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

A Hands-on Seminar on Documentation and Database Compilation of Cultural Properties — How to Photograph Cultural Properties — Seminar on Practical Photographing as a Tool for Documenting Cultural Properties

Mr. Shirono showing how to hold a camera properly

 Study and documentation of cultural properties are means to develop a deeper understanding of them. Dissemination of the documented information provides many people with opportunities to become familiar with such properties. It also provides a basis for restoration if any cultural property were to be damaged. Therefore, documentation is necessary in terms of these properties’ preservation and utilization. On the subject of photography, which is a means to document cultural properties, Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties held the seminar, referred to in the title, at the Uehara Museum of Art in Shimoda City, Shizuoka Prefecture, on August 24th, 2020. The seminar was organized with the support of the Shizuoka Prefectural Museum Association as well as in collaboration with the Museum. Eleven people, including staff of museums and art galleries, and local government officials in charge of cultural properties in Shizuoka Prefecture, participated in the seminar. For the seminar, the Uehara Museum of Art took proper measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which included keeping distances between seats, ventilation of the lecture rooms, and temperature checks of the participants.
 The seminar comprised a morning and an afternoon session. In the morning session, Mr. Tajima Sei, chief curator of the Uehara Museum of Art, shared his photography experience during his research on temples, followed by an open discussion on issues regarding photographing in the participants’ daily activities. Mr. Shirono Seiji, an artificer of the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems at Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, answered participants’ questions. He also explained, using examples, the importance of photographing focused on the significance of the subject which should be recorded.
 In the afternoon, participants took photos of three artworks owned by the Uehara Museum of Art, using their own cameras. Mr. Shirono explained photographing methods and techniques, including the best lighting to draw out the character of the work, as well as how to properly record colors by manually setting the camera’s white balance. He also showed participants how to operate the photographing equipment. The afternoon session provided hands-on practice as curators of the Uehara Museum of Art, including Mr. Tajima, also gave an exposition of the research techniques of the work.
 The seminar was well received as participants said it was fruitful and productive. It was meaningful for us as well, as it provided us with an opportunity to hear about issues on photography directly from the participants. We would like to show our deepest appreciation to the Uehara Museum of Art and its staff for their great support in planning and organizing the event. We will continue to improve our hands-on seminars, building upon this valuable experience.

Thematic Exhibition “Records and Evaluation of Japanese Art: Trajectory of Art History Research Viewed through Scholars’ Notebooks”

Exhibit in Japanese Gallery (Honkan) Room 14 of the Tokyo National Museum
The Exhibition’s Dedicated Website

 An exhibition regarding research notebooks of Imaizumi Yusaku (1850–1931), Hirako Takurei (1877–1911), and Tanaka Ichimatsu (1895–1983) owned by Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, as well as research notebooks of Doi Tsugiyoshi (1906–1991) owned by the Kyoto Institute of Technology, and others was held at the Tokyo National Museum from July 14th to August 23rd, 2020. The research notebooks of Tanaka Ichimatsu and Doi Tsugiyoshi were showcased at the exhibition “Making notes of Japanese Art History―The research notes of Aimi Kouu, Tanaka Ichimatsu, and Doi Tsugiyoshi” held in 2018 (organized by the Kosetsu Memorial Museum, Jissen Women’s University and the Museum and Archives of Kyoto Institute of Technology). However this time, their notebooks were exhibited together with two artworks owned by the Tokyo National Museum. In the past, when it was not easy to take photos, the principal method of research was to sketch artworks by hand. It is possible to go through the whole process of the study, from the way the researcher worked with each subject to how they recorded and evaluated them, by studying these research notebooks. Reservations were required for the exhibition with the purpose of preventing the spread of COVID-19. However, as a special exhibition “KIMONO: Fashioning Identities” was held at the same time, many people visited and enjoyed the exhibition. A special website was also launched for the exhibition (
 This website continues to be accessible. Please visit the site to view the pages of research notebooks that were not presented at the exhibition as well as transcriptions of the research notebooks.

