though the reed field was approximately 183 ha before the Earthquake, it has since shrunken to approximately 87 ha. The field has sunken by 50 to 60 cm and was flooded in the aftermath of the earthquake. Therefore, many common reeds withered and died, and growth of the rest was inhibited by debris brought by the tsunami.
The debris has since been removed thanks to local cooperation, and the reeds have been replanted as an experiment to restore the field. We appreciate the understanding and cooperation of locals who supported the nature revival in the process of the natural environment recovery from the damage by the natural disaster.
 Furthermore, a framework was set for conserving the river and surrounding environment through information exchange and reporting by the Kitakamigawa-karyu River Office and other three cooperative organizations backed by the River Cooperation System set in the Act for Partial Revision of the Flood Prevention Act and the River Act (June 2013). We understand that these cooperations contribute to restructuring the common reed field.
 Researchers of the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage, respectively specialized in intangible cultural properties, folk cultural properties, and cultural heritage disaster risk management, work together to comprehensively investigate the situations, challenges, and solutions in regard to the people, techniques, and materials essential to inheriting intangible cultural properties.

Symposium 2022: “Intangible Cultural Heritage and Disaster Prevention-Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Based on the Experience of the Disaster”

 On March 7, 2023, the symposium of the Cultural Heritage Disaster Risk Management Center, Japan entitled “Intangible Cultural Heritage and Disaster Prevention-Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Based on the Experience of the Disaster” was held at the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (TOBUNKEN). The event was co-sponsored by TOBUNKEN and implemented as a project of the Cultural Heritage Disaster Risk Management Center, Japan.
 The Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011 has brought attention to the important role that intangible cultural heritage plays in the recovery process and the need for protecting it from disasters. While the unprecedented disaster certainly caused much damage to intangible cultural heritage, it also served as a reminder of the value such heritage brings to local communities.
 This symposium was planned to showcase the work done by the National Institute for Cultural Heritage, present examples of damage caused by disasters, and discuss ways of working together with everyone who is involved in caring for intangible cultural heritage throughout Japan. The symposium was attended by 87 people, including government officials, researchers from universities and specialized institutions, and community members who carry on intangible cultural heritage.
 In the morning, TOBUNKEN described the work done by them in the past, and the Cultural Heritage Disaster Risk Management Center, Japan presented research results related to disaster prevention of intangible cultural heritage. In the afternoon, reports were shared by local government officials, leaders, and researchers on three examples of folk events affected by recent disasters “Tokakuji no matsue” (Tokakuji area of Kanda Town, Fukuoka Prefecture), “Ogatsu Houinkagura” (Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture), and “Hikiyama Parades of Nagahama Hikiyama Festival” (Nagahama City, Shiga Prefecture), focusing on disaster response and the process of resuming the events. In the final general discussion, based on the reports, presentations, and discussions of the day, five experts who have been actively involved in this subject at the Cultural Heritage Disaster Risk Management Center, Japan gave a summary.
 The presenters also provided an opportunity for active discussion and sharing of ideas on specific methods of disaster prevention and mitigation in the future. The Cultural Heritage Disaster Risk Management Center, Japan and TOBUNKEN will continue to further develop the discussions at the symposium and work to propose concrete measures in cooperation with both institutions.

Status Survey of the Tsumori Shrine’s Ohoshi Festival: Recommencement of the Intangible Folk Cultural Property Impacted by the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake

Mikoshi (portable shrine) tumbled dramatically
Ritual in front of the temporary shrine

 On October 29th and 30th, 2022, the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage conducted a performing status survey of the Tsumori Shrine’s Ohoshi Festival (the Festival), which has been passed down in Mashiki Town, Kamimashiki County; Nishihara Village, Aso County; and Kikuyo Town, Kikuchi County, Kumamoto Prefecture.

 The Festival is one of the rituals of the Tsumori Shrine located in Jichu, Mashiki Town, held every October 30th. A total of 12 areas across Mashiki Town, Nishihara Village and Kikuyo Town, in turn, build an “Okariya” (temporary shrine) in their own area and enshrine Ohoshi, a deity, in it for one year. This festival is famous for the activities of violently shaking and throwing in the air the mikoshi (portable shrine), which holds the deity in it, during the procession to the next area.

 The two towns and one village that hold the festival were heavily damaged by the Kumamoto Earthquake that occurred in April 2016. The Tsumori Shrine, which plays a key role in this festival, also suffered extensive damage. Therefore, while this festival was conducted on a smaller scale in 2016, it was canceled consecutively in 2017 and 2018. The Sugido area of Mashiki Town was in charge this year. This area has not yet fully recovered from the damage caused by the earthquake. Some residents have only just moved back to their rebuilt houses from temporary housing.

 At the departure ceremony of this year’s procession, the mayor of Mashiki Town and other related parties explained the recovery and reconstruction status and stated that the festival should be conducted in full scale on behalf of the areas that could not conduct it in the usual way. After the earthquake, people were hesitant to treat mikoshi roughly for some time. This year, people violently shook the shrine and walked around the areas as if people tried to regain the activities before the earthquake. Ohoshi was safely moved into the temporary shrine in the Uryusako area of Nishihara Village, which is in charge of the festival next year.

