Well-BeingHanding down historical treasures

Cultural treasures and artworks have been carefully handed down over hundreds and thousands of years.
This priceless inheritance was achieved through repair and restoration by skilled engineers, repeated every 50 to 100 years. The Kyushu National Museum utilizes Nikon microscopes to maintain and manage a variety of cultural assets collected based on the theme of exchange between Japan and other Asian countries.

The museum’s various roles – more than an exhibition.

The function of a museum, as defined by a dictionary, is, “An institution that collects and stores archaeological materials, artworks, historical assets and other academic materials, and systematically displays them for exhibition to the public. Also, an organization devoted to the study and research of these collected assets*.” An “exhibition” at a museum is a contact point for the general public and also has an educational purpose, with the focus tending to be mainly on these aspects. In particular, preservation, investigation and research support the foundation of a museum, as well as playing indispensable roles in handing down collected assets from the past to the present, and then on to the future.
Museums are said to have existed since before the Common Era. Currently, world-famous museums include the British Museum, the Egyptian Archaeological Museum, the Smithsonian Museum (Washington D.C.) and the National Palace Museum (Beijing/Taipei). Each of these gathers and exhibits its collection uniquely based on each country’s history and culture.
Japan is well represented with its four national museums. Each possesses its own characteristics, with the Tokyo National Museum based on oriental cultural assets centered on Japan having the longest history. The Kyoto National Museum features Kyoto’s own particular culture, while the Nara National Museum presents Buddhist art. The Kyushu National Museum, which we focus on here, is based on the theme of exchange between Japan and other countries in Asia.
“Our mission is to collect cultural assets originating in Asian countries, including Mainland China and the Korean Peninsula, from the point of view of exchange with Japan, and preserve, restore and exhibit them,” explains Mr. Satoshi Shiga, Senior Manager at the Preservation and Restoration Office.

  • *Reference from the 7th edition Kojien (Japanese Dictionary)
Satoshi Shiga
Senior Manager,
Preservation and Restoration Office
Kyushu National Museum

The Kyushu National Museum in Dazaifu: a symbol of cultural exchange with continental Asia.

The Kyushu National Museum was opened in Dazaifu-city, Fukuoka in 2005 as Japan’s newest National Museum. Dazaifu was known as a “Toono Mikado (government office located far from the capital)” around the 7th century, and held an important position in the governance of the Kyushu region, far from the Yamato Imperial Court. It was also a location of close interaction with continental Asia, across the Sea of Japan. With these geographical characteristics as a background, the Kyushu National Museum follows an exhibition concept of “Cultural exchange with Asian countries, including China and Korea”. The design of the museum in its mountain location combines a gently curved blue roof and glass walls reminiscent of the ocean and waves. It is an enormous, very modern building, yet blends in naturally with the surrounding greenery.

The museum building is designed with a five-layer structure. The first floor is the entrance hall, the fourth floor houses the Cultural Exchange Exhibition which is the museum’s permanent exhibition and the third floor is the Special Exhibition Gallery that becomes home to the various planned exhibitions.

The building was constructed employing a five-layered structure including the seismic base isolation layer
Thorough consideration was paid to preservation and management in the storage area

Most of the second floor is designated as Storage. In order to minimize influence from outside, the entire storage area employs a double wall structure. By constantly controlling temperature and humidity via air conditioning, together with the use of woods such as cedar board for the interior material, humidity can be gently adjusted as necessary. An important feature of the building’s construction is its seismic base isolation system installed in the mezzanine floor beneath the storage section. This means that the entire storage area and all of the exhibition spaces are constructed upon this seismic base isolation layer.

Cultural Exchange Exhibition
Displays in the Cultural Exchange Exhibition

Microscopes contribute to the repair and restoration of the various collections.

The Preservation and Restoration Office is located on the second floor of the museum, along with the storage section. The other departments, laboratories, inspection/analysis room, workshop, and offices are also mostly based on the second floor, around the huge storage space. This is the important behind-the-scenes area that supports the museum.
The roles of the Preservation and Restoration Office are repair and restoration for the purpose of preserving the museum’s collection. “Collected items are submitted for repair and restoration every 50 to 100 years so that they can be passed on to the next generation. It is essential to keep this cycle functioning nonstop,” explains Mr. Shiga. Also, this office is in charge of scientific research on collections in order to investigate materials and techniques that have not been effectively preserved into the present day. It employs a wide variety of analysis/investigation equipment, including Nikon stereo microscopes.

Observation using a Nikon stereo microscope
Identifying pigments that were employed in an ancient tomb
Soil inside ancient burial mounds (area circled in white contains red mercury sulfide, and area circled in blue contains red iron oxide)
Lacquer film remaining on the surface of a Buddha statue (originally gold foil was placed on the lacquer)
Back coloring of a painting (paintings on silk cloth can be painted from the reverse side)

Everything that is repaired and restored goes through various processes using techniques such as coloring and cutting out. Also, many of the excavated items’ original production techniques are uncertain. In order to elucidate the original shape and production method of an artifact, it is necessary to observe detailed traces extremely closely. For that reason, stereo microscopes are indispensable pieces of equipment. The objects being studied are wide-ranging, including stoneware, earthenware, ironware, pottery, lacquerware, Buddha statues, calligraphy and more. Clarifying the composition of materials and structure, pigments employed and glazes is expected to improve repair and restoration techniques, and enhance engineers’ skills.
“This is a young museum that will celebrate its 15th anniversary in 2020. I think it is important to increase the size of its historically important collections. I also hope that the use of traditional Japanese repair and restoration techniques and materials will spread around the world to help preserve the cultural assets of each country for as long as possible.” Mr. Shiga concluded.

The museum also plays a similar role to that of a time capsule, which hands down treasures from the past to the present, and then onto the future. It aims to continue protecting and preserving these valuable historical and cultural assets. Nikon’s microscopes are playing a key role in this important endeavor.