A project has been launched in Japan to create a network dedicated to protecting the country’s Olympic heritage.
Prince Chichibu Memorial Sports Museum and Library in Tokyo has vowed to ensure that valuable memorabilia, including medals and documents related to Japan’s sports history, is preserved.
It is hoping to organise a seminar next March for 300 institutions that currently house such items with the aim of establishing a nationwide database.
There is currently no universal list maintained by any public organisation that indicates which institution holds any particular object.
"There are many types of materials from sports history," Sachiko Niina, a curator of the Prince Chichibu Memorial Sports Museum and Library, told Japanese agency Kyodo News.
"They are scattered in many parts [of the country], and only a few people understand their importance.
“We need a system that prevents these materials from being dispersed."
Prince Chichibu also hopes to organise research projects into Japan’s sporting heritage and work with institutions abroad on matters of common interest.
Japan has several museums dedicated to sport, but most are dedicated to a particular sport like sumo, baseball and football.
Niina hopes the launch of the project will help unearth precious memorabilia currently housed in smaller museums around the country that are currently not widely known.
In a separate project, the Tokyo museum plans to create a digital archive with other institutions, such as companies, universities, sports bodies and municipalities.
The plan is to develop a database that will allow people to search for certain items and documents without having to physically travel to where they are stored or displayed.
The Prince Chichibu Memorial Sports Museum and Library opened in 1959 inside the old National Stadium to contribute to the development of sport in the country and display items of historical note.
The Museum has been closed since the venue was demolished and the new National Stadium built on the site in the lead-up to the Olympic Games in Tokyo, which were postponed this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and have been rescheduled in 2021.
The Museum is due to be moved to a different area in the National Stadium but it is not yet known when it will reopen.
The Museum recently discovered that an Olympic medal in its collection believed to have been the first won by a Japanese was very likely the second.
It is now thought the medal is a silver awarded to Seiichiro Kashio in men’s tennis doubles at Antwerp 1920.
The whereabouts of Japan’s first medal, a singles silver won earlier by Kashio’s doubles partner Ichiya Kumagai at the same Games, remains unknown.
There have also been cases of theft from the Museum.
In 2010, an Olympic medal won by Germany’s Hermann Weingartner at the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896 was stolen during an exhibition at the Museum.
The medal had been a gift from the late gymnast Yukio Endo, winner of the men’s all-around event at Tokyo 1964.
"As for medals, they are useful for people who watched the competitions to recall the athlete, but that is not enough," Niina told Kyodo News.
"Preserving other materials, documents, and books about the performance and efforts that led to winning a medal will also enable documenting the performance multidimensionally."
Yuji Kurihara, vice-director of the Kyoto National Museum, is among those backing the new project.
"Japan doesn’t understand that historical resources related to sports are cultural properties," he told Kyodo News.
"Now that it has been more than 100 years since the country first participated in the Olympics, it should reach the understanding that sport is also culture."