Sunday, December 15, 2019

Repaired artworks keep Japan’s unique aesthetic alive

Oct 19. 2019
Ike no Taiga’s “Real Landscape of Mount Hiei” (1762) is seen before, left, and after, right, its restoration.  The Nerima Art Museum
Ike no Taiga’s “Real Landscape of Mount Hiei” (1762) is seen before, left, and after, right, its restoration. The Nerima Art Museum
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By Yuki Senda, Kazuya Sekiguchi and Keisuke Wakabayashi
Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers

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Japanese cultural properties, often made of fragile materials such as paper, silk and wood, have for many years regularly been repaired and handed down to the present.

Special exhibitions called “New Life for Timeless Art” — currently or recently held in Kyoto; Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture; and two venues in Tokyo — highlights the repair techniques and processes used to rediscover the value of cultural properties from various angles.

The exhibition commemorates the forthcoming 30th anniversary in 2021 of the establishment of the Sumitomo Foundation, which has provided a large amount of subsidies for the maintenance and repair of paintings, sculptures and other cultural properties in Japan and overseas.

The foundation has supported the maintenance and repair of 1,100 works so far, spending more than ¥2.4 billion in total. In 2013, it received the special prize in the Yomiuri Aoniyoshi Award, an award to honor individuals and organizations on the frontline of protecting and preserving cultural heritage.

In the case of nationally designated cultural properties, the repair cost will usually be subsidized, but in many cases it is difficult to repair them unless their owners pay a considerable amount of money. The Sumitomo Foundation has subsidized the repair of cultural assets regardless of whether they are designated as cultural properties, if certain conditions are met.

Repair work is an opportunity to shed new light on cultural properties.

The Sen-oku Hakukokan Museum in Kyoto recently exhibited about 30 items, mainly cultural properties of Kyoto. Among them is poet Fujiwara Teika’s handwritten diary “Meigetsuki,” a national treasure from the Kamakura period (late 12th century to 1333) that is the property of The Reizei Family, Kyoto.

The diary is written on the backs of letters addressed to Teika. When the letters were being restored, they were taken apart and photographed. The backs were usually hidden due to backing, so they had never been exposed. The text thus revealed became valuable material for the study of medieval history.

Meanwhile, the Sen-oku Hakukokan Museum, Tokyo in the Roppongi district of Tokyo is exhibiting about 50 items, mainly paintings, until Oct. 27. One of them is “Real Landscape of Mount Hiei” (1762) painted by Ike no Taiga, a great master of literary paintings. Currently stored at Nerima Art Museum in Tokyo, the painting had been missing for a long time but was recently found in a heavily soiled condition at the former residence of novelist Yasusuke Gomi. Restoration workers replaced the backing paper and removed the dirt from the surface to give the masterpiece a new life.

At the Kyushu National Museum in Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture, there is an example of how the restoration of cultural assets has helped to revitalize a local community. An exhibition that runs until Nov. 4 features items such as Buddha statues that were damaged by the 2016 Kumamoto earthquake.

The “Thousand-Armed Avalokitesvara” (about 2.7 meters tall and made of wood) kept in the Senkoji temple in the Shimojin district of Mashiki, Kumamoto Prefecture, was made about the time of the Kamakura period and has long been cherished by residents. When a pair of earthquakes with a seismic intensity of 7 hit the town, the statue toppled and was severely damaged, and the temple’s main hall was completely destroyed.

“We thought the Kannon-sama sacrificed herself for our lives. We decided to rebuild the temple with the consensus of the local community,” community leader Yoichi Koji recalled.

The statue was taken apart, and each part was repaired or remade in order to be reassembled, while a new pedestal was set up for better stability. Colors painted on in previous restorations were removed so that the beautiful grain of the wood could be seen.

“The repair work encouraged us to recover from the quakes. We want to hand it on to the next generation,” Koji said.

Tokyo National Museum in the Ueno district of Tokyo is showcasing until Dec. 1 Buddhist statues from Fukushima Prefecture that were repaired after being damaged by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

The exhibition features “Amitabha” from the Kamakura period in the 13th century, whose whereabouts had long been unknown. In 1943, the Tokyo National Museum presented it for an exchange of cultural assets to the French School of Asian Studies, an institution run by France, which ruled much of the Indochina Peninsula at the time. The statue was recently found in Vietnam and returned to its “hometown” for the first time in about 75 years after being repaired by Japanese craftspeople for the exhibition.

In order to pass on cultural properties to the next generation, it is necessary to proceed with preservation, repairs and exhibitions in an integrated manner. It is hoped that the importance of cultural inheritance will be spread widely through the beauty of the cultural assets that have been restored.

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