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

Presentation at CIDOC 2019 (ICOM Kyoto 2019, the 25th General Conference)

Example of Kanji Variants in the Japanese Language
System to Search All Possible Variations through Comprehensive Retrieval

 The International Council of Museums (ICOM), created in 1946, is a non-government organization aimed at exchanging and sharing information on museums. The general conference, which is held for all of its International Committees every three years, took place in Kyoto this year. Three staff members from the Cultural Properties Information Section attended the conference to deliver a presentation titled “Two Solutions for Orthographical Variants Problem” at CIDOC, ICOM’s International Committee for Documentation.
 One of the features of the Japanese language is its varied orthographic system, under which you use kanji, hiragana and katakana quite differently. However, this system results in creating orthographical variants, such as龍 and竜, as well as藝 and芸, causing search omissions. Focusing on personal names, we reported our own way of coping with all possible variations for the database of our website.
 Orthographical variants are not unique to the Japanese language. For example, some systematic solution is required for the English retrieval system if the results of the plural form should also be shown when you perform a search in a singular form. Cultural properties have their universal value although there are some issues originating in locality in their documentation. We would like to consider the universality and locality in cultural properties from the aspect of system infrastructure.

Presentation and Information Sharing for ICFA Committee, ICOM Kyoto “The Minakuchi Rapier, European Sword Produced in Japan

Presentation for ICFA committee at ICOM Kyoto

 For a week, from September 1st to 7th, ICOM Kyoto 2019, the 25th General Conference was held at the Kyoto International Conference Centre as its main venue.
 At the ICFA’s (International Committee for Museums and Collections of Fine Arts) individual session “Asian Art in Western Museumns, Western Art in Asian Museums II,” KOBAYASHI Koji from the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems delivered a presentation titled The Minakuchi Rapier, European Sword Produced in Japan jointly with Ms. NAGAI Akiko from the Koka City Minakuchi History and Folkroe Museum.
 The Minakuchi Rapier (cruciform sword possessed by Fujisaka Shrine in Koka City) was produced in Japan modeled on a European sword, which was brought Japan in the early 17th century. We have been researching this sword together with experts at home and abroad since 2013. Part of the processes and outcomes have been reported through the articles, “the 10th Seminar Held by the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems ‘Study of the Western Cruciform Sword Possessed by Fujisaka Shrine in Koka City’” ( and “Research of the Western-style Cruciform Sword Possessed by Fujisaka Shrine in Minakuchi, Koka City, Shiga Prefecture by an Expert from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and an Initial Report at the 7th Seminar Held by the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems” (
 For this presentation, the later result of analyzing the sword blade at SPring-8 (large-scale synchrotron radiation facility) and historical examination from an overall point of view was added. This presentation aimed at disseminating to the world, including Europe and the United States, the fact that such Western swords existed in Japan in the 17th century when cultural exchange was occurring globally, and that a sword was imitated at that time and has been handed down up to the present time.
 At the fully occupied presentation venue, the audience showed much interest in the existence of such a cultural property in Japan through a variety of questions and discussions, including on the background of producing a Western sword replica.

Formation Process of Namban Lacquer and Its Dating: Seminar Held by the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems

