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

Online Annual Meeting with the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures

Online discussion
Information about exhibitions for Japanese art held abroad provided by the Sainsbury Institute (TOBUNKEN Research Collections database)
Exhibition Catalog, “Tokyo: Art & Photography,” Ashmolean Museum

 On December 2, 2021, the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (TOBUNKEN) held an annual meeting online with the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures in the United Kingdom about our collaborative project, “Shaping the Fundamentals of Research on Japanese Art.” We have been carrying out this joint project with the Sainsbury Institute since 2013. The meeting began with Professor Simon Kaner, Executive Director of the Sainsbury Institute, expressing his gratitude for the ongoing activities during the current challenging period of COVID-19. He also mentioned that this project had been highly valued as an important international collaborative project by the institute’s management board.
 During the past year, in addition to the ongoing updating of databases, we started translating the historical articles from the annals of art where Japanese originals are already included in Nihon Bijutsu Nenkan (Yearbook). The translations are now published as “Art News Articles” on the TOBUNKEN website in a searchable format ( Please refer to the November 2021 monthly report ( The English translations are currently available online for 2013–2015. More articles will be translated and published online in due course to disseminate information on Japanese art globally.
 The Sainsbury Institute has contributed information on exhibitions of Japanese art held abroad to the TOBUNKEN Research Collections database ( As parts of our information sharing and research exchanges for the project, Ms. Miwako Hayashi Bitmead of the Sainsbury Institute has also contributed a review of the exhibition, “Tokyo: Art & Photography.” It is held at the Ashmolean Museum for our periodical, Bijutsu Kenkyū (The Journal of Art Studies), issue 436, to be published in March 2022. Her review provides us with insight into the exhibition as well as the situation outside of Japan, as opportunities to visit overseas art exhibitions have been reduced dramatically. It is highly recommended.
 Recently, more activities can be conducted online, and we all have been taking advantage of these. Yet, presenting at a venue in person is still indispensable for researching artworks, delivering lectures, and exchanging ideas with a wide range of audiences. Though our plans are dependent on the situation, our intention is to resume the research exchanges that were conducted before the pandemic in the coming year or so.

Photographing and Optical Research of KURODA Seiki’s Oil Paintings

Investigation of coloring materials by X-ray fluorescence spectrometry

 The Kuroda Memorial Hall houses and exhibits the paintings of KURODA Seiki and others. His oil paintings, the key collection, now count to 149, and belong to the Tokyo National Museum, of which the Kuroda Memorial Hall is currently a part of.
 Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (TOBUNKEN) photographed KURODA’s entire collection of oil paintings housed at the Hall, with high-resolution color, infrared and fluorescence imaging, from October through December 2021, in collaboration with the staff of the Tokyo National Museum. Furthermore, using X-ray fluorescence technologies, we analyzed the coloring materials used for the paintings: “Wisdom, Impression, Sentiment”, “Reading”, “Maiko Girl” and “Lakeside”.
 KURODA Seiki studied oil paintings in France at the end of the 19th century. He learned the academic style, and acquired the Impressionist vision, weighing the sketches from outside. Following his return to Japan, he became a part of the mainstream Japanese modern painting world. His style changed with his position and circumstances – while in France, soon after returning to Japan, and after creating his niche in the Japanese art world. It is significant to have photographed his oil paintings with the same modern methods and lighting, including high-resolution color, infrared or fluorescence images that had never been taken before. We will uncover the techniques he used to actually paint these works, by comprehensively evaluating the information of brush touch, as highlighted by the high-resolution color imaging; the existence of drawings beneath and the color overlap as exposed by infrared and fluorescence imaging; and the details of the coloring materials used, as analyzed by the x-ray fluorescence imaging. The images photographed will prove to be essential in the research to understand the heart of the oil paintings by KURODA Seiki, who was an artistic leader of modern oil art in Japan.
 Some images of his oil paintings have been made public on the TOBUNKEN website (, as well as in the reports including “Kuroda Seiki, Wisdom, Impression, Sentiment, Artwork Archive for Art Studies, volume I” (2002) and “Kuroda Seiki Lakeside, Artwork Archive for Art Studies, volume V” (2008). We plan to publish the outcomes of the latest photographing and research on our website.

