Japan Railway & Transport Review No. 58 (p6-p11)
Feature : World Railway Museums (part 2)
The Railway Museum: Initiatives and Challenges
The construction of the Railway Museum in Saitama City was entrusted to the East Japan Railway Culture Foundation (EJRCF) as the centrepiece of the JR East 20th Anniversary Memorial Project. It was opened on 14 October 2007 in Omiya, a location with a strong connection to the railway. Since then, the Museum has welcomed more than 4 million visitors (as of December 2010), and is now in its fourth year.
|History of The Transportation Museum and Opening of The Railway Museum|
The Transportation Museum was the predecessor of The Railway Museum, opening originally as ‘The Railway Museum’ under the elevated tracks on the north side of Tokyo Station in 1921 to mark the 50th anniversary of the start of the railway in Japan. It moved to Manseibashi Station on the Chuo Line in 1936 and changed its name in 1948 to ‘The Transportation Museum’ when it came to include land, sea and air transport in general. This museum came under the jurisdiction of JR East in 1987 when Japanese National Railways (JNR) was split up and privatized.
|Overview of The Railway Museum|
The Railway Museum is based on the three concepts:
|Difficulties in Dealing with Modern Industrial Items and Recognizing Value|
As I am in charge of the management of documents and preservation of materials, I feel strongly that the railway industry has not really been appreciated as a field with items worth preservation as cultural assets. Our Locomotive No. 1 imported in the early Meiji era, Imperial Carriage No. 1 built for the Meiji Emperor in 1876, and the Railway Archive recorded in railway’s earliest days have been designated by the government as Important Cultural Assets. However, just as culturally valuable are the MARS-1 seat reservation system (first used in 1960) recognized as A Cornerstone of Electro-Technology by The Institute of Electrical Engineers of Japan, and as Information Processing Technology Heritage by the Information Processing Society of Japan. In this way, the historic value of modern railways is gradually being recognized with the passage of time.
|Ongoing Themes of Preservation and Display|
|Earlier, I mentioned the need to display more items—a dilemma facing every museum. It is a conflict between ‘preservation’ and ‘display’. Most people think that The Railway Museum is based around rolling stock and parts, what could be called ‘huge lumps of iron’, but in fact the museum collection is distinguished by a tremendous diversity of materials from a wide range of fields. These include documents, photographs (including photographic plates), film clips, arts and crafts, picture postcards, passenger tickets, timetables, posters, and commemorative goods. The railways built in the Meiji era supported Japan’s modernization and postwar recovery, and I think our collection is so varied and abundant precisely because it affected not only the economy and technology but also daily culture. However, many of these railway-related items are made of very delicate materials. For example, paper items like passenger tickets require temperature and humidity control. In addition, the printing may fade if exposed to light. In other words, they require a controlled environment and preserving them requires storage in a dark temperature-controlled room, which is not conducive to display. However, when presenting the railway truthfully there is a need and strong demand to display these items as well as rolling stock.
And even sturdy hunks of iron still have problems—like what to do when a carriage body is scratched, or when attached parts are damaged? In most cases, the parts we want to replace no longer exist. Then there is the essential problem of whether they should be replaced anyway. In addition, sometimes differences between things of the past and present lead to unexpected situations. There is also the question of whether repairs should maintain the original qualities of a display item while considering the safety of visitors. This can cause huge problems. The objects are not simply for the eyes of today’s visitors. We have to think about how they will be bequeathed to people of the future, decades or centuries from now, and about how to display them and pass them down to posterity. Nevertheless, I think that ‘preservation’ means not only protecting them but also ‘displaying’ them appropriately so that they will be passed on in people’s memories. How to maintain the best possible balance between ‘preservation’ and ‘display’ while optimizing the transferred message is a key mission and will probably always be an ongoing theme.
|What Should Be Handed Down to Posterity and How?|
|Museum items are not just objects—they have ties with people, technology, and events. Consider a railway carriage; many people and technologies were involved in building it, and of course people and technology were involved in operating it, and related materials include operating regulations and timetables. And finally, millions of people will have ridden in it. Every one of these events, generates records, objects, and memories. How much should be handed down to posterity? Today’s advanced technologies and computerization create linked systems made up of people, technologies and circumstances, and many ‘materials’ cannot be seen or separated out. Not all of these materials and data can be handed on and choices must be made, which is why we have to ask ourselves what standards we will use to decide what to hand on and in what form. As a museum, we must establish a clear policy and always be prepared to re-examine it as times change.
In response to these challenges, the museum is starting preparations to setup an Exploratory Committee on Collection of Materials to discuss policies and plans for collecting museum items.
With the rapid advances in information technology and IT equipment, the environment surrounding the railway is changing at a dazzling pace. The museum must keep pace with these changes as it tackles various issues and explores the future. Perhaps no clear answers will be found to the questions I have raised. I will listen to opinions from people working in the museum as well as outside advice, do my best to perfect our displays, materials and administration, and do everything in my power to make it a place where the history of Japanese railways is handed on to future generations.
|Photo: Exterior of The Railway Museum (Saitama City) today (The Railway Museum)
Photo: Opening of first Railway Museum in 1921 (under elevated tracks on north side of Tokyo Station) (The Railway Museum)
Photo: Series 0 shinkansen display opened in October 2009 (The Railway Museum)
Photo: Rolling stock exhibits in History Zone (The Railway Museum)
Photo: Panorama of Teppaku Hiroba (The Railway Museum)
Photo: Steam rises from smoke machine at regular intervals (The Railway Museum)
Photo: Row of SL number plates embedded in floor (The Railway Museum)
Photo: MARS-1 seat reservation system recognized as important memorial of information and electrical technology history (The Railway Museum)
Photo: Storage room under reorganization (The Railway Museum)
Photo: Visitors enjoying old carriage (The Railway Museum)
Photo: The Imperial Train Exhibition (2010) took fine arts such as silk and lacquer work as themes (The Railway Museum)
Photo: Examining JNR’s first electric rail car Hanifu 1 before repairs (The Railway Museum)
Ms Tanabe is a curator at The Railway Museum in Saitama, Japan.