Museum Restoration and the Preservation of Material Culture


Dr. Koji Kato was living in a refuge shelter in Sendai city for three weeks following The Great East Japan Earthquake. One month after the disaster, he became involved in the restoration work of the community culture center in Ayukawa town in Ishinomaki city, which is the affected area of the tsunami. The restoration of the museum entailed the  cleaning and collection of artifacts by Dr. Kato and his university students. He has spearheaded multiple exhibitions of the “rescued collection” in the affected areas and has conducted interviews  concerning life prior to the disaster.


From Dr. Kato:

I've been coordinating exhibitions as cooperative activities with local governments, volunteer organizations, merchants associations, and schools in the affected areas. The year of the disaster, people did not have an interest in our activities. Restoration of daily life was more important than that of the museum collection. The second year, people knew that the collection of the museum was not washed away by a tsunami and began to take a little interest. The third year following the disaster, however, the atmosphere was dramatically different. During the exhibition, numerous people began to talk about personal experiences, such as bragging about their work, about the days of their childhood, attachment to the area, and the change of life in the region.


I organize an exhibition three times a year. My students and I have interviewed more than 1,000 people so far and have a database for recording ethnographic data. We interview people living in temporary housing and the elderly who are admitted to welfare facilities in the coastal areas. And we also interview families that emigrated or evacuated in the city area of Sendai and Ishinomaki.


The year of the disaster, researchers and curators across the country engaged in the restoration of the museum. Restoration activities by university museums and each province are underway now. However, the number of community activities for the protection of cultural property has declined. I think delay in recovery has lowered the motivation of creative cultural activities.


People who have experienced a catastrophe know how everyday life is irreplaceable. Japanese folklore is the study of the historical change of people's lives. Ethnographic data to be collected may contain not only an explanation of a tool or conventional techniques but also a comparison of life in the past and present and recognition of the change in the region, which will, I think, be very different in its nature from data obtained from conventional folklore surveys. The accumulation of narratives may help leave something that happened in a few years after a disaster for generations to come. We held exhibitions five times from 2012 to 2013, and we made more than 1,000 interview sheets. The project is planned to continue three more years and, if possible, we hope to collect narratives on a continuous basis after returning the materials.


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