More than 350 Japanese Cultural Properties Damaged by Earthquake and Tsunami

Published on 1 May 2011

Author(s): Heritage on The Wire

Type:  Blog Published on 1 April 2011

Last week, we blogged about damage to the walls of Zuigan-ji temple in the aftermath of the massive earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan. Zuigan-ji was the first major cultural heritage site in the region to be reported as affected, and given the magnitude of the disaster, the damage to the temple seemed minimal. It was only a matter of time, however, before more news of damage to cultural heritage sites began to surface.

A recent report by Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs has tallied the number of cultural properties damaged at 353, including four sites classified as National Treasures: Zuigan-ji, Osaki Hachiman Shrine, Amida Hall, and Buddha Hall of Seihaku Temple. Like at Zuigan-ji, the extent of this damage—cracks in walls and ranma, mostly—could conceivably have been far worse. At Rinno Temple and Futarasan Shrine, some stone monuments fell to the ground.

Excluding stone lanterns and mud-walled warehouses and gravestones, only two cultural properties are reported to have been totally destroyed: one is a research center at Ibaraki University, and the other is Kyu Yuubikan, which was located in the Miyagi prefecture, where the tsunami was recorded to have reached 33 feet, the highest point anywhere along Japan’s coast.

Amida Hall, shown above, was one of four National Treasures damaged by the March 11th earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan. Photo jpellgen-flickr.jpg
Amida Hall, shown above, was one of four National Treasures damaged by the March 11th earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan. Photo: jpellgen/flickr

According to a report by ICOMOS Japan’s Dr. Toshikazu Hanazato, the effects of the tsunami were far more damaging than the earthquake itself, which occurred off the coast, with massive waves and floods affecting a far broader region than the 1995 Kobe earthquake that occurred directly below a metropolitan area.

“Most of the officially designated cultural sites averted major destructions,” Dr. Hanazato said in the report. “Most of the damage reported are cracks on mud walls or on plaster finishing, descent of roof tiles, fractured glass windows and ceilings falling down. In particular, non-structural elements such as roof tiles, windows and ceilings faced destructions.”

With major rescue and lifesaving missions continuing, restoration of Japan’s historic sites and scenery will be slow. But as the region reconstructs itself, consideration of heritage buildings and monuments must be considered. According to ICOMOS, many unregistered historic buildings are likely to be demolished and dismantled, as happened following the Kobe earthquake when many similar buildings were deemed hazardous in the event of a major earthquake.

Most of these unregistered buildings and artifacts have also not yet been surveyed by the Agency of Cultural Affairs, which is still compiling its list of damaged cultural properties—a list that, over the next month, is expected to keep growing.


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