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The Greatest Treasures of Zen (A Project to Catalog Zen Cultural Properties)

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Details The Institute, in conjunction with the Ideaman Union Company, has since 2010 been photographing important cultural properties in the possession of Zen honzan and other large temples, in order to create an archive of easily preserved and reproduced digital data.
         In 2011 the Institute commenced the actual work of digitally photographing the ink paintings and calligraphies in the possession of participating temples and then preserving the resulting photographic data in the Institute’s database. Simultaneously, curators in various related specialties were entrusted with the task of cataloging and databasing information related to the artworks. These aspects of the project are expected to require approximately five years.
         Although the data assembled during this period is not presently available to the public, in the future the Institute plans to establish an “Internet Exhibition of Zen Cultural Properties,” featuring materials and photographs for which permission to display has been received from the owners. English, Chinese, and Korean versions of the Exhibition are under consideration.
Project Overview
The preservation and classification of their many cultural properties and treasures has always been a major concern for Japan’s important temples and monastic complexes. Such temples have traditionally compiled handwritten catalogues of their possessions; those temples that have exercised particular care in this respect have taken photographs of their possessions and preserved these along with the catalogs.
         The Institute for Zen Studies’ Digital Archives Project intends to expand on this work by recording temples’ tangible and intangible cultural properties in digital form, an approach noted for its accuracy as well as for its strengths in the areas of preserving and reproducing data. Digital recording has also been shown to offer significant advantages with regard to the restoration and exhibition of the original works. The assembled data will form part of the Zen Cultural Properties Database, which will be made publicly available in various forms in order to deepen interest in, knowledge of, and research on Zen’s important cultural legacy,
         Because of natural disasters and other unexpected events, one cannot guarantee that traditional methods of preservation will allow us to fulfill our obligation to protect original works for future generations. The caretakers of artworks, in addition to preserving the original cultural properties, must as much as possible consider implementing new approaches, such as high resolution digital imaging and methods of cataloging that incorporate relevant academic data. Unfortunately, heretofore such initiatives have been largely limited to professional institutions such as museums, art galleries, and libraries, and are rarely seen otherwise except in the case of a few local revitalization projects.
         The Digital Archives Project focuses on the cultural properties in the possession of Rinzai school main-temple complexes and their associated temples throughout Japan. The project is certain to contribute significantly in terms of convenience, economics, and methodology to the preservation and categorization of temple treasures, and be of considerable social and cultural importance.
         The Institute for Zen Studies, with the support of the Kyoto Cultural Foundation, began more than five years ago to plan for the Digital Archives Project through initiating guidelines for the Zen Cultural Properties Database. The Institute also developed the Digital Archives software with the cooperation of the Ideaman Union Company to mitigate the expense to temples of digitally recording their cultural properties.
         The project will compile data on the following tangible and intangible cultural assets relating to the Zen tradition:
  1. paintings: butsuga (images of buddhas, bodhisattvas, etc.), emaki (scroll paintings), shōzōga (portraits), suibokuga (ink paintings), Chinese paintings, modern paintings, etc.
  2. literary works: shakyō (sutra facsimiles), bokuseki (calligraphy), tenseki (classical records), takuhon (rubbings), etc.
  3. statues and masks: images in metal, wood, lacquerware, clay, stone, etc.
  4. crafts: metalwork, lacquerware, ceramics, dyeing, etc.
  5. intangibles: ceremonies, ritual chant, etc.
  6. others: architecture, exterior design, old photographs, historical records, drawings, etc.
Participating temples are asked to record information on the image or picture of each cultural property according to the guidelines set by the Institute. If high-resolution digital images are necessary the guidelines make provision for these as well. If necessary the Institute can provide technical assistance.