Akira Matsui provides first hand update on Japan Tsunami Heritage Site Disaster….
Akira Matsui, NewsWARP Asia Coordinator, provided this first-hand update, including wet sites impacted by the Tsunami. Here is a slide-show that reflects the extent of the disaster and provides visual for Akira Matsui’s report below: https://docs.google.com/present/edit?id=0AWPkNNKTY-n5ZGQ3ZzM1c25fMjExYzVmZDN4Zzk&hl=en_US
In a recent BBC Akira Matsui provides a audio and video presentation of current rescue work:
Rescuing Cultural Heritage: for what? The need for questioning ourselves in the aftermath of disaster
Akira Matsui, WarpNEWS Asia Coordinator
The earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan on 11th March 2011 caused enormous damage to cultural heritage within the disaster area as well as terrible loss of life. At the request of the Agency for Cultural Affairs, the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (NNRICP), for which I work, together with the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Heritage, undertook an assignment for a project rescuing cultural property in the area affected by the disaster. In late April, I went to the disaster area in the Tohoku region of northeastern Japan as leader of the NNRICP rescue team, and engaged in the project for six days.
The first target of our rescue project was the Ishinomaki Cultural Centre in Ishinomaki City in Miyagi Prefecture, which houses the important Mouri Collection. This collection, accumulated by a very wealthy local resident, Sohichiro Mouri (1888 – 1975), includes more than 20,000 archaeological relics unearthed from the Numazu Shell Midden in Ishinomaki City, some of which have been designated Important Cultural Properties by the government, and from other shell middens throughout the Tohoku region, in addition to various articles from the Medieval and Premodern periods found at the remains of the Ishinomaki Mint of the Date feudal clan, mirrors, netsuke carvings, yatate (portable writing sets in the shape of tobacco pipes) and cosmetic kits.
As we entered into the cultural centre, we saw cars that had been carried by the tsunami that had smashed into the building and now sat in the entrance and lobby. The first floor was completely covered with a massive amount of sand from the sea bed and heaps of all kinds of debris. At first we could not even get close to the relics to check their condition because of all manner of obstructions. An ancient cart and document cases exhibited in the lobby before the disaster had been pushed by the force of the wave into a storage room, breaking through door. Everyone in the rescue team spent the first full day to removing these obstacles. At last, by the afternoon of the second day, we could begin moving items, including register books, drawings, and ancient documents from the storage rooms, pitch-black because of electricity cuts, to better-lit conditions where we could very carefully sort through them very carefully, while continuing to remove more of the debris.
We had to call out a locksmith to open up the storage room for the most valuable items, as the door lock was clogged and corroded by saltwater. Fortunately though, once inside, we found that most of the Mouri Collection had survived the disaster. There were still rooms in the Ishinomaki Cultural Center that it was not possible to enter and find secure footing because of the collapsed piles of storage containers and items scattered everywhere. Further rescue activities need to be carried out in a systematic and cautious manner.
After Ishinomaki we went on to Miyato Island, in Higashi-Matsushima City, Miyagi Prefecture, and the cities of Rikuzen-Takada and Ofunato, in Iwate Prefecture. The Satohama Shell Midden, a National Historic Site, is on Miyato Island. When I was a student at Tohoku University, I participated in the excavations of this site. Neighboring this shell midden is the Historical Museum of the Oku-Matsushima Jomon Village. Although the people living on the island were cut off and isoloated for more than two days after the disaster as the access bridge had collapsed, damage from the earthquake and tsunami was relatively small. Although many cracks caused by the quake could be seen around the area of the Satohama Shell Midden, fortunately no large-scale landslides had occurred. Importantly, the tsunami did not reach the residential area of the shell midden itself.
To this day, I have often wondered why almost all the shell midden sites in the Kanto and Tohoku regions were located only on top of small hills, with very few sites being found on the low-lying land near the coast. In the course of our rescue activities, I have been made painfully aware of the reason for this while exploring some of the areas flooded by the tsunami. The ancient Jomon inhabitants of the area obviously chose the higher ground for their habitation space, safe from the reach of tsunamis. For the same reason settlements from after the Jomon period, dating to the Yayoi (300BC-300AD) and Kofun (300-710 AD) periods on the Sendai Plain, inland from Miyato Island were not damaged at all by the huge tsunami. This may prove that since the Jomon Period, ancient coastal dwellers chose to live on higher ground, thus avoiding the danger of tsunamis.
People living near the coast must have passed on knowledge of the threat from tsunamis, generation to generation, and the awareness that even a small tsunami could easily wipe out anything on the coastal plain. In addition, historical documents of the Edo Period (1603-1868) record the extent of damage caused by earlier disastrous tsunami, describing the number of houses swept away. I found myself wondering when it was that people began to live on low-lying land despite the risk from tsunami, even though the danger tsunamis posed was passed on from generation to generation.
It was raining heavily when we arrived in Rikuzen-Takada City in Iwate Prefecture in the heavy rain. At the remains the Library next to the Rikuzen-Takada City Museum, which was completely destroyed by the tsunami, staff from Iwate Prefectural Museum and other municipal organizations involved in the preservation of cultural properties were struggling with the rescue activity. The walls of the City Museum building that faced the sea had been built with no windows in order to lessen the potential tsunami risk. But this time the waves of the tsunami struck the museum from the other three directions. As it rushed back out to sea, a massive volume of water flooded the second floor, bursting through the ceiling, cascading onto the first floor, and swept away a great number artifacts, including those on exhibition and in storage, together with the lives of all six members of the museum staff.
To be totally honest, confronted by this overwhelming catastrophe, I kept asking myself, “For what purpose should we protect these cultural assets?” I justified our project of rescuing these cultural properties in the following way: “It is surely axiomatic that if we just leave irreplaceable historical materials such as ancient documents, handed down to us through the centuries, to be scattered, lost, and decayed, we will desperately regret our behavior when the areas directly affected by the disaster begin to recover”.
Archaeology is of further, perhaps unexpected, concern for some of those victims who survived disaster. In the near future, some coastal hamlets may collectively decide to move their habitation areas to higher ground, rather than restoring their homes on the lower ground where they had lived before the tsunami. A large number of archaeological sites are located on the many small hilltops that are found in these areas. Even if these survivors hope to rebuild their individual houses, buildings, or even entire hamlets to these new upland locations as quickly as possible, the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties requires that archaeological investigations be carried out prior to any construction taking place. It will be up to archaeologists and related authorities to ask people who desperately hope to begin living a normal life again as quickly as possible to understand the necessity for these investigations, and to be patient while the surveys and excavations required by law are undertaken.
“What should the role and mission of archaeology be in cases such as this?” I will continue to question myself and others about this while our project of rescuing cultural properties continues.