Ongoing Seminar

 At the 6th Seminar held by the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems on September 24th, 2019, KOBAYASHI Koji, Head of the Trans-Disciplinary Research Section, delivered a presentation titled “Formation Process of Namban Lacquer and Its Dating – Examination Especially Focusing on Christian Portable Oratory.”
 There is no consensus on when and how Namban lacquer, which was produced in Kyoto and exported mainly to Europe and America in the early 17th century, started to be utilized. So far, among portable oratories, in which Christian sacred paintings are placed, much attention has been paid only to the ones produced as Namban lacquer. The presenter comprehensively examined the portable oratories produced for Japanese Christians as well, which continued to be handed down to this day in the Sendaiji and Shimo-otowa areas in Ibaraki City, Osaka, well-known as settlements of crypto-Christians; these oratories include the one owned by the General Library of the University of Tokyo, which has a the painting of Christ by NIWA Jacob, who learned painting in seminary in Japan, in addition to the Namban lacquer portable oratories scattered around the world. Among them, a group of oratories without decorative pattern on metal fittings were extracted and compared with a makie decorated Chinese-style chest owned by Toyokuni Shrine, with a miniature shrine ornamented by Namban lacquer patterns of Kodaiji-style makie and raden decoration made for a statue of TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi possessed by Richi-in Temple in Misaki Town, with a relatively older makie shelf having metal fittings, and others. As a result, the presenter concluded that the oratories with no decorative metal fittings are the oldest, estimated to have been produced between the latest 16th century and the earliest 17th century.
 This dating of older oratories matches the presenter’s dating of Namban lacquer lectern, which had been estimated to be produced from the early 17th century, i.e., a little later than oratories.
 The examination was aimed at exploring the formation process and dating of Namban lacquer. If these results are accepted, it might become a catalyst for reconsideration of various issues involving painters or production areas of sacred paintings and frames placed in the portable oratories, on the reality of Christianity and trade in Japan around the early 17th century as well as the relations between TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi /the Tokugawa shogunate and the Anti-Christian Edicts/Christian missions.
 At the seminar attended by Dr. TAKEDA Eri, a restorer of Western early paintings, Professor KOIKE Tomio from Tsurumi University, and many other researchers in related fields from the art museums organizing exhibitions of lacquerware from the Momoyama period, lively discussions were held on diverse topics, right from methodology to various other aspects.

The Fourth “Workshop on Winnowing Baskets”

Scene of winnowing

 On September 23rd, 2019, the fourth “Workshop on Winnowing Baskets” took place for interested persons at Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties.
 The series of workshops aims to research the techniques and cultures involved in “winnowing baskets” as folkcraft articles, used for screening and carrying threshed grains, considering the inheritance of them to be important. Originating in the “Summit Conference on Winnowing Baskets – Discussion of Weaving Techniques” held here in 2017, the workshop was organized by those who are interested in winnowing baskets, such as specialists in folk studies, archaeology, design engineering, and botany, as well as craftsman, sellers, and users of winnowing baskets and other handicrafts. We have been sharing our research outcomes and issues through the workshop held almost biannually.
 For the fourth workshop, winnowing experiments were conducted with baskets produced in various areas, in addition to the research reports. Wheat, rice, and perilla were screened with winnowing baskets named Omogishi (Iwate Pref.), Oidara (Akita Pref.), Kizumi (Chiba Pref.), Ronden/Kumanashi (Toyama Pref.), Awa (Tokushima Pref.), and Hioki (Kagoshima Pref.) (production techniques for Oidara, Kizumi, and Ronden/Kumanashi ones are designated as national intangible folk cultural properties), in addition to Chinese willow ones, Korean wickerwork ones, and Malaysian ones. Actual comparison between these baskets allowed us to deepen the understanding of their functions and arrive at a basic date to verify the significance of their individual shaping and material selection as well as the differences in user-friendliness (functionality) according to areas.
 The workshop will enhance studies on winnowing baskets produced in a variety of areas and reflect on the inheritance of their production techniques and cultures of usage together with their craftsman and sellers.

