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When it comes to promoting archaeological excavations, it isn’t just the resulting artifacts that are being featured — institutions are increasingly highlighting the sites and the research process itself.

Some fly flags urging people to observe their research and others let local residents lend a hand and get their hands dirty. Experimentation is the watchword when it comes to building local interest in cultural properties.

Gifu Park, located at the foot of Mount Kinka, is a major tourist attraction. Underneath it lies the remains of a residence once used by warlord Nobunaga Oda, who moved to Mino in present-day southern Gifu Prefecture during the Sengoku Era in 1567. Excavations have been going on there since 1984.

So far, giant stone passages and the ruins of a garden documented by Portuguese missionary Luis Frois have been discovered, and the overall picture of the site is growing more clear.

The fourth phase of research, which began three years ago, lies to the south of a ropeway station. To draw in the crowds, banners proclaim “Excavation research on Nobunaga’s residence” and wooden fences bear the crest of the Oda family.

The city of Nara, which had no policy on these matters during the previous research phases, finally decided excavations can be good publicity.

The plan is to turn the residential ruins at Gifu Castle, where Nobunaga started using his famous Tenka Fubu seal, into a tourism resource while it’s still in the research phase.

There is also a plan to maintain the ruins in the hope of someday restoring the residence, and the city wants to get a jump on generating public interest.

“We thought of breaking out of the old mold that visiting a site is synonymous with on-site briefing sessions,” said Masanori Takahashi, an official with the city’s board of education.

He started a website to provide updates on the excavation work and set up an information center. Of the 260 sq. meters set out for research this fiscal year, an area of about 100 sq. meters where work is to be completed by the end of September is on exhibition.

To draw in as many people as possible, excavation work has even been conducted on weekends during the summer vacation period. In August, about 3,300 observers visited the site.

“The residential ruins are an important asset for the city. Since we are excavating with taxpayer money, we want not only experts but also many others to observe the site,” Takahashi said.

Some of the people involved in the work say that when lots of people show up, they feel encouraged and get a boost in morale.

The Saiku Historical Museum, which is working on the national historical ruins of the Saiku palace in Meiwa, Mie Prefecture, has become more proactive when it comes to publicity. Since the museum itself is in a corner of the ruins, it believes “the excavation site is part of an exhibition” and “in principle makes everything open” to the public.

When a relatively large research phase kicked off in 2007, the museum started putting more effort into publicity. The facility also flies flags to indicate the research site and emphasizes there is no fee to come in and observe the work.

Taking a page from the handwritten boards used at Asahiyama Zoo in Hokkaido, the Saiku facility sets up white boards explaining the latest archaeological highlights.

The museum holds excavation sessions for local elementary school students and even receives participants from outside the prefecture. The researchers call out to visitors to explain the current situation and collaborate with the town’s volunteer guides.

The Miharashidai dig in Minami Ward, Nagoya, is known for allowing hands-on participation. The special research is conducted every summer by the municipal Miharashidai archaeological archive and about 200 residents participated this year.

Originally, the research was a private-sector effort that grew out of fears the ruins might be destroyed by a city park construction project. However, the city changed course and decided to use the ruins as part of the park after Yayoi Period villages from about 1,800 years ago were found. The public can view the excavation work close up, and officials will stop to explain what they’re doing if requested.

This requires plenty of time and effort, so these kinds of measures are rare. But since the research at Saiku has been going on for about 40 years, people tend to view it as the “same old thing.” To enhance public awareness of the need to preserve cultural properties, the research process — including how the ruins are located — should also be seen,” said Masahiro Okawa, an official at the Saiku Historical Museum.

“The budget for preserving cultural properties tends to decline. To research and maintain the ruins, we will need further understanding from residents,” said Yasumine Ichizawa, an official at the Miharashidai archaeological archive.

This section, which appears on Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by local daily Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Sept. 14.

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