Extracts from the Miyagi Network News XIII

104 Year warehouse in Sendai City

Published on 29 April 2011

Author(s): Network for Historical Materials/Daisuke Sato

Type:  Blog/Situation report Vol 113

The East Japan Earthquake, the whitewashed warehouse which had protected the treasures for 104 years, in Sendai City

This is Daisuke Sato as a secretariat officer of the Miyagi Network for Preserving Historical Materials. This news reports that we carried out activities to preserve historical materials in Sendai City on April 22nd.

The white-plastered warehouse of ‘O’ family who had engaged in the Sendai Domain’s business as a ‘Kuramoto Shonin(*)’ in the last days of the Tokugawa Shogunate was damaged by both the quake on 11th March and the aftershock on 7th April, and is now widely slanted to the south side. Because the warehouse had been decrepit before the quake, it ended up being scrapped.

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The warehouse had contained the old archives, documents, Japanese swords and antiquities from the end of the Edo Period to the Showa Period. With regard to the old archives, they had been tidied up when the compiling project for Sendai City History had been carried out, and after that they have been preserved in the Sendai City Museum. We thought that other materials were also taken out from the warehouse and preserved before the quake.

However, when we visited the master of the house right after the quake, he told us that it had seemed that other valuable materials such as the equipment which had been used when the ancestor managed the tea industry had still been in the warehouse. Therefore, we requested him to let us take out those items to a safe place, and he approved it. As a result, we carried out this preservation operation. Previously, the master of the house built the scaffolds around the warehouse for us, so as to save it from collapsing.

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On the day of the operation, unfortunately it was lightly raining so the rescue activity was carried out by 14 members in total including the 2 participants from Tokyo. Although the urgent rescue had already done on the warehouse, the activity which was carried out on the slanted structure facing the risk of collapse therefore we kept the number of members who entered to a minimum, and took the materials out like a bucket-brigade to the temporary space in the owner’s ground.

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In the warehouse, a lot of things remained, such as the utensils, implements,old books bound in Japanese style and some archives, which were all collected from the end of the Edo Period to the Meiji Period. Many of the implements had the day and place of purchase and production written on them, so we consider that those things would be a clue to know the actual conditions and preferences of the Sendai merchants when collecting their daily utensils, with reference to the records which we had investigated.

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According to the owner, this warehouse which will soon be scrapped was built in 1907. Completing this warehouse took three years, so there were some episodes where the mud walls were constructed, that the ancestor gathered the children who lived neighbouring the residence and he let them throw the mud balls at the warehouse. After the completion, this warehouse perfectly protected the archives and the family’s treasures from the disasters such as the Sendai Air Raid on July 10th in 1945, the Miyagiken-oki Earthquake on June 12th in 1978, and the East Japan Earthquake.

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As time goes by, the family’s treasures changed to the community’s treasure. How will we preserve those historical materials? We strongly felt that we have to consider establishing the new system for preserving those materials by working together, which in turn will be the best parting gift for this warehouse, which has finished its job due to the quake.

*Kuramoto Shonin(蔵元商人): The merchant who were left to manage the official money of their Domain. In the Edo Period, each Domain had branch offices (they were said ‘Kura Yashiki’ in Japanese) in Osaka or the other merchant cities and carried out economic activities. ‘Kuramoto’ had charge of the accounts in those branch offices.

NB: The photos are all from the homepage of the Miyagi Network for Preserving Historical Materials.

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