“Miyagi Network News” vol.104

~The report of the rescue activity of the exhibits in Utatsu Gyoryu-Kan~

Atsushi Fujisawa (belongs to the Researching Room for the buried cultural property in Tohoku University), a member of the Miyagi Network for Preserving Historical Materials

On April 13th, we carried out the rescue activities of the exhibits of “Utatsu Gyoryu-Kan (the museum for ichthyosaurus in Utatsu)” in Minamisanriku Town. Although this activity was carried out by the Tohoku University Museum, who requested cooperation from the Researching Room for the Buried Cultural Property in Tohoku University which I, Atsushi Fujisawa belong to. I am a member of the Miyagi Network for Preserving Historical Materials, and I joined this activity so I would be able to inform you of our operation. I appreciate you referring to our activity for your coming participation.

In the former-Utatsu area in Minamisanriku Town, the ichthyosaurus fossils of various periods such as Utatsusaurus, Ichthyosaur Remains from Kudanohama, and Ichthyosaur Remains from Hosoura had been discovered, and they are extremely precious properties of national history. The Utatsu Gyoryu-Kan had been established in the corner of Kudanohama Fish Port, as an institution which exhibits the fossils of the abovementioned ichthyosaurs and other archaeological and folklore materials. In this Museum, the ground floor was for the gift shop, and the first floor was for the exhibition room. In addition, we can see the fossils of Ichthyosaur from Kudanohama was set up in the back of the Museum, and it was displayed in the same position as it had been discovered.

Previously, Prof. Satoru Sasaki (Palaeontology) who belongs to the Tohoku University Museum and other members had gone into the Utatsu Gyoryu-Kan for the inspection of the damage during March, therefore, they had already confirmed that a considerable amount of the exhibits remained intact. Because they strongly desired to preserve those precious properties as soon as they could, the rescue activities were carried out on 13th April.

Utatsu Gyoryu-Kan

The participants were Prof. Sasaki, 3 members from Tohoku University Museum, myself another member from the Researching Room for Buried Cultural Properties, and the 2 prefectural officers who have a duty for preserving cultural properties. The 2 officers joined us to liaise with the people concerned with the Board of education in Minamisanriku Town who worked for the cultural property. In addition, the officer who belongs to the local headquarters of the project for preserving cultural properties of the Government Agency accompanied the prefectural officers. We met together at the destination at 1p.m., and immediately started our activity, in the presence of the local people concerned with the Utatsu Gyoryu-Kan.

The view from the exhibition room

The structure of the Museum seemed to be completely flooded and under water when the Tsunami attacked, and many vehicles were on the roof of the adjacent buildings. With regard to the structure itself, although the opening of the buildings such as windows and doors were entirely broken, the pillars, walls, and the floors remained. In terms of the first floor, the building construction consisted of the large window on the gable-side of the structure and a few little windows on the other side which were located on the seaside. Therefore, the access points were comparatively narrow. The exhibition room seemed to be completely under water, so the display cases were in disarray, and almost all of them had fallen to the ground. However, the exhibits seemed to be mostly in situ. Apparently the buildings and institutions around the Museum had all fallen down and washed out towards the sea by the drawback of the Tsunami, and seriously damaged. From this fact, there was a possibility that the reason why almost all properties were saved from being washed away was that the gable-side’s wall which had a large window stood in a different direction to the drawback waves. In the exhibition room, although some flotsam and jetsom and sand were slightly piled up, no serious debris was there. It seemed that the opening was fortunately narrow.

We have already taken out almost all of the exhibited materials even the comment board. The exceptions were the extremely heavy materials such as fossils and the real-size exhibition ‘Kakko-Bune(*1)’ known as a precious folklore artefact that couldn’t be carried out. The taping labels upon which the reference numbers were written had been attached to each material and those they all remained on them. The officer of the Board of Education in Minamisanriku Town offered us the lists of those exhibited artefacts, therefore, we will start to check them with reference to the lists hereafter. According to the rough inspection, we have already confirmed some remaining things, for example, the whalebone stuck by the Johmon period’s(*2) flint arrowhead excavated from Tamogawa Shell Mound, and the Sankinko(*3) evcavated from Tatsukayama Kyozuka. Those are especially important artefacts. The activity finished around 4pm, and those materials were carried out by 3 cars to Tohoku University.

The exhibition room

Through my experience of this rescue activity, I now anticipate that the coming operations will be difficult. The first time we arrived at the Gyoryu-Kan, we were frightened because the Museum stood very near the sea. If the extensive aftershock and the Tsunami occurred, this area would become an extremely dangerous place. Actually, the risk was right there. When the aftershock occurred on 7th April, the Tsunami warning was announced to all over the coastline area in Miyagi Prefecture. Therefore, our activity was carried out with the radio on very loudly, as a preparation for the evacuation.

Moreover, because the inside of the structure was seriously flooded by the Tsunami, we were facing the danger of various things falling on our heads. The number of aftershock was high, and their scale was still extensive. Therefore if we carry out the rescue activity inside a damaged structure, we keenly realised that we should abide by the safety measures more keenly more than before. Fortunately, in the Gyoryu-Kan we didn’t find oil which had drifted from the damaged oil tanks. However, we expect that the extensive oil leakage seeped into the area adjoining the big port with the Tsunami. In such an area, such activities will be more difficult.

When we headed to the destination, we chose Route 398 from Towa community in Tome City to Minamisanriku Town through the Saikai Touge pass. On the way to Minamisanriku Town, we could see the traces of where the Tsunami had reached the Iriya community located near the pass which is far inland. After passing through the community, the landscapes became full of debris. Although we had already seen these situations on TV, as we actually faced the reality, we stood there speechless. Because the damaged area were so extensive, it seemed that the operation for removing debris could not be carried out smoothly. There is no doubt that those activities will require much time. We cannot imagine how long will be necessary for the reconstruction. I suppose that we will have to urgently react to save our cultural property. Simultaneously, our activity will be finished when such properties are returned again to their former communities. However, this will take a long time. We really felt the necessity to continue our work.

 [The excursus:1] On 14th April, we carried out a check on the archaeological artefacts with reference to the lists, and then we could confirm that in total 144 artefacts were saved. Probably it was because a large part of the archaeological exhibits had been displayed at the back and there were no windows.

[The excursus:2] Among the damaged materials, Prof Sasaki found an account book about the management of the local fishing business in the Bunsei period(*4). The secretariat office kept these old documents, and have started to do the urgent rescue at once. (The excursus article, written by Daisuke Sato)

Doing the urgent rescue


NB: The photos are all from the homepage of  the Miyagi Network for Preserving Historical Materials.

*1 Kakko-Bune(カッコ船): the traditional single seated fishing boat, used in the coastal fishery.

*2 Johmon Period(縄文時代): a division of Japanese history, which spanned from approximately 16,500 years ago to around 3,000 years ago.

*3 Sankinko(三筋壺): a kind of pottery. It appeared in end of Heian period (a division of Japanese history, 794-1185/1192), and rapidly disappeared in Kamakura period (1185/1192- 1333). Usually excavated from the site concerned with Buddhism or the medieval tombs.

*4 Bunsei Period(文政年間): a division of Japanese history, which spanned from 1818 to 1830)


About Nerwork for Historical Materials
A volunteer group for preserving Cultural Heritage suffered from natural disasters

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