日本の著名な哲学者の直筆ノートを水損から救うプロジェクト A project to save autobiographical notes of a famous Japanese philosopher from water damage

NISHIDA Kitaro (1870-1945) was a leading Japanese philosopher and honorary professor at Kyoto University. His An Inquiry into the Good, published in 1911, has sold more than a million copies and has been translated into eight languages.

A cache of documents related to the book, including 58 notebooks and more than 50 loose sheets, all handwritten by Prof. Nishida, was discovered in 2015 in a house belonging to his descendants and brought to the Ishikawa NISHIDA KITARO Museum of Philosophy (Ishikawa Prefecture). The material was suffering from significant water damage due to rainfall.

A lump of notebooks. Photo courtesy of Ishikawa NISHIDA KITARO Museum of Philosophy.
An object wrapped in paper and tied with twine. Photo courtesy of Ishikawa NISHIDA KITARO Museum of Philosophy.

Dr. Yohsei Kohdzuma, head of the Conservation Science Section of the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, who gained experience in rescuing water damaged material following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, oversaw the project to conserve the collection.

The documents and photographs were first loosely classified. Photos were taken, and at the end of 2015 the documents were transferred to the Nara Cultural Properties Research Institute and vacuum freeze-dried. They were entrusted to us, the NPO Corporation book study group, in August 2016.

A selection of damaged objects. Photo courtesy of Ishikawa NISHIDA KITARO Museum of Philosophy.

The material had been damaged by woodworm and mould, so it was difficult to turn the pages. In our book laboratory, we carefully and gradually opened each page while applying steam. We then dry-cleaned the pages with both soft- and firm-bristled brushes, elastic sponges, melamine sponges, and metal and bamboo spatulas.

Damage caused by worms and moths. Photo courtesy of Ishikawa NISHIDA KITARO Museum of Philosophy.
Weak paper with several sheets stuck together. Photo courtesy of Ishikawa NISHIDA KITARO Museum of Philosophy.

Some pages could not be opened at all, with some items resembling a single wooden plate or block. After trying various methods, we came up with a way to add moisture, based on the squelch drying technique that removes moisture from water-damaged books. I am grateful to Mr. Stuart Welch, who made this method public so that everyone could benefit from it. We named our new procedure the “Reverse Squelch Method”. 

Some pages were able to be opened with steam. Photo courtesy of Ishikawa NISHIDA KITARO Museum of Philosophy.

After all of the pages had been opened and dry cleaned, they were photographed, sterilized with UV light for three minutes and then stored in acid-free boxes before being returned to the Kitaro Museum, to which they had been donated by the family.

Sterilization. Photo courtesy of Ishikawa NISHIDA KITARO Museum of Philosophy.

The cost of the vacuum freeze-drying treatment was covered by the national government as part of a cultural property disaster prevention project. The local government (Ishikawa Prefecture · Kahoku City) provided the funding for the cleaning.

Work on deciphering text that is difficult to read due to water damage is currently proceeding with the cooperation of Kyoto University and Kanazawa University.

I would like to offer special thanks to the Ishikawa NISHIDA KITARO Museum of Philosophy and Dr. Yohsei Kohdzuma.

   

Masako Itakura began bookbinding as a hobby in 1977 and taught the subject at a local community centre in Nara, Japan. In 1986 she carried out surveys in libraries in New York and Boston, and two years later she studied book restoration at the Centro del bel Libro in Switzerland. In 1990 she established a study group for book history and conservation and lectured in 1991 at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. In 1995 she coordinated rescue work following the Great Hanshin earthquake (Kobe earthquake) in Japan. She taught conservation classes for librarians in 1998, and in 2004 she established a non-profit organization for book history and conservation, of which she is the director.

4 thoughts on “日本の著名な哲学者の直筆ノートを水損から救うプロジェクト A project to save autobiographical notes of a famous Japanese philosopher from water damage

  1. Extremely valuable information. This could be a course! I am saving this email in my computer. Thank you
    .Now I want to read what the Japanese philosopher wanted us to know?

    Like

  2. Hi Matilda, I am so glad to hear you find my technique useful. Yes, organising a short course on this technique would be fantastic. Do you think other people might be interested in something like that too?

    Like

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