The 3rd Seminar held by the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems

A scene from the seminar
A page of “Portrait of a Man” in Duveen’s collection in Sandro Botticelli by YASHIRO

 At the 3rd seminar organized by the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems held on August 25th, YAMANASHI Emiko delivered a presentation titled “Correspondence between Joseph Duveen and YASHIRO Yukio archived in the Getty Research Institute”.
 YASHIRO Yukio (1890-1975) played an important role in the establishment of the Institute of Art Research, which is now Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, studied in Europe from 1921 to 1925, and published a book titled Sandro Botticelli (Medici Society, 1925) in English as a result of his study under Bernard Berenson (1865-1959). Berenson was known as a masterful scholar of Renaissance paintings living in the Villa I’Tatti with a large garden near Florence, Italy. It is said that Berenson’s financial success had been based on a contract with Joseph Duveen (British nationality, 1869-1939). Duveen had galleries in New York, Paris and London and helped American millionaires such as Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) and John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) collect classical European paintings. He also founded the Duveen Wing in the Tate Gallery in the U.K.
 Yamanashi translated and analyzed the correspondence between Duveen and YASHIRO and found that YASHIRO sent letters to Duveen as a pupil of Berenson before the publication of his book on Botticelli asking for research of paintings in Duveen’s collection after whichYASHIRO sent his opinion on each work. Some letters reveal that Duveen had been interested in Japan in the 1920’s as a market for classical European paintings and expected YASHIRO to mediate. This seminar gave new aspects to the study of YASHIRO as an art historian as well as the history of European painting collections in Japan.

Response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage

The website of “COVID-19 and Intangible Cultural Heritage”

 The spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has been continually causing a serious impact on the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage at in Japan and abroad.
 For example, in the field of traditional performing arts, performances face forced cancellation or postponement, or the reduction of the number of seats even if performances resume. The production of musical instruments and costumes to support traditional performing arts also has been suffering from a serious impact caused by the decline in demand. In the area of traditional craftsmanship as well, we can observe negative effects like restrictions on holding exhibitions, which serve as the occasions to present work, and limitation on opportunities and venues for sales. Furthermore, we know these traditional performing arts and craftsmanship are, in most cases transposed to the next generation through face-to-face training and skill transfer, facing serious diminution of such opportunities.
 We can also observe serious impacts on folk performing arts, customs, and techniques handed down in local regions. Regarding these intangible folk cultural properties, it is true that the aging and declining population had already made it difficult for many of them to survive in local areas, It is concerned that this COVID-19 pandemic spurs them to further deterioration, now leading a number of them to face possible annihilation.
 When it comes to international affairs, there are concerns that the existence of intangible cultural heritage handed down by ethnic groups is at stake in countries and regions already facing challenges in the medical system and sanitary environment.
 Although the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are generally widespread on tangible and intangible cultural heritage, we believe that the effect on so-called living heritage including intangible cultural heritage is very serious. This is because such heritage is supported by the activities of living humans, and activities by humans are exactly what the COVID-19 pandemic restrains most.
 The Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties has been widely collecting information on the effects of the COVID-19 on intangible cultural heritage in Japan and overseas since April 2020. Among them are information on cancellation and postponement of performances, exhibitions and festivities, information on their resumption, information on support (benefits, subsidies etc.) by the government, local public organizations and private organizations, information on new attempts including online distribution and disclosure of performances and exhibitions, information on situations in each country and attempts by international organizations including UNESCO.
 We are also working to disseminate some of the collected information. For example, we launched the webpage of “COVID-19 and Intangible Cultural Heritage” ( on the website of the department. This webpage provides information on supports by the government, local public organizations and private organizations as well as discloses the analytic results of statistical information on postponement, cancellation and resumption of related businesses regarding the effects of the COVID-19 disaster on traditional performing arts. We also launched Facebook Groups “COVID-19 and Intangible Cultural Heritage” ( on the Facebook page of the Institute to provide information on supports as well as information on new attempts and information on international trends. Anyone who has a Facebook account can join the group as a member and receive information on a regular basis. Also, anyone who has a Facebook account can read articles even without becoming a member.
 We are also working to disseminate information through holding forums. In September, we are going to hold “Traditional Performing Arts and Novel Coronavirus” as the forum 1 of “Series Forum: COVID-19 and Intangible Cultural Heritage.” In December, we plan to hold “Intangible Folk Cultural Property in Novel Corona Virus Pandemic (tentative title)” as the forum 2. From the viewpoint of preventing the infectious disease, we have to limit the number of participants and have some presenters participate by recording or remote call. We plan to upload the videos of the forum online for a certain period of time. We will release the details of these forums in our future activity report.
 The situation of the COVID-19 disaster is changing from moment to moment, making it already difficult even at present to obtain information on the preceding situation. Therefore, we are going to continuously collect information and comprehensively analyze the data including information not published on websites and in forums so that we will be able to effectively utilize them to contribute to the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage.

