The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

Home > Research > Waseda research zone - latest news on project research


Waseda Research Zone - Latest News on Project Research -

UNESCO World Heritage Site Research Institute
(Project Research Institutes, Comprehensive Research Organization*)

World Heritage Site - Overcoming nostalgia and passing on the value of historical culture and the natural environment to the future.

Professor Takeshi Nakagawa, Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Research Institute

World Heritage Sites - The existence of these places has become widely known even in Japan through television programs which share the same name. However, the history of World Heritage Sites can be traced back more than 30 years ago. The international treaty entitled "The Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage" (commonly known as "The World Heritage Convention") was enacted in 1972 through the initiative of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). Since then, international cooperation to "protect for future generations all cultural and natural heritage of outstanding universal value" has been requested from countries throughout the world.

By 2008, 185 countries throughout the world had become parties to the convention. Japan began participation in 1992 by becoming the 125 party to the convention. 878 World Heritage sites (679 cultural, 174 natural, and 25 mixed) have been designated in countries from throughout the world. Japan's first World Heritage Sites were designated in 1993, with Shirakami-Sanchi and Yakushima being designated as natural sites, and Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-Ji Area and Himeji Castle being designated as cultural sites. Since then, the number of World Heritage Sites in Japan has grown to the current number of 14.

Homepage for "World Heritage Site Activities" (National Federation of UNESCO Associations in Japan)

Against this background, Waseda University has been involved from an early stage in survey research and international activities towards World Heritage Sites. Our university fulfilled the role of leader for the Japanese government team which, together with a team from France, oversaw the entire project to safeguard the Complex of Hue Monuments in Vietnam and Angkor in Cambodia. This project began in the early 1990s. In 2003, the UNESCO World Heritage Site Research Institute was established within the university, and we have put effort into an organization project which includes researchers from a variety of different fields.

Why is such focus now being placed on World Heritage Sites? What meaning does protecting World Heritage Sites for future generations have for the 21st century? We spoke with Faculty of Science and Engineering Professor Takeshi Nakagawa, who serves as Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Research Institute.

(*) *Project Research Institutes is a unique system of Waseda University that provides support for joint research projects which are voluntarily organized within the university.
Project Research Institutes, Comprehensive Research Organization : http://www.kikou.waseda.ac.jp/waseda_open/index.php)

There is no meaning in only restoration activities

South Scripture Building of Bayon Temple in Angkor Site (before restoration)

"Through the projects in Vietnam and Cambodia, we strongly recognized the need for an academic restructuring of policies for safeguarding cultural assets of Japan and the world. The UNESCO World Heritage Site Research Institute is an official organization which was established to provide a base for responding to that need." (Professor Nakagawa)

Since 1994, Professor Nakagawa has served as leader of the Japanese team in the project to safeguard the Angkor site in Cambodia. In this project, Japan and France are responsible for coordinating the efforts of 30 participating countries. In particular, this project to safeguard the Angkor site possesses extremely important meaning for international society due to what is symbolized by the Angkor site, which is classified as an "endangered World Heritage Site". Angkor is truly a symbol of peace from after the fall of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, and a symbol of world peace from the end of the Cold War period.

Among the ruined buildings, there are some portions which cannot be restored without disassembly. In such cases, the portions are disassembled and renovation/reproduction is then performed beginning from the base and foundation. (during restoration)

"This is not merely a project to restore the site. This is a project with a long-term vision to instill the community with activities to protect the Angkor Site, and to link those activities with a resurgence of the regional society. It is vital that members of the community rediscover the value possessed by Angkor." (Professor Nakagawa)

Under this objective, participating countries have created a variety of plans and implemented activities. The Japanese government team for safeguarding the Angkor site, led by Professor Nakagawa, has engaged in activities to restore the Angkor site by using technology that is almost overwhelming in its elaborateness. However, at the same time, the team has actively worked to transfer the technology of Japanese craftsmen in order to develop local technical staff in the community.

"We escorted Japanese stonemasons to Cambodia and conducted on-the-job training onsite. We also created a solid lecture program. As we expected, in order to develop skilled technicians who will serve as local leaders, it is not enough to simply have people remember certain skills through on-the-job training. It is necessary to have them systematically study knowledge related to the most advanced restoration techniques." (Professor Nakagawa)

The "philosophy" of technology and the environment must be reborn

Effort has been placed in the development of onsite technical staff at the Angkor site. (Scene from restoration of the South Scripture Building of Bayon Temple.)

An ample budget is not available for the restoration and protection of the Angkor site. Until now, the funds used in the project led by Professor Nakagawa have totaled to approximately only 2.2 billion yen over 13 years. Compare this to the 7 to 8 billion yen of international funds allocated for the erection of a single bridge. The attitude of other countries seems to be "everything will be fine if the site is returned to its original condition", and some opinions even call for rapid restoration using concrete instead of stone material. However, the Japanese government team is intent on the strict use of traditional techniques, methods, and materials.

"The restoration will be meaningless unless traditional technical systems and social infrastructure systems are preserved. For example, some people are attempting to use well water as a quick substitution in areas where it is normally necessary to channel the flow of rivers. This will only lead to the ground caving in. Angkor, which was known as the "city of water", is a broad city-state in which a wealth of water-based technology was used and where co-existence with surrounding water systems was skillfully considered. Steadfast work beginning from the regeneration of rivers and streams will lead to long-term sustainable environmental protection." (Professor Nakagawa)

A the Hue Monuments in Vietnam, much of the buildings have been lost and restoration must be performed from a few remaining photographs. Advanced digital photograph measurement technology is being used to reveal the construction principles and design technology used in construction of the palace.

