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What it Takes to inherit Culture “Association for the Preservation of Nikko World Heritage Site Shrine and Temples”

What it Takes to inherit Culture
“Association for the Preservation of Nikko World Heritage Site Shrine and Temples”

Foundation Association for the Preservation of Nikko World Heritage Site Shrine and Temples
2281 Sannai, Nikko, Tochigi

Preservation Work at Shrines and Temples of Nikko

Toshodaigongen, the deified figure of Ieyasu Tokugawa is enshrined in Toshogu Shrine which symbolizes Nikko. It was founded about 400 years ago in 1617 at the present site as indicated in Ieyasu Tokugawa’s will. For over 400 years, Toshogu has retained the dignified atmosphere. But if it were left alone, the shrine would weather and deteriorate. Therefore, Toshogu has been given periodic restorations over the years. It began during the era of the third Shogun Iemitsu Tokugawa. It was the so called “The Great Kanei Constructions”, the first of the reforms, in which shrine carpenters were gathered from Edo, Osaka, and Kyoto to commence “shikinen sengu” or the periodic renovation of the shrine. Ever since, maintenance has been performed every 30 to 40 years.
Photo: Explanation of Polishing of Intermediate Brown Lacquer in “Togi”(an architectural element that joins pillars and columns to the frame of a roof)

The Great Repair of Heisei

It is now amid the “Great Heisei Repair”. We were permitted to watch the procedure. The same method and materials from the past are used as much as possible. First, we watched the painting process of the underlayer ”urushi” lacquer. A craftsman pointed at a piece of board with a part of the layers of lacquer carved out. Traces of lacquer that had been painted were visible, which is truly the mark of years of repair. The traces of repeated painting over tens and hundred years could be seen on the board. On the other side, the drawing procedure had already begun. Materials that coincide with that of the past are also used here for adding paint to the drawing. “How are these patterns made?” asked Nakata casually looking at the protruded part of the picture. It may look sculpted, but it is made of layers and layers of paint. The task requires much endurance. “They’re made of heart and soul of the craftsmen.” Answered a craftsman involved in the process.

Photo: Back board rafter; Explanation of painting and fixing of old lacquer layer film/ Tomographic view of 380 year and 14 times of lacquer film

Beyond Preservation and Restoration

These reforms are managed and conducted by Association for the Preservation of Nikko World Heritage Site Shrines and Temples. Before the association was officially founded, each shrine and temple managed on their own. The most important activity for the association is preservation and maintenance of the designated shrines and temples. It is truly an enormous task. For example, a surprisingly large amount of gold foil is used at Toshogu where we visited. “These are all gold foils. So much is covered with gold foil.” Said Nakata with amazement. There is the issue of price fluctuation for gold. Therefor the price of gold foils may exceed the planned budget. Most are not aware of such issue, but it is an important task for the association to manage such matters. Another important purpose of the association is the research and study of techniques such as lacquer work and designing of the sites. The shrines and temples were state of the art buildings in the past, therefor are the greatest subjects of study. As mentioned, study of techniques from the past is essential to conduct reforms using methods from the past. One other task is the education of technology. Advanced study cannot be put to use if there is no one to use the techniques. Therefor, much effort is placed in human resources development. Among the seasoned craftsmen, many young workers were actually present at the reformation site where we visited. Within the dignified gate that we look upon, confined are the spirit of those involved for over 400 years since the founding of Toshogu Shrine.

Upper Left Photo: “Togi” Pasting of a lacquer and powder mixture/underlayer lacquer
Lower Left Photo: Rafter in the National Treasure Hall of Warship East-side of Nikko Toshogu, painting over lacquer covered with gold foil.
Top Photo Next to Title: “Gagyou” ( a horizontal architectural element placed under the eaves of a shrine to support the rafters) National Treasure Hall of Warship East-side of Nikko Toshogu, Explanation of painting over plastered lacquer design covered with gold foil


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