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Research projects

Cultural Properties Loss

Japan is prone to natural disasters, including volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunami, landslides and floods. Inspired by the ‘Bunkazai Rescue’ programme initiated by the Agency for Cultural Affairs and the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, the Centre has been monitoring the impact on cultural properties and archaeology of the region affected by the devastating 2011 Great East Japan Disaster. We are also following the development of the emerging field of Disaster Archaeology.

The Centre is also engaged in research into the longer-term impact of the 2004 Chuetsu Earthquake, with its epicentre in Yamakoshi, now part of the city of Nagaoka in Niigata Prefecture. Research undertaken as part of the Small Scale Economies project at the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature in Kyoto is investigating the impact the earthquake had on local food production and distribution, and how understanding of historic and traditional land management and agriculture has informed the recovery process.

The Great East Japan Disaster of 11 March 2011 had a devastating impact on the lives of everyone living in the affected areas and the Sainsbury Institute joined the rest of the world in offering sympathies and condolences. As attention began to shift from immediate humanitarian rescue, the Sainsbury Institute discussed with our partners in Japan what practical support we could offer in our areas of expertise. From these discussions, a new cluster of projects developed, relating to the long term impact of the disaster on cultural properties.

The Rescue of Cultural Properties

The scene after the tsunami at the Jomon period Satohama shell middens in Matsushima Bay

In the first instance we worked to assist colleagues in Japan to bring the rescue of cultural properties to a broad international audience. We organised an event at the Embassy of Japan in London on ‘Saving Culture and Heritage’ October 2011. Professor Matsui Akira, Director of the Centre for Archaeological Operations at the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties gave a moving first-hand account of his experiences working in the affected area shortly after the disaster. In July 2012 Mr Negita Yoshio, Chief Archaeologist with the Agency for Cultural Affairs, gave a special lecture in Norwich surveying the impact on archaeology of both the earthquake and tsunami, and subsequent redevelopment.

See also reports by Professor Akira Matsui in the Antiquity and Kanno Tominori of the Cultural Properties Research Centre at Tohoku University in the Society of East Asian Archaeology and papers by Simon Kaner and Stephen Turnbull in Current World Archaeology Issue 49 (October/November 2011).

Researching the Impact on Cultural Heritage

In July 2012 Dr Matsuda Akira led a research visit by students of Japanese cultural heritage and archaeology at the University of East Anglia to the Tohoku region and other cities in Japan to investigate the longer-term impact of the disaster on cultural heritage, including archaeological sites, museums and sites of artistic production. This visit was supported by a Daiwa Award from the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation and is a partnership between the Centre for Archaeology and Heritage at the Sainsbury Institute, Tohoku University (Professor Fukasawa Yuriko) and the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (Professor Matsui Akira, Director, Centre for Archaeological Operations). The students presented papers at the British Association for Japanese Studies meeting in Norwich in September 2012 (http://www.bajs.org.uk/conferences) and at a special workshop currently being planned with the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation in London.

Tour of Japanese Archaeology

Although it has now recovered to pre-disaster levels, in the aftermath of the March 2012 disaster, foreign tourism to Japan declined dramatically, although Japan remains a safe and fascinating tourist destination, being voted Long-Haul Destination of the Year by the Guardian. The Centre for Archaeology and Heritage at the Sainsbury Institute has joined forces with Andante Travel (www.andantetravels.co.uk), the leading specialist archaeology tour company, for a three-week tour of Japanese archaeology in autumn 2012, led by the Head of the Centre for Archaeology and Heritage, Dr Simon Kaner. Proceeds from the tour are being donated to an archaeology project in the area affected by the disaster. Further such tours are planned for 2013. This tour has been nominated by National Geographic Magazine as one of its Fifty Tours of a Lifetime.