Series of Intangible Cultural Heritage and COVID-19 – “Forum 3: Traditional Performing Arts amid COVID-19 Pandemic: Seeking Good Practices for Safeguarding”

The Shakuhachi 5 performed “Space for three Shakuhachi”
Round table session

 Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage held “Forum 3: Traditional Performing Arts amid COVID-19 Pandemic: Seeking Good Practices for Safeguarding” in the seminar room at the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (TOBUNKEN) on December 3rd, 2021.
 In the morning session, ISHIMURA Tomo, MAEHARA Megumi, and KAMATA Sayumi of the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage reported on the topics: the UNESCO’s perspective of “Good Practice,” the current situation of traditional performing arts, and various supports for them amid the COVID-19 pandemic. MAEHARA also introduced the technique recently recognized as the nation’s Selected Conservation Technique. The topics on the movements of young and mid-career performers such as “Souten” and “the Shakuhachi 5” were also introduced. Then shakuhachi performance followed.
 In the afternoon session, the case studies were introduced from the viewpoints of various roles:
 as planners and producers, the Japan Arts Council, an independent administrative agency, and Hyogo Performing Arts Center;
 as performers, Noh performer of Kanze School, and Japan Shakuhachi Professional-players Network(JSPN);
 as a conservation technique practitioner, Fujinami Properties Co. Ltd. (Association of Conservation for Production Techniques of Kabuki stage properties); and
 as secretariat of Dissemination and Empowerment for Hogaku, Agency for Cultural Affairs, Toppan Inc.
 At the round-table-talk, we discussed how to foresee realistic ways of managing “with COVID-19,” even when we are still amid the COVID-19 pandemic; overview of the current situation of traditional performing arts and their activities; and information sharing. We concluded this forum with the statement that holding this kind of discussion itself is considered as “Good Practice”.
 This forum was held with an audience limited to small numbers of related parties, considering the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it is now available to watch on the TOBUNKEN website till March 31st, 2022. We also plan to publish a report at the end of FY2021 and release it on our website in Japanese.

Participation in the International Co-Sponsored Meeting on Culture, Heritage and Climate Change (ICSM CHC)

Kiribati faces the risk of being submerged by increasing sea levels (photo taken in February 2014)

 Currently, climate change is one of the most important issues that need resolution. To that end, the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 26) was held from October 31st to November 12th, 2021 to tackle this issue on a global scale.

 Climate change is closely linked to the conservation of cultural heritage. For example, large typhoons and heavy rain that are considered common indicators of climate change could damage cultural heritage and museums. Furthermore, rising sea levels caused by climate change could vanish the cultural heritage in coastal areas and at low altitudes. The Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (TOBUNKEN) conducted a survey entitled “The Current State of Cultural Heritage Sites that Are Likely to be Affected by Climate Change” as a “Project for International Contribution to Cultural Heritage Protection (Exchange of Experts)” commissioned by the Agency for Cultural Affairs in FY2013; in the project, we made surveys in Tuvalu, Kiribati, and Fiji of the Oceania region which were likely to be affected by climate change.

 In 2021, the International Co-Sponsored Meeting on Culture, Heritage and Climate Change (ICSM CHC) was held online from December 6th to 10th and was co-sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It became the first international opportunity to comprehensively discuss the impacts and issues of cultural heritage and climate change. More than 100 experts participated from all over the world. Two experts from Japan participated: ISHIMURA Tomo (this article’s author), Head, Audio-Visual Documentation Section of the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage and Dr. IWABUCHI Akifumi, Professor of Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology and a member of the ICOMOS International Committee on the Underwater Cultural Heritage (ICUCH).

 Prior to this meeting, three preliminary meetings were held online from September to October 2021 in which discussion points were organized and clarified in preparation of the ICSM CHC. The outcomes were then compiled as reports titled “White Papers” on December 1st; these reports formed the basis of discussions during the ICSM CHC.