 Intangible Folk Cultural Properties can be affected by natural disasters in unexpected ways because these are closely tied with local people’s lives. The recovery status of local life could affect the actual activities of the Ohoshi Festival. The Department continues to investigate how natural disasters may impact intangible folk cultural properties.

On-site Investigations on Damaged Cultural Properties (Craft Techniques) – Suzu Ware –

Craftworks that were broken by the earthquake (provided by Suzu City)
Intensity of earthquake in the Noto Region, Ishikawa Prefecture, on June 19th, 2022, and damages to each workshop (created by combining the Suzu Ware map and Japan Real-time Information System for earthQuake)

 Suzu Ware is a type of pottery produced in Suzu City and the east part of Noto Town (formerly Uchiura Town) from the mid-12th to late-15th century. It is characterized by a grayish black color produced in a reductional fire without applying glaze. Its reproduction project was started by Suzu City and its Chamber of Commerce in 1976, and Suzu Ware was designated as the Designated Traditional Crafts of Ishikawa Prefecture in 1989. Currently, around 50 of its potters are working individually or in workshops in Suzu City.

 The earthquake in the Noto Region of Ishikawa Prefecture occurred on June 19th, 2022; damages to some of Suzu Ware workshops were confirmed. The Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage and Cultural Heritage Disaster Risk Management Center jointly conducted on-site investigations to grasp the extent of the damage and follow-up on September 6th and October 24th and 25th, 2022, respectively. These investigations were conducted in cooperation with the Industrial Promotion Section of Suzu City, Suzu Ware Museum, Suzu Pottery Workshop, and “Suzuyaki Soenkai,” the association of Suzu Ware potters.

 The areas of Shoin, Choku, and Iida were most severely hit by the earthquake. The workshops in these areas suffered from the damage to their craftworks, and wood-fired kilns, which are mandatory for production. The day after the earthquake, the Industrial Promotion Section called each workshop and potter to examine the damages and requested photographs of them. Thereafter, mainly Mr. SHINOHARA Takashi, chairman of Suzuyaki Soenkai conducted detailed questionnaires on the damages. Based on the questionnaire outcomes, the Suzu City staff who oversaw this, visited the damaged workshops, and recorded the necessary information for recovery. Currently, the information has been compiled and the discussion of its application to the “Subsidy for Operational Cost to Support Reconstruction of Business that Suffered from Damages” by Ishikawa Prefecture for repair and reconstruction to some kilns is underway.

 This case study highlights the importance of community “Soenkai” (meaning an association of creating fire) which connects potters horizontally, and significance of promptly understanding and recording the damages in such emergencies.

 The Department and Center will continue the research on disaster risk management for craft techniques through various on-site investigations.

Survey of the Tokakujinomatsue Performing Status: COVID-19 and the Publication of Intangible Folk Cultural Properties

Rehearsal the day before the event
Reporting to the shrine that prayers are back from Shiokaki (purification with sea water)

 The Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage conducted a field survey of the “Tokakujinomatsue” of the Tokakuji area of Kanda Town, Fukuoka Prefecture, on April 16th and 17th, 2022. Tokakujinomatsue is a folk event that has been passed down at the Tokakuji area of Kanda Town, Fukuoka Prefecture. The people in that area have been actively making video documentation and reports in cooperation with the Board of Education in Kanda Town while they face the challenges of continuing the event under the pressures of depopulation and the aging of the population.

 Fuchisan Tokakuji, located in this area, was one of the bases for Shugendō called Buzenroppo (six peaks of Buzen) in Kyusu until the Haibutsu kishaku (a movement to abolish Buddhism and destroy Shākyamuni) during the Meiji era. Every early April, people in the area, who are said to be descendants of Shugenja, conduct “Tokakujinomatsue” to pray for good harvests, protection from plagues, and national prosperity. Matsue consists of shinkōretsu (the procession of the shrine god), dedication of shishimai (lion dance), “Tagyōji” (playing mimic activities to grow rice crops), and“Katanagyōji” (playing with masakari (broadaxes) and naginata (long handled swords)). At the end of the event, a person climbs a 12-meter pillar set in the field, reads the kiganbun (optative sentence), and performs “Heikiri” to cut ōnusa (paper-made streamers used for Shinto pray) with a real sword.

 Tokakujinomatsue has been heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, much as other folk events nationwide have been. The event was cancelled the last two consecutive years, and this year the event was held but not in the usual way. The Board of Education of Kanda Town contacted us to inquire how to conserve and utilize the videos and photos documented so far, which triggered this survey. In the beginning, we planned to survey the status of the recorded event. However, it was decided to hold the event, even though the event format was to be changed. As the result, this survey led us to think further about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on intangible cultural properties. During the last two years, the department has paid special attention to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on intangible cultural heritage. We will continue to investigate how folk events and folk performing arts that were forced to be cancelled or held in temporary different ways will be passed down in the future.

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