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

Interim Report on the Investigation of “Yongzibifu(用字避複)” about Guodian Chujian(郭店楚簡)- The 7th Seminar Held by the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems

Q&A Session

 When investigating cultural properties, it is essential to decipher related materials from the past. However, the materials are often deteriorated, and the meanings of scripts at the time of their usage were often different from their modern meanings, and therefore caution is required when reading the materials.

 At the 7th Seminar, held on December 11, 2023, Mr. KATAKURA Shumpei (Tohoku University Archives) gave a presentation titled Interim report on the investigation of “Yongzibifu(用字避複)” about Guodian Chujian(郭店楚簡) on excavated materials from Upper Ancient China. “Yongzibifu” has been considered as a kind of rhetoric, a phenomenon in which variants are used when the same Chinese characters would be repeated within a certain range. The reason for its occurrence is not clear. Mr. KATAKURA reported that in order to discuss this phenomenon objectively, in his investigation he has been organizing the characters in the documents into a table, one by one, to determine the intervals and proportions at which “Yongzibifu” is occurring.

 Although the presentation was given at an intermediate stage of the research, with no conclusion yet reached, there was a lively discussion led by Mr. MIYAJIMA Kazuya of Seikei University on how to interpret the expressions and use of script described in the materials.

 Mr. KATAKURA has published the character data on the Chinese excavated materials he has created in the course of his research as a data paper ( The Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (TOBUNKEN) will also consider constructing a database focusing on data of scripts obtained through the process of reading various materials.

Eighteenth Session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage

Warthog parent and offspring just outside the venue
Video of a Bangladeshi rickshaw shown at the venue
Traditional Saudi food served as a side event
Side event of Malaysian traditional theater Mek Mulung song and dance

 The eighteenth session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage took place in Kasane, Republic of Botswana, from December 5 to 8, 2023. Two researchers from the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (TOBUNKEN), Ms. MAEHARA Megumi (Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage) and Ms. FUTAGAMI Yoko (Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems), attended the session. The Republic of Botswana is located in the northern area of the Republic of South Africa. Kasane is known as the northern gateway to Chobe National Park, and is a small town rich in nature and home to many wild animals. The venue was a temporary pavilion built for this meeting, and the atmosphere was idyllic, with a family of warthogs and their offspring grazing outside. As if in harmony with this peaceful atmosphere, the agenda proceeded peacefully under the chairmanship of H.E. Mr. Mustaq Moorad, Ambassador of the Delegation to UNESCO (Republic of Botswana), who often lightened the atmosphere with his humor.

 This committee decided to inscribe six elements on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding (Urgent Safeguarding List) plus 45 elements on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (Representative List), and to select four programs as the Programmes, The Evaluation Body, made recommendations to the committee, and recommended the inscription and selection of all of these elements and programs, which also greatly contributed to creating a peaceful atmosphere at the venue. Ms. FUTAGAMI will report on the details in the forthcoming “Research and Reports on Intangible Cultural Heritage” volume 18, to be published in March 2024; however, below we mention three impressions that we felt through the meeting.

 First, many elements were nominated as multi-national nominations by multiple State Parties. Although the State Party of Japan has not yet had the experience of multi-national nomination, 12 of the 45 elements decided to be inscribed on the Representative List were multinational nominations. This trend has been noticeable for the past few years and is likely to continue.

 Second, a common trend was observed in the videos shown at the meeting. Once the committee decided to inscribe an element, a short video introducing the element of intangible cultural heritage was often shown on the screen at the front of the venue, and many of these videos included the implications for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In particular, keywords such as “gender,” “education,” and “marine and terrestrial resources,” were shown in the video story, and it was emphasized that intangible cultural heritage is built on SDGs efforts, or inheritance of intangible cultural heritage is directly linked to SDGs initiatives.

 Third, we experienced the real thrill of side events. A number of small pavilions were temporarily erected adjacent to the venue, where a cultural aspect of each country was showcased and reports on safeguarding activities were made. Dance and musical performances, craft technology demonstrations and workshops, and activities of related NGOs were also presented. Intergovernmental Committees are attended by people who are highly interested in intangible cultural heritage from all over the world, not only from the committee member countries, but also from cultural property administrations, research institutes, and NGOs. Side events are very effective in appealing to their interests.

 We felt that while the Intergovernmental Committee meeting was important for establishing international cooperation and assistance for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage, it was also a good opportunity to understand how each country views 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.

