After the Great Hanshin Earthquake, systematic activities to preserve the historical heritage for post-large-scale-disaster periods were put in motion for the first time in Japan by the national and local governments as well as NGOs--nongovernmental organizations. Through these activities more than 1,500 cardboard boxes of historical materials were preserved by the Information Network to Preserve Historical Materials (HMN, Historical Materials Network). The process is reported here in the light of the activities of the HMN.

Historical Heritage

Historical materials reservation activity in Ashiya city (March, 1995)
Itinerant research for historical materials reservation in Kawanishi city (Sept, 1995)

The first question was what should be preserved. There were two difficult matters. One lies in the system of cultural properties preservation in which an item becomes "cultural property" only when designated by the national or local government. The management of cultural properties has been carried out centering on designated cultural properties. This was, however, insufficient to preserve diverse cultural valuables such as photos, bills, diaries, and records of community associations in the quake-hit area.

The second matter was what the local inhabitants regarded as cultural heritage. Unless they themselves considered the various items they possessed as historically valuable and worth preserving, there was no means for the others to preserve the items. The problem was that the value of historical heritage in the quake-hit area was difficult to recognize. Because (1) People have the notion that the designated cultural properties were the only cultural heritage, (2) Researchers had been failing to inform the citizens of the importance of historical heritage, (3) The history of the quake-hit area had been hidden behind the image of a modernized city, Kobe, and (4) The structure of archives and museums of the local governments dealing with the historical heritage were incompetent (Hyogo Prefectural Archive was ill-prepared, and Kobe Municipal Archive had only seven staff, while Nagoya city had twenty-seven).

Awareness of the Historical Heritage Preservation

Having surmounted such difficulties, a method of preserving historical heritage in cooperation with concerning groups was built up through trial and error. Meanwhile, efforts to make people in the quake-hit area understand the importance of preserving historical valuables had also been made. It became possible because the citizens had come to appreciate the importance of preserving historical properties and to utilize them in community development activities in cooperation.

An NGO, whose culture and information section was the first to start the activities of this kind, was limited in material and human resources with professional knowledge. The activities of the Cultural Properties Relief Committees of the Agency for Cultural Affairs were only focussing on designated cultural properties, and not flexible to take care with undesignated ones. Local government officials in charge of this kind of activity were dysfunctional being occupied with relief operations.

HMN, mainly consisting of members from the Kansai History Society, utilized their professional knowledge, recruited volunteer members, dealt with the difficulties other groups and institutions faced, and played a role as a link among them.

Cooperation between the local governments and NGOs was difficult at first and it was not until June 1995 that the cooperation between HMN and Kobe City was realized.

Now, similar local networks in cooperation with HMN have been established after the Tottori Earthquake, which occurred in October 2000, and the Geiyo Earthquake, in March 2001. A nation-wide network is also under preparation.

Owing to the tight financial condition of the local governments in the quake-hit area, the management of the archives and museums is becoming more and more difficult. A long-standing cooperation between NGOs, local governments, universities and researchers to enrich community-based historical culture is required.

(OKUMURA Hiroshi)