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Expedition to Japan: The Hatsushima Tokugawa’s Shipwreck

In 2016 the survey activities of the Second IRAIE Archaeological Expedition Campaign in Japan began and continue today.

The new destination was Hatsushima Island, Shizuoka Prefecture, where in 2015, some fishermen reported to the competent authorities the presence of strange evidence emerging from the seabed.

From the station, we reached the arbor by bus, from which reached Hatsushima by ferry, where the van of Diving Center, that the organization rented for all the period, was waiting for us.

What was visible when we arrived on the site identified by fishermen, were just some lines of something like the typical roof tiles for building the ancient Japanese palace, the so called kawara.

Of course it was a shipwreck, but we could not imagine what real was.

Cleaning by hands the upper sand layers, it come to light what was a part of cargo of a commercial ship (Fig. 2), the so called kaisen. Kaisen were a kind of ship used especially during the Tokugawa Period (1603-1868), that sailed along a “circular route” as we can understand by the literally translation of the word. There were two typology of kaisen: the first one, sailed from north to south along the western cost; while the second one, from south to north along the eastern cost. This one was the typology found in Hatsushima’s sea.

Finding this kind of ship in so good condition, it’s rare. But to make only the discovery was the fact that while we were cleaning the surface, come to light some stone block, and we immediately identified them as the big architraves of the palace of that period (called onigawara), but continuing to clean we sow the symbol which decorated the stone block. It was the mon (blazon) of Tokugawa Family, the last shogunate that ruled Japan until 1868 when there was the fall of samurai’s military power.

From all this elements, it was possible to propose a first dating, a chronological arch between the 17th and 18th century. The next year excavation will give a more precise dating.

That ship was going from south, probably from Osaka, to Edō, the Capital, to bring the architectural components of a government building of shogunate. We have not proves, but by the sources seems that a ship that carried the material for building of the famous Edō Palace, the building more important of that period, symbol of Tokugawa’s Powerful, sank dispersing the cargo, therefore it could be even that lost shipwreck, being on the same route.

This year, we have just operated a cleaning of upper sand layers, in order to realize a first photogrammetric and 3D relief, but we verified that under the cargo, protected by sand, there is part of the hull and planking.

Therefore, it’s programmed for the next year to realize the excavation by air lift. In the meantime, in addition to photogrammetry, we realized a prototype of the 3D realization of the shipwreck, that it’s possible to see on IRIAE YouTube Channel:

Local Administration of the Island called to undersigned to held a conference to explain to locals the potentiality of the touristic development through the valorization of Cultural Heritage, this event took place on November 25th, 2016.

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