The Japanese government project to safeguard Angkor officially began in 1994. After completion of the initially planned first and second phases, the project was extended for another 5 years. Currently, the project is in its 3 phase, which began from 2005. The project budget has been shrunk to one-fifth of the budget until now. Despite such monetary hardship, everyone involved in the project has given their best effort. "We have dramatically reduced overhead expenses such as personnel costs. However, we must not allow the quality of our work to suffer. Even if we are left without a sufficient budget, we must work as hard as we can in our given situation."

This sincere attitude of the Japanese government team has enabled it to form a relationship of deep trust with local staff, and has gained it the unshakeable confidence of the Cambodian government.

However, there are also a great number of issues. The most pressing of these issues is how to form a social system that allows local citizens to continue with renovation activities on their own.

"Our university has accepted into graduate school several members of local staff from both Angkor and from Hue in Vietnam. Some of these people have already obtained their degree and returned to their native country, where they are active as partners of our project. Their presence is extremely reassuring. However, unfortunately, a situation exists in many developing countries in which power is held by a small group of influential people and staff with specialist ability is not able to exert leadership. I strongly feel that in order to create even small reforms toward a situation in which such staff can have power onsite, a graduate school program is required that can develop many times the current staff." (Professor Nakagawa)

Rediscovery of "Okinoshima Island: The Shosoin (Treasure House) of the Sea"

The survey project for Munakata and Okinoshima Island featured participation from Korean and Japanese researchers, as well as from local NPO organizations. Research is being performed regarding the political exchange, cultural exchange, and diffusion that included Iki City, Tsushima City, and Korea. The photograph shows the Watatsumi Shrine located in Tsushima City, Nagasaki Prefecture. Torii (Shinto gateways) continue from the shrine precincts into the ocean.

In recent years, the research institute has also worked to support activities for the registration of World Heritage Sites within Japan. One example is support of World Heritage Site registration activities for religious facilities based around Munakata-Taisha in Fukuoka Prefecture, the natural environment of Okinoshima Island which surrounds those facilities, and other archaeological sites. A request was received from local organizations and cooperation began from 2001. Symposiums and other activities to promote the region have been held under the slogan "Okinoshima Island: The Shosoin (Treasure House) of the Sea".

"The perspective of Japanese and Korean historical exchange is essential for reexamining Munakata-Taisha and Okinoshima Island as cultural sites of historical significance. We believe it is necessary to rediscover Munakata and Okinoshima Island within the exchanges that took place in the "sacred realm of the sea" which covers the East China Sea." (Professor Nakagawa)

"Virtual Museum of Okinoshima Island", produced by Munakata City.

A strict review is a major obstacle to designation as a World Heritage Site. The process of being designated was not easy even for Japan's Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine, which was selected in 2007. The final factor in designation was that the silver taken from the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine received recognition as contributing to internationalism through money circulation in Eastern Asia and trading with Western European countries in the 16th and 17th centuries. On the other had, while the cultural sites in the town of Hiraizumi have been on Japan's list of domestic candidates since 2001, they still have not been designated as World Heritage Sites even as of today. Some theorize that while Hiraizumi is a site of historical significance for Japan, there is a weakness in the value possessed by Hiraizumi as a historical site to the world.

Among these difficult conditions, Munakata-Taisha and Okinoshima Island were selected in 2007 for addition to the list of domestic candidates. It was just their 2nd application for addition to the list. "I believe that this selection is the result of recognition for our efforts together with local organizations to increase recognition of the sites with an emphasis on expanding our perspective to the greater Asia region." (Professor Nakagawa)

World Heritage Sites are a symbol of 21st century value

Ultra-fine detail 3D images of the Bayon Temple in the Angkor Site. Created through joint research with Professor Katsushi Ikeuchi of the University of Tokyo Institute of Industrial Science.

The involvement of researchers in World Heritage Site activities does not end with merely conducting surveys and presenting theses. History, archaeology, architecture.as opposed to past academic survey research projects which have been performed separately in a variety of fields, there is now demand for an organizational cooperative system that functions as an academic project. A necessary part of such projects is practical contributions made from the broad viewpoint of cooperation in regional policy and vitalization of regions.

"I believe that World Heritage Site activities can be called a symbol of '21st century industry'," Professor Nakagawa states definitively.

"The notion of valuing something that is crumbling away, the idea of finding a way to preserve and co-exist with something that has grown to a certain extent - in a society with an aging population or a society with is seeking co-existence with the environment, both of these ideas can be called fundamentals of economically rational values of the 21st century. I believe that when World Heritage Sites are considered from such a broad perspective, there is an extremely high possibility that a new academic system will emerge."

The objective of World Heritage Site activities is not just to preserve nostalgia towards tradition or to protect tourism resources. Through these activities, our project seeks to enlighten regions to the value of their culture and environment, and to engage them in policies for international cultural diplomacy based on a global perspective.

Waseda University UNESCO World Heritage Site Research Institute (Project Research Institutes, Comprehensive Research Organization)

Japanese Government Team for Safeguarding Angkor

Waseda University Faculty of Science and Engineering

Waseda University Graduate School of Global Information and Telecommunication Studies

Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies

Reference Article (Introduction of Waseda University Researchers)