Basic Research for the Development of a New Technology Useful for Detecting Cultural Property Pest

Field survey
DNA base sequence analysis

 The Biological Science Section of the Center for Conservation Science has been promoting basic research on a new technology useful for detecting cultural property pests or pest identification methods that use DNA analysis. In order to specify the type of a cultural property pest, we generally identify the species by comparing the characteristics of the external morphology of the pest with information described in pictorial books and specialized guides. The similar external morphology of some pests will make type specification difficult and require specialized knowledge, including dissection and comparison of body details. In addition, we frequently experience a situation that allows us to obtain only limited parts of their bodies. Therefore, we have been analyzing some specific regions of DNA of cultural property pests, creating a unique database of base sequence information specialized for cultural property pests, and attempting to apply the “DNA barcoding” method to conduct type specification by using DNA obtained from unidentified samples.
 We conducted a field survey from August 6th to 7th, 2020, in the historical wooden structures in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, in an attempt to capture several species of Anobiidae not registered in the database. With no effective traps available to capture target Anobiidae during the field survey, we conducted persistent research, checking every detail of the damaged wooden structures, which resulted in the capture of several species of Anobiidae.
 To date, we have determined the DNA base sequences of about 40 major cultural property pests, including the individuals obtained from this field survey, and are now proceeding with the creation of the database. Included in it are many types unregistered in the public database. We can safely say that it is a matter of great importance to build a database specializing in cultural property pests.
 Hereafter, we plan to develop technology to identify the pests from their body parts such as legs and wings, extract DNA from molting shells and manure left in damaged parts, and identify the “criminal” that has harmed cultural properties.

The Consultation Desk for Virus Removal and Disinfection Work at Museums to Deal with the Novel Coronavirus Infection

 In 2020, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infection spread all over the world. On April 7, the Japanese government issued a state of emergency to seven prefectures, and on April 16, they expanded the target areas to all prefectures. Facilities possessing cultural properties also found it necessary to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 infection and then they encountered the concerns about the impact disinfection might cause to cultural properties. The Agency for Cultural Affairs issued an administrative contact on April 23, “Regarding the measures for virus removal and disinfection work to be taken by cultural property owners and administrators of facilities for the conservation and public display of cultural properties.”
 The Agency warned the departments responsible for cultural properties across the country that disinfecting chemicals could cause deterioration of cultural properties, therefore some cases would require cautions in using those chemicals; and when any department faced the necessity of engaging in disinfection work for cultural properties and needed professional advice, it should consult the Agency beforehand. They asked the following three organizations — the Agency for Cultural Affairs, the National Center for the Promotion of Cultural Properties, and the Center for Conservation Science of Tokyo Cultural Properties Research Institute — to cooperate and provide the service as the consultation desk to respond to the situation. Our Institute has posted on its website that it is available to accept technical consultations regarding disinfection. (
 So far, we have received a wide range of consultations including not only on disinfection in museums, art museums, exhibition rooms and storage of archives, but also on the disinfection of buildings as well as folk cultural properties used for festivals. In response to these consultations, our Institute has advised to minimize the usage of chemicals for disinfection and instead employ other infection prevention countermeasures. Even in cases absolutely requiring disinfection, we have advised on how to respond or on how to ventilate in the best possible manner according to each situation. Hereafter, while constantly examining the need for disinfection, we are going to keep responding to the situations as a consultation desk.

The 30th Public Exhibition of the Conservation Facility for Mural Paintings of Takamatsuzuka Tumulus, a National Treasure

Measuring of fine particles in the visitor corridor

 The 29th Public Exhibition of the Conservation Facility for Mural Paintings of Takamatsuzuka Tumulus, a National Treasure, was canceled because the number of the cases with novel coronavirus was so increasing. With sufficient infection prevention supervised by public health specialists, the 30th Public Exhibition was held from July 18th to July 24th, 2020. Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural properties sent four researchers as expositors for the visitors.
 In this public exhibition, the azure dragon painted on the east wall, the black tortoise on the northern wall, female figures on the east and west walls, which were restored last year, were placed near the visitor corridor.
 Before viewing these wall paintings, we asked visitors to measure their body temperature, report their health condition in the last two weeks, and disinfect their hands frequently. The number of daily visitors were restricted to 100 in the viewpoint of avoiding crowded in the corridor for visitors. While face to face instructions have been done previously, we installed audio guides and answered the questions from visitors outside to protect them against droplet infection. We also ventilated the corridor with a blower, and cleaned the surface inside with alcohol.. As specialists of conservation science, we offered technical supports to insure visitors’ safety, such as monitoring the concentration of carbon dioxide as the index of ventilation and measuring the number of droplet particles with a particle counter to check the air quality.
 The application for public exhibition in this coming winter is available form the link below:

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