Extracts from the Miyagi Network News XIV

Conservation of documents at Fusuma of the former-Iwakiri Post Office

Published on 3 May 2011

Author(s): Network for Historical Materials/Ms.Mari Sato

Type:  Blog/Situation report Vol 114

The operation of peeling off the undercoated documents from the Fusuma of the former-Iwakiri Post Office

Over 2 days from 23rd to 24th of April, we removed the undercoated documents from the Fusuma(*1) which had been brought into the secretariat office of the Miyagi Network when the rescue operation was carried out on the other days. I participated to the Miyagi Network’s activity as a volunteer, and this is my report.

—The outline of the operation—

The targets of the operation are 20 sheets of Fusuma which had been mainly taken out from the former Iwakiri Post Office when the preservation activity for historical materials had been carried out on April 6th. Although the structure of the post office had been demolished after the quake, the Fusuma which included a large amount of undercoated documents were rescued (As for the details, please see the ‘Miyagi Network News vol.102’.)


—The process of the operation—

Under the leadership of Mr. Yuichi Ebina as a secretariat officer, the operation of peeling off the undercoated documents was carried out by 16 volunteer members. With regard to the process, it is as follows; 1. Removing the surface paper upon which Japanese traditional pictures were drawn 2. Moisturising the undercoated papers, and peeling them off using pallets. Although we fumbled handling them again and again at first, we came up with better ideas. After several attempts we gradually realised that it was important for those documents to be well moisturised in any case, and it made us devise more efficient methods as our operation advanced.

Various sizes of undercoated documents had covered the surface of the Fusuma, so each document stuck to each other. In this time, because there were so many Fusuma and their undercoated documents, we planned to entirely remove them from the whole Fusuma, and postponed separating each document. As a result, we could part the documents from the whole Fusuma. This was the first experience for me to do such an operation, so sometimes I felt difficulty, however at the end of the operation I could get the hang of it through others’ advice. I want to make use of it and participate in the similar operations hereafter.

—In terms of the undercoated documents—

The structure of the former-Iwakiri Post office had been built in 1902, and registered as a modernization heritage in Miyagi Prefecture, and also the guesthouse ‘Ougiya’ which had been constructed in Meiji Period in Matsushima had been partially removed. For this reason, we had anticipated that many of the undercoated documents could be involved with the old archives concerning the Post Office or something from which we might understand the situation around Iwakiri in early modern times. In this operation, we concentrated on peeling them off from Fusuma, so we couldn’t grasp so much about what kind of information they had. However, in spite of the rough observations, they clearly had various meanings and contents.

First of all, we found out the Iwakiri Post Office’s day books which had been written the year after the office had been built, or ‘Ninsoku-cho (it means the labours registry book)’ recorded from 1881 to 1882, and the old documents of the guesthouse ‘Ougiya’. It proved that Fusuma had been removed together with the structure of ‘Ougiya’ to the Iwakiri Post Office. More minutely speaking, there were lots of old documents about which we could speculate on the circulations of the used papers, such as the Edano Village(present Tsunoda City in Miyagi Prefecture)’s ‘Kowari-cho(*2)’ in 1840 when the redevelopment had been carried out after the famine or devastation due to the farmer’s fleeing, or ‘Shumon Ninbetsu Aratame Cho(*3)’ which had involved in a lot of place names like Kosai Village in Miyagi Prefecture and Hei gun in Iwate prefecture and so on.

Moreover, we discovered the documents concerning the business of Kooribugyo(*4) in Sendai Domain. I heard that these documents were very valuable because they could lead us to understand the political situation of the Sendai Domain, so further analysis will follow. Beyond that, the calligraphic works and the letters had also been used on the undercoated documents. It was a shame that the structure of Iwakiri Post Office was lost, however, we were really glad because we could preserve such precious historical documents. We realised that it was important to pass down those documents which had survived the disaster for the next generation.

—With regard to the preservation activity for historical materials—

While we were carrying out the operations of peeling off the documents from Fusuma, Prof.Arata Hirakawa had rescued the historical documents damaged by the Tsunami in Ishinomaki City, and he showed them to us. We were surprised that the documents were still wet although one month had passed, and we could smell the saltwater. As I saw the various historical materials which had been rescued by previous activities and as I heard about the damage in each devastated area from members who had participated in the rescue operations. It made me recognise that the damage which had affected the historical materials and structures was indeed very serious and extensive.


As for the experiences of the great disaster and the inconvenience and suffering caused to people, I knew that it might be difficult for me who lives in Tokyo to truly understand and sympathise with their circumstances, even though I want to be involved in the preservation of the historical materials and structures, because I am learning history and have to deal with those materials. I want to support the sufferers who are struggling with the unprecedented great disaster at the ‘present’, and to learn from the ‘past’ indicated in the preserved historical documents and the records of the disasters, and to obtain the capability to manage possible disasters sometime in the ‘future’. I had participated in this activity with such a thought, and I felt it strongly after these 2 days.

Our activities owed to the secretariat officers who arranged the system for receiving to volunteer workers while they have been carrying out the rescue operations and the activities for gathering information. However, their activities are very hard ones. The thing that we can do the best is to adequately respond to their requests for rescue operation when dispatched to us.

[The Excursus]

For this operation, many people gave us their support and rushed to our place from Miyagi Prefecture, the Tohoku area and Kanto area, as volunteers. We take this occasion to recognise all of your supporting. (written by Mr.Ebina, as a secretariat officer).

By Ms.Mari Sato, a member of the Miyagi Network for Preserving Historical Materials (a postgraduate student in Tokyo Gakugei University)

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

*1 Fusuma(襖): sliding door made from paper and wood, used to partition off rooms in a Japanese house. Sometimes they have beautiful traditional pictures, or old historical documents on the underside to strengthen against being torn apart.

*2 Kowari-cho(小割帳):a book which recorded what the area of each land were, and how much rice could be produced.

*3 Shumon-Ninbetsu-Aratame-cho(宗門人別改帳): A register book of temples. In the Edo period(1603~1868), people were managed by each temple in their area as part of the Government’s policy.

*4 Kooribugyo(郡奉行): the administrative officers in each domain in Edo Period. They managed the farmers and their lawsuits, or taxes.

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