The Japan Times
December 30, 2002

Jomon-period lacquer items destroyed in Hokkaido fire

HAKODATE (Kyodo) Tens of thousands of historic artifacts, including some of the world's oldest-known lacquer relics, were destroyed in a fire at a research office for buried cultural properties in a Hokkaido town late Saturday night, police said Sunday.

No one was injured in the fire that destroyed the wooden one-story building with floor space of about 620 sq. meters in the town of Minami-kayabe, Hokkaido, police said.

Among some 80,000 artifacts lost in the fire were lacquer pieces from the early stages of Japan's prehistoric Jomon period some 9,000 years ago, excavated from a site in the town's Kakinoshima area and believed to be some of the world's oldest.

Jomon, meaning "cord marked" in Japanese, is the period dated roughly between 13,000 B.C. to 200 B.C. It takes its name from the elaborate designs made using rope to decorate pottery at the time.

According to local police, a researcher worked at the office from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, but no one was there when the fire started. Work to polish items excavated from a site nearby is usually done at the office, the police said.

Chiharu Abe, 43, head of the municipal office for buried cultural properties, said the group had no clues as to how the fire began.

"Because fire is our number one fear, we had absolutely no heating devices in the office. We are urging an investigation," Abe said. "We have lost very valuable materials about Japanese culture and history."

The relics had been brought to the building from nearby sites for safekeeping, and where they could be worked on out of the cold, he also said.

Police said the cause of the fire remains under investigation.

THIS IS ONE of the world's oldest-known lacquer artifacts destroyed in a fire at a research office in Minamikayabe, Hokkaido, late Saturday. MINAMIKAYABE MUNICIPAL EDUCATION BOARD PHOTO