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HOME  > Past issues  > 2014 July 9 - 15  > Buried cultural assets of World Heritage in Nara face risk of damage
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2014 July 9 - 15 [ENVIRONMENT]

Buried cultural assets of World Heritage in Nara face risk of damage

July 12, 2014
The national and prefectural governments are doing three-layer landfilling work to pave with concrete the cultural heritage of the Nara Palace Site in the ancient capital of Nara in order to construct a large event site, creating a risk of damage or destruction of Japanese buried cultural properties.

The Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties has been excavating the World Heritage-registered Nara Palace Site since 1959. The institute has already dug up 37% of the area, unearthing about 74,000 wood strips with writing on them.

The discoveries reveal how administrative organizations and taxation were conducted in ancient times. Some of the uncovered items led a correction of mistakes in history books and a more accurate recording of the history.

The institute on ancient cultural heritage intentionally refrained from conducting research in the western half of the site for the purpose of preserving the buried legacy in order for it to be handed down to future generations. The land and infrastructure ministry, however, plans to surface even the yet-unearthed part of the historical site in the eastern half.

Abundant groundwater at the Nara Palace Site has protected the wooden documents, according to the institute. A researcher warned, “They have absorbed water in the soil and maintained their original structure as a result. What if the soil moisture is lost? The buried wooden objects will dry and shrink, and they will disintegrate.”

Any paving work affects underground water, but the ministry insists, “It will not have a serious impact on the groundwater level,” and has no intention to cancel the project.

The Nara Palace Site was listed as a World Heritage in 1998. Guidelines of the World Heritage Site Convention require a report to the World Heritage Committee before any construction work is undertaken at registered world heritage sites. However, Japan is ignoring this requirement.

Nara has another World Heritage Site, the Kasugayama Primeval Forest. The Nara government is considering constructing a monorail system in the buffer zone, a protected area set under the UNESCO rules. On this project as well, the prefectural authority has failed to submit a report to the World Heritage Committee.

The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) Japan issued a statement criticizing the prefecture for neglecting its responsibility to preserve the World Heritage.

Yamamura Sachiho, Japanese Communist Party member of the Nara Prefectural Assembly, said, “They have been preserved intact for over 1,300 years. We should not destroy the historical treasures just for temporary benefits. Only by protecting and preserving them for future generations can sustainable development of the tourist city of Nara be possible. The JCP will work together with the public to put a stop to the moves to destroy the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara.”

Past related articles:
> Residents of ancient Nara opposing construction of monorail near World Heritage [November 24, 2013]
> Don’t concrete over world heritage in Nara: JCP[November 14, 2013]
> Concrete paving work at World Heritage site arouses public anger[February 28, 2013]
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