Fern Basket-making Techniques

Cutting and lining kosida at a place where collected
Weaving the bottom of a basket

 On December 25, 2023, a survey was conducted in Ono, a township of Hatsukaichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture, on techniques of basket-making using koshida (Dicranopteris linearis).
 It is said that fern basket-making was introduced to the Ono area in the 1890s by craftsmen from Shizuoka as a new side business (some say it was introduced from the Shikoku area). Because the topography and climate were suitable for the growth of koshida, good quality materials were abundantly available in Ono. For this reason, fern basketry developed into an important industry in Ono during the Taisho and Showa periods. After the 1960s, the production of fern baskets declined rapidly due to the rise of plastic products, but since 1997, workshops have been held to preserve the traditional techniques, and these techniques have been handed down to the present.
 A petiole (stem) of the koshida is used for basket weaving. From October to March, petioles that have grown to about 1 meter in length are cut from the root with a sickle. After boiling in a special pot for about two hours and then thoroughly softening by rubbing, the petioles can be used for basket weaving. The treated petioles make an excellent material in the sense that they do not need to be split or torn like bamboo or most vines, but can be used as is, and they are strong and durable against water.
 Fern baskets used to be produced in many parts of western Japan, but as far as we know, the technique is still handed down only in Ono and in Nakijin Village, Okinawa Prefecture. The most common type of basket made in Ono is the “chawan mego,” a basket to hold a rice bowl in, which takes about two hours to weave. The techniques of making braided products like baskets still exist in many parts of Japan, and a variety of plants have been selected and skillfully used as materials for the baskets in accordance with the natural environment of each region. The Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage will continue its research on braided products made of various materials, and record this folk knowledge and techniques of using nature to pass them on to future generations.

Workshop on the HERIe Digital Preventive Conservation Platform

Home page of HERIe website
Professor Łukasz Bratasz giving a lecture
Lecture by Dr. Michal Lukomski
Scene from the workshop

 A workshop on “Sustainable Risk Management for Collection in Museum, Utilization of HERIe Digital Preventive Conservation Platform” was held jointly by the Department of Conservation of the Graduate School of Fine Arts at the Tokyo University of the Arts, the Cultural Heritage Disaster Risk Management Center, and Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (TOBUNKEN), on December 17, 2023.

 The HERIe Digital Preventive Conservation Platform ( is designed to support the collaboration between museum curators and conservation professionals when assessing the conservation conditions and safety of collections for display. It is a decision-making support platform that provides a quantitative assessment of risks to collections. At the moment, it includes modules that address environmental degradation factors such as air pollutants, lighting, inappropriate temperature, and relative humidity, and modules that allow estimation of fire hazards. The platform is being developed by several institutions with financial support from the European Commission and the Getty Conservation Institute.

 The purpose of this workshop was to give museum conservators and restoration professionals experience with the use of the data of their own museums on the platform. It was a very good opportunity to invite teachers from overseas who are among the developers of this platform to hear directly about its effectiveness and how to use it, and to try it out in a classroom. As an introduction, Prof. Łukasz Bratasz of the Polish Academy of Sciences introduced the platform and explained the concept and structure, and introduced the topic of pollutants and chemical degradation in museums and galleries. Next, Dr. Michał Łukomski of the Getty Conservation Institute talked about modelling mechanical damage and using the tool to assess museum climates. Prof. Boris Pretzel (Invited Professor of Conservation Science at Tokyo University of the Arts) introduced the topic of the light degradation tool and the presentations finished with Prof. Bratasz explaining the tool for fire risk assessment. Other tools, such as the showcase tool, were also introduced and demonstrated during the day, giving all delegates a good introduction of the kind of information each tool can provide.

 Many of the participants commented that they had deepened their understanding of the platform, with remarks such as that they wanted to return to the museum and use it because they learned about a very useful tool, and that they wanted to use it to assess light damage when they brought their collection to the restoration studio.

 Since this platform is provided free of charge, we hope that it will be widely used both by those who participated, and those who could not participate in the workshop.

Field Survey in Türkiye for the Rescue of Museums and Cultural Heritage Damaged in the 2023 Earthquake

A historic building damaged, collapsed, and temporarily closed. (Hatay)
Restoration of the collapsed walls is underway at Gaziantep Castle.
Experts' seminar

 The Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (TOBUNKEN) participated in the Emergency International Contribution Project for Cultural Heritage in FY2023 commissioned by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Government of Japan, which was titled as “Project for supporting the Reconstruction of Damaged Cultural Heritage in Türkiye,” in cooperation with the Cultural Heritage Disaster Risk Management Center, Japan (CHDRMC).

 The primary objective of this project was to provide relief support for museums and cultural heritage damaged in the 2023 Türkiye–Syria earthquakes that occurred on February 6, 2023. In addition, by sharing Japan’s experience in rescuing damaged cultural heritage and our accumulated knowledge of cultural heritage disaster prevention with Türkiye, the project also aims to support the establishment and enhancement of a cultural heritage disaster prevention system in Türkiye.

 From November 28 to December 7, 2023, a joint team of TOBUNKEN and CHDRMC visited Türkiye to investigate the affected areas, exchange information on cultural heritage disaster prevention in both countries, and exchange opinions with their Turkish counterparts for future collaboration.

 The team visited museums and cultural heritage sites in Hatay, Gaziantep, and Şanlıurfa to ask museum staff about the response to the disaster, the current situation, and other issues, and to survey future support needs. At present, emergency measures are almost completed at the damaged museums, and full-scale work for recovery of the damaged collections and buildings is expected to be carried out in the near future. The museum in Şanlıurfa was flooded by heavy rains in early March, one month after the earthquake.

