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Japan

Preserving Japanese Artifacts, One 3D-Printed Replica At A Time

Miniature statues sold at Komatsuji temple
Miniature statues sold at Komatsuji temple
Yomiuri Shimbun

CHIBA — Researchers are collecting 3D data of Buddhist statues and other cultural assets at a university here on the eastern outskirts of Tokyo in order to store the stereoscopic information in case of the objects' deterioration or theft.

The graduate school research laboratory at Chiba University is recording the 3D data, which is also already being used to help vitalize local communities. One temple, for example, sells miniature models of its Buddhist statues as charms, and a metalwork and engraving artist has used the data to produce fashion accessories.

The project to collect the 3D data was the brainchild of Prof. Akira Ueda, 50, of the university's graduate school of engineering, who first proposed it to temples and shrines in 2013.

The researchers took a portable scanner to 10 locations, including temples, shrines and the Kyodo Shiryokan local history museum in the town of Kamogawa to record the 3D data of about 40 objects, including Buddhist statues and wood carvings.

"The data could also be useful for preservation, repairs and restoration of cultural assets," said Hironobu Aoki, 25, a doctoral student working on the project. "I hope more people become aware that such endeavors are under way, so we can collect even more data."

The 3D data is already being used in local commercial initiatives. The Komatsuji temple in Minamiboso, in southern Chiba Prefecture, is about 1,300 years old. Miniature reproductions of its Kisshoten and Bishamonten statues, originally dating back to the the second half of the Heian period (794 to late 12th century), are now being made using the data and a 3D printer.

The 2.5-centimeter-high statues are sold as charms at the temple on special occasions, such as dedicated viewings of Buddhist statues.

Hiroshi Deguchi, 50, a metalwork and engraving artist based in the city of Tateyama, has been producing silver jewelry based on the 3D data of "A," a woodcarving of a lion at Konrenin temple in Tateyama.

The original "A" sculpture was made by Yoshimitsu Goto, one of two prominent sculptors in the Awa region — now the southern part of Chiba Prefecture — who specialized in shrine and temple decorations during the early modern period.

The woodcarving is 31 centimeters high, 48 centimeters wide and 31 centimeters deep. Deguchi used a 3D printer to produce a replica that is about three centimeters wide. He then made a casting mold using the replica and poured molten silver into it to produce miniatures for bracelets, pendants and rings.

"In the future, I would like to increase the variety of products and sell them as commercial goods," Deguchi said.

The local history museum in Kamogawa recently held an exhibition featuring carved works from the Awa region. Works by Goto and Takeshi Ihachiro Nobuyoshi, the other prominent sculptor for temples and shrines in the area, were shown alongside 3D replicas of their works. Deguchi's products were also displayed.

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