Cultural Properties Recovered? 10 Years on from the Great East Japan Disaster

Third Thursday lecture - Sainsbury Institute

Thursday 18 February, 2021
6:00pm GMT

Recording: Approx 1.5 hour duration


Professor Simon Kaner (Sainsbury Institute and Centre for Japanese Studies)

Discussant: Dr Andrew Littlejohn (Leiden University)

The Full Versions of the Interviews

About the Talk

In advance of the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Disaster of 11 March 2011, we look back at the legacy of the Bunkazai (Cultural Properties) Rescue initiative implemented in the aftermath of the triple disaster that struck the Pacific coast of northeast Japan: the largest earthquake in 1000 years, the subsequent massive tsunami wave, and the melt-down of the Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Station – leaving over 22,000 people dead and devastation on an unprecedented scale in recent Japanese history. The Sainsbury Institute responded with a series of projects through which we tried to gauge the impact on art and archaeology, and the communities involved in the production and curation of what are termed ‘Cultural Properties’. One of the strongest messages of the time was ‘we must never forget’: drawing on a range of sources, including interviews with some key players in Japan, this online event will provide a snapshot of the role of this rescued heritage has played in the recovery of the Tohoku region, and what is happening ten years on to ensure that the memories are not lost.

For this special event, Professor Simon Kaner, Executive Director of the Sainsbury Institute and Director of the Centre for Japanese Studies at the University of East Anglia will introduce a selection of projects chosen by the Sainsbury Institute, and will be joined by Professor Kouzuma Yousei of the newly formed 文化財防災センター (cultural properties disaster risk mitigation centre) at the Nara National Institute for Cultural Properties and other colleagues in Japan, with comments by Dr Andrew Littlejohn, Assistant Professor in Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology at Leiden University in the Netherlands, whose recent publications include ‘Ruins for the future: Critical allegory and disaster governance in post-tsunami Japan’ (American Ethnologist May 2021), “Dividing Worlds: Tsunamis, Seawalls, and Ontological Politics in Northeast Japan.” Social Analysis 64 (1): 24–43, and “Museums of Themselves: Disaster, Heritage, and Disaster Heritage in Tohoku.” Japan Forum, May, 1–21.  

About the Speaker

Simon Kaner MA Cantab, PhD (2004) is an archaeologist specialising in the prehistory of Japan. As well as being Executive Director since 2018, he is Head of the Centre for Archaeology and Heritage at the Sainsbury Institute. Simon is also is Director of the Centre for Japanese Studies and Chair of the Japan Dialogue Group at the University of East Anglia.

A Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London since 2005, he has taught and published on many aspects of East Asian and European archaeology. He has undertaken archaeological research in Japan, the UK and elsewhere and worked for several years in archaeological heritage management in the UK. His research interests include: Japanese prehistory and the history of archaeology in Japan; the urban historic environment in Japan in comparative perspective; Japanese cultural heritage and the international role of Japanese heritage management. He is director of the Shinano River project, investigating the development of historic landscapes along the longest river system in the Japanese archipelago.

He is currently co-editing the Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Korea and Japan (with Gary Crawford and Gyoung-Ah Lee) and a new volume on the Origins of Agriculture in Japan in Global Perspective (with Liliana Janik and Kenichi Yano), both planned for publication in 2021. He is Co-Editor of the Japanese Journal of Archaeology (, and Series Editor of Comparative Studies in Japanese Archaeology and Heritage (Archaeopress) and The Science of the History of Humanity in Asia and the Pacific (Springer). His online projects include Global Perspectives on British Archaeology ( and the Online Resource in Japanese Archaeology and Cultural Heritage ( In partnership with the Centre for Heritage Studies at the University of Cambridge he directs the Online Jomon Matsuri.

This event is part of the Japan-UK Season of Culture 2019-2020

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The Third Thursday Lecture series is funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and Yakult UK.