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Docs suggest Iwate museum curator may have cut pieces off ancient cultural properties

The censer excavated at Yanagi no Gosho which is believed to have been clipped by Hideo Akanuma is seen with annotations including "sam," which is thought to stand for "sample," in these documents provided by a person connected to the case.

MORIOKA -- A museum curator in northeastern Japan suspected of making unauthorized cuts to artefacts and treasures for analysis may have also cut off pieces of three important cultural properties unearthed from the remains of an ancient government base, documents obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun indicate.

Hideo Akanuma, a senior curator at Iwate Prefectural Museum is newly suspected of cutting off pieces from three important cultural properties unearthed from the remains of Yanagi no Gosho, a government base in the prefecture dating back to the Heian period (794-1185).

Documents obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun appear to indicate where the cultural properties were clipped. The prefectural board of education is investigating the three properties that may have been tampered with. Akanuma has not admitted having clipped any items designated as Important Cultural Properties.

According to the board of education, cutting artefacts of a high classification such as these without permission could violate the Act on Protection of Cultural Properties.

The board of education held a news conference on June 14, announcing that the seriousness of the suspicions has led them to establish an investigation team. The three important artifacts excavated at Yanagi no Gosho are said to be the team's first priority for inspection. The three items in question are an iron vessel with its handles on the inside, a vase for Buddhist rituals, and a censer also used in Buddhist ceremonies.

The iron vessel was previously entrusted to Akanuma for repairs after it was damaged during preparations for an exhibition at Iwate Prefectural Museum. The other two items were said to have received treatment to improve their durability through preservation work and repairs to reintroduce parts that were missing. No requests had been made for analysis that involved clipping pieces from the properties.

Museum documents obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun show notations reading "sample" and also "sam," which is possibly an abbreviation for sample. An individual with experience working at the museum said that the notations indicated where to clip the properties.

When the Mainichi Shimbun showed the documents to Akanuma and asked whether he cut the items without permission, he responded "I was asked (by the prefectural government) to remove rust from the surface." He also gave other answers, including, "They said to me, 'We want you to remove it to make the motif (under the rust) visible.'"

While the prefectural board of education acknowledged it asked for the rust to be removed, it believes there is a possibility that the items were clipped without permission, and plans to X-ray the items to determine whether parts were cut off.

An individual heading the checks said, "We have to look into why samples were taken from the excavated objects, and examine the extent of it."

Yanagi no Gosho in Hiraizumi, Iwate Prefecture, is the remains of what is believed to have been the location of Hiraizumi Mansion, the base of Oshu Fujiwara's government during the Heian period. In 1997 it was designated a historic site by the national government. Of the cultural properties unearthed there, around 400 are classed as important cultural properties.

(Japanese original by Tomoko Fujii and Takashi Kokaji, Morioka Bureau)

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