 The experts’ meeting was held at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Republic of Türkiye, jointly with the Ministry. The Japanese side provided an overview of cultural property disaster prevention systems in Japan, and reported on activities to rescue cultural properties damaged in the Great East Japan Earthquake and other recent disasters, as well as disaster prevention measurements at museums. The Turkish side reported on the damage to cultural properties caused by the earthquake, presented an overview of the response, and discussed disaster risk mitigation methods at museums. The parties from the two countries are continuing with further discussion regarding the direction of specific mutual collaboration and promotion of joint research on cultural property disaster prevention.

World Heritage Seminar: The Increasing Complexity of the Eyes Watching over World Heritage

Information leaflet (front side)
Scene of discussion at the seminar

 Since 2018, the Japan Center for International Cooperation in Conservation has been hosting the World Heritage Seminar Series, which aims to transmit information and facilitate exchange of opinions about the world heritage system and its trends domestically. In FY 2023, titled as “The Increasing Complexity of the Eyes Watching over World Heritage – Operational Guidelines, Preliminary Assessments, and Impact Assessments -,” the seminar focused on the evaluation methods and system operation of world heritage, especially on the guidance of the Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA), compiled recently by UNESCO and others. The meeting was held in-person on December 21, 2023, at the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (TOBUNKEN), in which 90 persons participated, mainly representatives from local governments all over the country.

 After an introductory explanation of the purpose of the seminar was provided by Mr. KANAI Ken, Head of the Resource and Systems Research Section of the Japan Center for International Cooperation in Conservation, Mr. SUZUKI Chihei of the Agency for Cultural Affairs reported on the discussions held and decisions made at the latest World Heritage Committee meeting under the title of Trends on World Heritage. Then, Ms. FUTAGAMI Yoko, Head of the Cultural Properties Information Section of the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems, made a presentation titled Recent revisions of the Operational Guidelines and their background – To ensure dialogue and reliability –. Subsequently, Mr. SUZUKI , on behalf of Mr. NISHI Kazuhiko (Agency for Cultural Affairs) made a presentation on the contents and points to note of “Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessment in a World Heritage Context.” Finally, Mr. NAKASAWA Hiromasa (Special Historic Site – Sannai Maruyama Jomon Culture Center, Aomori Pref.) presented on the significance and assignments of HIA, based on specific case studies, with the title of “Protection and Heritage Impact Assessment of Jomon Prehistoric Sites in Northern Japan.” Thereafter, all speakers discussed the evolving value of World Heritage Sites, impact assessments made on them, and future challenges.

 Through the reports, presentations, and discussions, we reaffirmed the necessity to involve a wide range of stakeholders and incorporate relevant regulatory systems for implementing the HIA guidance. Furthermore, we learned that, in recent years, some countries have begun to regard buffer zones and their surrounding areas as areas for integrated development based on the cultural heritage values of the site, although they have traditionally been considered as a “shield” for assets. With these topics included, the Center will continue to study the international heritage protection system.

Workshop Held in Bahrain: “3D Digital Documentation of the Cultural Heritage and Its Application”

Trainees learning photogrammetry and 3D modelling
Trainees learning photogrammetry and 3D modelling

 The Japan Center for International Cooperation in Conservation held a workshop for four days, from December 24 to 27, 2023, which focused on technology transfer of the 3D digital documentation for cultural heritage and case studies, and discussion on its subsequent application for professional staff involved with cultural heritage in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities has been promoting the introduction of 3D digital documentation as one of the solutions to improve issues regarding documentation, preservation, and utilization of cultural heritage. As a training program for these issues was requested, this workshop was conducted as Activities for Exchanges in International Cooperation for Conservation of Cultural Heritage in fiscal year 2023, granted by the Agency for Cultural Affairs.

 Fifteen trainees from different specialties, including museology, conservation science, conservation and restoration, archaeology, and architecture, attended the workshop. Two of them participated from the neighboring Gulf countries of UAE and Kuwait. Together with lectures on various ways to create 3D digital documentation, trainees tackled the practical task of making a 3D model from the beginning, solely by themselves, applying photogrammetry to one exhibit object selected from the museum. By experiencing trial and error on their own, trainees acquired the skills and knowledge to create the 3D model and consider their subsequent use. At the discussion on the last day, the ideas of each trainee as to how to make the best use of 3D digital data and models were actively discussed, such as for improving satisfaction with the descriptions of museum exhibits, and utilization in recording of the conservation process for application to the digital museum or for domestic and international promotion.

 Despite the rich cultural heritage preserved not only in Bahrain but in other Gulf countries, the lack of human capacity to preserve and utilize cultural heritage is concerning, but it is hoped that some of these issues will improve through learning ways to perform documentation efficiently using 3D digital techniques.

to page top