 Three themes were discussed: 1) Knowledge Systems and Climate Change: Systemic connections of culture, heritage and climate change; 2) Impacts and Climate Change: Loss, damage and adaption for culture and heritage; and 3) Heritage Solutions and Climate Change: Role of culture and heritage in transformative change and alternative sustainable futures. Each theme had a panel discussion, workshop and poster presentations. Preliminarily selected experts participated in the panel discussions which were broadcasted online. Experts participated in the workshops using an online conference platform. Since simultaneous discussion with all participating experts was not practical, the experts were divided into groups of 5 to 10. For the poster presentations, experts posted their posters on the web and participated in related Q&A sessions and discussions using an online conference system.

 Many topics were discussed in the meetings. Currently, the secretariat of the ICSM CHC is compiling the outcomes of discussions and the final report will be published in the first half of 2022.

 I, as a participant in this meeting, strongly feel that people are powerfully connected to cultural heritage, especially intangible cultural heritage, and can thus be spurred to better attend to climate change issues. Many participants said that in the discussion for the theme “Knowledge Systems and Climate Change,” we would need to seriously consider not only “scientific knowledge” but also “indigenous knowledge” and “local knowledge” to address climate change. These are considered equivalent to the so-called “traditional knowledge” that intangible cultural heritage provides. Participants made the claim that, to understand the effects of climate change on cultural heritage, it is essential to incorporate local community knowledge in areas surrounding such heritage. Additionally, many people suggested that the key to solving climate change related issues can be found in indigenous and local knowledge.

 ICOMOS will continue to work on this project to build a framework to pursue the issues of culture, heritage, and climate change. The author, in collaboration with the TOBUNKEN team, will also continue to monitor the situation.

Online Observations of the Sixteenth Session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO

Field research for canoe culture in the Federated States of Micronesia by TOBUNKEN (August 2018)

 The Sixteenth Session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO was held from December 13th to 18th, 2021. This session was planned to be held in Sri Lanka but was held online like the previous session due to COVID-19. While the previous session was shortened to three hours per day for deliberations, this session had 6 hours per day and the agenda was the same as usual. In the meeting, only Dr. Punchi Nilame Meegaswatte, chairperson of the session and Secretary General of Sri Lanka National Commission for UNESCO, and members of the secretariat gathered at UNESCO’s headquarter in Paris, while other representatives from the Committee Member States, States Parties, accredited non-governmental organizations etc. participated using an online conference platform. It was broadcasted via the internet and two researchers of the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (TOBUNKEN) participated as observers.

 This time, while Japan did not submit any agenda, the Intergovernmental Committee inscribed four elements on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, 39 elements on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and 4 elements on the Register of Good Safeguarding Practices. The elements of 9 countries were inscribed for the first time on the list: the Federated States of Micronesia, Montenegro, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Congo, Denmark, Seychelles, Timor-Leste, Iceland, and Haiti.

 Among these elements, “Carolinian wayfinding and canoe making” which was nominated by the Federated States of Micronesia and inscribed in the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, is the one related to the international cooperation projects for cultural heritage conservation by TOBUNKEN. TOBUNKEN has been working on the conservation of canoe culture as intangible cultural heritage (ICH) in the Pacific Island nations: the first “Canoe Summit” was held in Guam in May 2016 and interactions took place in Japan with the traditional navigators of the Federated States of Micronesia. In fact, one of the TOBUNKEN outcomes was the inscription of “Carolinian wayfinding and canoe making” at this time. “Joumou soup” nominated by Haiti was discussed in this session and inscribed in the Representative List in accordance with Haiti’s wish and international society’s consideration to encourage the people in Haiti, who were devastated by the 2021 earthquake. The important role that ICH plays to encourage people suffering in the aftermath of disasters was highlighted in the discourse regarding the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 and reaffirmed in this case.