Research Exchange Program with the National Intangible Heritage Center in the Republic of Korea (Hosting a Visiting Researcher in Japan)

Watching the land under slash-and-burn agriculture in Shiiba village, Miyazaki Prefecture

 The Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties has been conducting research exchanges with the National Intangible Heritage Center in the Republic of Korea since 2008. As a part of the interaction, the department welcomed Ms. Kang Kyeonghye from the center as a visiting researcher from September 17th through October 4th, 2019.
 The theme of her research during the visit was agricultural folk technology as an intangible cultural heritage in Japan; particularly, the current slash-and-burn agriculture practiced here. Therefore, we accompanied her to field studies as support from the department.
 During her stay, she conducted field work twice. First, she visited Ikawa in Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Prefecture, which is a mountain area above the Oi River. Slash-and-burn agriculture had flourished until World War II in the area. Shortly after the war, it declined so drastically that it was maintained only for the cultivation of foxtail millet, which was used for rites of the shrine. In recent years, however, a private organization has taken the initiative to revive slash-and-burn agriculture to encourage the growth of traditional crops.
 Second, she visited Shiiba village in Miyazaki Prefecture, an area located in the middle of the Kyushu Mountains. Slash-and-burn agriculture had also flourished there until the war. In the post-war period, it almost disappeared. However, one farm family has been sustaining the cultivation technique. Recently, a new association was established to preserve the technique while schoolchildren were taught about slash-and-burn agriculture as part of a work-study program, in addition to the promotion activities by a group led by the farm family. The slash-and-burn agriculture in Shiiba village was designated as an intangible folk cultural property by the Village in 2012, and then by the Prefecture in 2016. It is now well-known as the Takachihogo-Shiibayama Site by the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) after the certification in 2015.
 In Korea, the Act on Conservation and Promotion of Intangible Cultural Properties was enforced in 2016, which raised interest in traditional knowledge as an intangible cultural heritage. From 2017 to 2020, the Cultural Heritage Administration has been investigating the traditional agricultural knowledge that exists until today. The data is to be accumulated as basic information or used for the designation of cultural properties. However, Korean slash-and-burn agriculture techniques have also almost disappeared, and none of them have been designated as cultural heritage properties.
 In Japan, although the slash-and-burn agriculture in Shiiba village is designated as an intangible folk cultural property by the Prefecture and the Village, there are no nationally designated agricultural techniques. It should be noted that private organizations have taken the initiative to promote slash-and-burn agriculture, as observed in Ikawa and Shiiba village. Utilization of GIAHS or any other framework different from the existing one might be more important in the future.
 Thus, how to conserve and utilize the traditional agricultural techniques, including slash-and-burn agriculture is a common issue in both Japan and Korea. It would be meaningful to find a solution for such a common issue by exchanging information and promoting discussions through this joint research.

International Course on Conservation of Japanese Paper 2019

Practical session

 The International Course on Conservation of Japanese Paper was held from September 9th to 27th, 2019. This course has been jointly organized by Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties and the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) since 1992. The course aims to contribute to the protection of cultural property outside Japan by disseminating the knowledge and techniques of the conservation and restoration of paper cultural property in Japan to participants from around the world. This year, ten specialists in conservation from ten countries (Australia, Canada, China, Estonia, Ireland, Italy, Qatar, UK, Ukraine, and USA) were selected as participants among 71 applications from 33 countries.
 The course was composed of lectures, practical sessions, and an excursion. The lectures covered the protection systems of both tangible and intangible cultural property in Japan, basic insights into the Japanese paper, traditional conservation materials, and tools. The practical sessions were led by instructors from a certified group holding the Selected Conservation Techniques on “Restoration techniques for mounts.” The participants had an experience of restoration work of paper cultural property, from cleaning it to mounting it in a handscroll. Japanese-style bookbinding and handling of folding screens and hanging scrolls were also included in the sessions. The excursion to the cities of Nagoya, Mino, and Kyoto, which was arranged in the middle of the course, offered an opportunity to see folding screens and sliding doors in historic buildings, the Japanese papermaking, which is designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property of Japan (Honminoshi), a traditional restoration studio, and so forth. On the last day, availability and the usage of washi in each country and the application of Japanese traditional techniques to other countries were discussed.
 The participants could gain a deeper understanding of conservation materials, tools, and techniques used in Japan throughout this course. We hope that the knowledge and techniques they acquired during the course will be applied to the conservation and restoration of cultural property overseas.

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