 In this session of the Intergovernmental Committee, the outcomes of “Open-ended intergovernmental working group meeting in the framework of the global reflection on the listing mechanisms of the 2003 Convention” held in 2021, were also discussed. Though the operational procedures for the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage are described in “Operational Directives,” there are various cases whose procedures were not covered by the current “Operational Directives” as it has been more than 10 years since the Directives were first adopted. For example, there are no descriptions on how to transfer the elements in the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, and how to remove the elements once inscribed from the list. These cases have been individually judged in the intergovernmental committee. The working group, which was set up in 2018 to comprehensively discuss these issues, has submitted the revision of “Operational Directives” based on the outcome of the intergovernmental working group meeting held in 2021 described above. While the reform plan was decided to be submitted to General Assembly in 2022, the mandate of this working group was extended to 2022 to further streamline the discussion.

 This session progressed smoothly despite it being online owing to the mutual trust and cooperation among the state party representatives including committee member states and the UNESCO secretariat; nevertheless, I felt that it was largely because of the chairperson’s leadership. The session in Sri Lanka, the chairperson’s native country, could not happen but he took his position’s responsibility seriously and made the participants feel comfortable using his sense of humor. We were deeply impressed by his attitude. The next host country will be officially announced after monitoring the COVID-19 situation. We sincerely hope to hold the meeting in person.

The 16th Conference on the Study of Intangible Folk Cultural Properties

General discussion

 Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (TOBUNKEN) held the 16th Conference on the Study of Intangible Folk Cultural Properties titled “The Power of Video Documentation – to Overcome the Crisis” participated by a minimum number of stakeholders on December 17th, 2021, to comply with the COVID-19 protocols.

 We are still suffering from the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The stakeholders representing intangible folk cultural properties are trapped in the situation, as they have been unable to organize the usual activities. Japan’s annual festivals, including religious and local festivals, have been on hold for two consecutive years. This has hindered the techniques succession process and reduced motivations, thus affecting the succession process of intangible cultural heritage.

 An attempt was made to overcome these crises through the utilization of video documentations. In the COVID-19 pandemic, which imposed a limit on people’s gathering, video technology, including video documentation and online video meetings, has gained popularity. This has made it possible to connect people without face-to-face meetings. Additionally, as videos have proven to be useful for the succession of cultural heritage, various video documentations have been produced and archived video recordings utilized.

 Thus, we used this year’s conference as an opportunity to discuss the challenges of video documentations. Two participants from TOBUNKEN and five from public administration and research delivered the presentation about the activities undertaken for the conservation and utilization of video and media in local governments, industries, and academia. Then, they participated in a general discussion with two additional commentators, where the topics were examined in detail.

 This conference is available online between January 14th and February 14th, 2022 at All contents of this conference will be published as a report in March 2022 and be available online at the webpage of the department of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Molecular Biological Analysis for Identifying Cultural PropertyPests Using Their Frass

Method to identify cultural property pests using DNA as an identifier
Collecting frass from buildings

 Damages caused by cultural property pests are a serious and global threat to cultural property conservation because they result in significant losses of cultural property materials and largely reduce their values. Thus, it is critical to identify and take appropriate measures as soon as the cultural properties start showing signs of damage to prevent further loss. However, we may encounter a situation in which it is difficult to identify “criminal” species even by experts, as we cannot find living insect pests but only their frass. To overcome these difficulties, the Biological Science Section has identified cultural property pests using DNA extracted from frass as an identifier.

 As the outcomes in FY2021, we succeeded in establishing a method to identify species by frass for the major pests boring bamboo, which are used as part of cultural property buildings and to create craft works. The method includes collecting bamboo-boring pests, extracting the DNAs, and determining a short section of sequence from a specific gene. The datum is registered in the international databases, combining the morphological characteristics and the DNA sequence. Then, DNA is extracted from frass collected at rearing containers and outside buildings, determining their target sequence. The resulting sequences are compared to the reference databases to find the matching species. Before the establishment of the method, it was difficult to determine the base sequence, because the DNA extracted from the frass was either too small or contaminated by DNA of other species. However, specific primers for PCR constructed in this study enabled us to succeed in identifying “criminal” species using anonymous frass collected in the cultural property buildings, rather than being limited to laboratories. Please refer to “Science for Conservation” #61 for further details.

 In the future, we plan to further develop specific primers to identify species by frass of cultural property pests in various phyletic lines, and enable easy usage in the field by upgrading the base detection system, including standardization and simplification of methods. We will continue to proceed with the study to achieve these objectives.

Understanding the Progress in the Technical Support Provided to the Bagan Archaeological Site in Myanmar

Conserved and restored parts are maintained in good condition (middle and upper parts), and plants have grown in the parts that remain unrestored.

 Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (TOBUNKEN) has been working on a technical support and skill development project for the conservation and restoration of wall paintings and exterior walls of the temples composed of bricks, targeting the staff in the Bagan branch of the Department of Archaeology and National Museums of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture of Myanmar. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and deterioration of Myanmar’s general situation have hindered our onsite work for some time. In such circumstances, we are conducting online meetings every two months to understand the status of the Me-taw-ya and Lokahteikpan temples, which are the target sites for the conservation and restoration project. We continue to provide advice for their maintenance and management by referring to the site photographs sent to us by the local staff.

 The current status of the Me-taw-ya temple was reported at the meeting held on December 19th, 2021, informing that its restored parts have remained in good condition since our onsite activities were halted, which was two years ago. In the Bagan Archaeological Site, other organizations (prior to the involvement of TOBUNKEN) had repeatedly restored the joint plaster and adopted countermeasures against rain leakage. However, in most of the cases, the restoration materials were damaged within a year. Additionally, in 2021, the heavy rainfall caused disastrous damages to the structure.

 For this project, we have been closely working with the local experts by listening carefully to their concerns and conducting relevant research to address them. The restoration materials introduced by TOBUNKEN have remained in good condition for 5 years, showing no damage even at the oldest parts. Thus, it is important to carefully monitor the progress after the restoration and to work on the restoration. Despite the frustration at being unable to work onsite because of the current situation, the proven effectiveness of the conservation and restoration to sustain over multiple years is a source of constant motivation for us.

 Thus, while we continue to extend our full cooperation to the local staff, we remain hopeful about resuming our onsite work shortly.

Preliminary Research for the Restoration Support and the Rehabilitation of Damaged Cultural Heritage in Nepal

The South East corner of the Shiva Temple podium before the investigation
Assuming original structure of internal podium exposed by the dismantling investigation

 An earthquake of magnitude 7.8 struck Nepal on April 25th, 2015. Subsequently, several regions, including the capital city of Kathmandu, were stricken, and many cultural properties, including the World Cultural Heritage, were damaged. Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (TOBUNKEN) has been continuing the investigation and support for the preservation of damaged cultural heritage since November 2015 through projects such as the one commissioned by the Agency for Cultural Affairs. Recently, I was asked to travel there by Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA). The investigation required partially dismantling the podium of the Shiva Temple in the Hanumandhoka Palace in Kathmandu and was conducted from December 5th–17th, 2021.

 Shiva Temple, which is a 5m by 5m-multi-storied building, is considered to have been constructed in the 17th century. Its super structure had completely collapsed due to the above mentioned earthquake. TOBUNKEN conducted excavations to examine the composition of its foundation in June, 2017. To this end, we investigated the internal composition and condition of the remaining podium that was made of bricks to obtain the basic data and materials to reinforce the structure, which was essential for its full recovery.

 From this investigation, we found that the bricks outside and at the upper parts of the podium were varied and uneven in composition and placement, being irregularly piled on top of each other. This suggests that such parts were restored sometime later than the original construction. On the contrary, the bricks inside and at the lower parts were standardized, and regularly and precisely piled, implying that these parts made up the original structure before restoration. These parts maintain relative stability, which supports our previous investigation outcome.

 Furthermore, we plan to conduct a compositional analysis of the adhesive used to join stones at the upper structure as well as the mortar applied to bricks at the joint of the podium. We hope that the research outcome can support Nepal’s earthquake rehabilitation efforts and contribute to enhancing the local understanding of historic buildings.

to page top