The Japanese professor who loves Viet Nam’s heritage

VietNamNet Bridge – Ha Noi Museum has recently added a special item to its collection: a wooden replica of Mong Phu Village Gate, one of the unique architectural structures in the ancient village of Duong Lam on the outskirt of Ha Noi.

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True friend: Professor Ejima Akiyoshi poses in Duong Lam Village during its preservation project jointly conducted by the Vietnamese and Japanese Governments. — Photo Facebook of Professor Ejima Akiyoshi

The item was a gift presented by Japanese architect Ejima Akiyoshi, who has spent years participating in the research and restoration of many of Viet Nam’s relics, including Hoi An’s old town, the ancient houses in Bac Ninh Province and the ancient Duong Lam Village.

The replica, which is 90cm wide, 60cm long and 63cm high, can be assembled and dismantled for convenient transportation, and can serve as a visual teaching aid for training architects and students.

The 1:10 ratio replica has amazed visitors with its detail. They were even more surprised to learn that the elderly professor spent over one year in his workshop to create the replica himself manually from precious kinds of Japanese and Southeast Asian wood.

Professor Akiyoshi first came to Viet Nam in 1996 when he started to collaborate with Showa University in Japan on restoring ancient houses in Hoi An Town in the central province of Quang Nam and those in Bac Ninh.

In 2007, he became the senior expert on the restoration of many ancient houses and one of the oldest village gates in Viet Nam, Mong Phu in Duong Lam Village. Within five years, he has travelled to join the restoration of the village 17 times, each time spending from eight days to seven months in Viet Nam.

Poor condition

Duong Lam is an ancient village that has a history dating back about 1,200 years, with many houses as old as 400 years. It is one of Viet Nam’s cultural heritages and received support from the Japanese government for its restoration.

“By the time I embarked on studying the village, I had heard much about the precious values of Duong Lam, a typical ancient village in northern Viet Nam. However, most of the old houses were in poor condition, and the people living in such dilapidated houses desperately wanted to live in better houses. That was our initial difficulty,” recalled Prof Akiyoshi.

The restoration of Duong Lam Village, which had been recognised as a national heritage, was “urgent” at that time. Together with other Vietnamese and Japanese specialists, he immediately began the project of restoring the village, based on studies and surveys conducted previously.

The group of Japanese specialists gradually became familiar with the Duong Lam villagers. Each smallest detail of the ancient houses being restored was meticulously measured. They made great efforts to preserve as much as possible the original details, including the wooden or brick ones. 

The highlight of the restoration project is Mong Phu Village Gate, one of the oldest in northern Viet Nam, with unique features. Initial investigation of the gate showed that its brick structures and pillars remained intact, but its door structure had been destroyed over time and the traffic of vehicles.

In addition to repairing the whole brick and wood structures, the Japanese and Vietnamese specialists utilised wood replica method to rehabilitate the door as well as the door frame. It was done by consulting the opinions of elderly villagers in order to envision the original, lost parts in the most correct way.

In ten years, over 17 structures and ancient houses were restored successfully to their original form, five of which possess significant architectural and cultural values, including Mong Phu Village Gate, Ón Pagoda, Giang Van Minh worship-house and ancient houses of villagers Nguyen Van Hung and Ha Van Huu.

“Fortunately, we received tremendous support from the local authority that was determined to preserve the values of the ancient village. Not only assisting them in restoring typical structures, passing on the experience and technique of Japanese to Vietnamese specialists, we also helped to enhance the locals’ awareness, which I found meaningful during our stay there,” Prof Akiyoshi said.

“When the number of visitors to the village started to grow, the villagers gradually realised the value of their ancient houses, which they used to feel ashamed of, and enthusiastically participated in the preservation.”

Local support

According to Prof Akiyoshi, the success of the project largely depends on the unanimity of the local people, the local authority’s determination, as well as the specialists’ techniques.

“Only when the desire of preservation comes from the villagers instead of an order from above, is the preservation is sustainable,” he said.

 “It took me over five years to restore the ancient houses and Mong Phu Gate in Duong Lam Village.

“The replica method, built in 1:10 ratio, is widely used in Japan in preserving outstanding cultural heritage. By applying it on Mong Phu Gate, I expect to popularise this method in Viet Nam.”

The restoration of Duong Lam Village is a success, but not everyone has chance to visit and learn about its restoration. Therefore, after finishing the project, the professor aspired to create a replica of Mong Phu Gate as a gift to Viet Nam.

“I cannot say that my replica is 100 per cent perfect, but I hope that to some extent, it will demonstrate my affection for my Vietnamese friends,” he added.

Thanks to his dedication and success in the revival of Viet Nam’s ancient architecture, he received the Cultural Cause Medal presented by the Vietnamese Government in 2004 and in 2014, the professor and other specialists participating in the Duong Lam restoration project were also awarded with the UNESCO-Asia Pacific Award for Cultural Heritage.

According to Prof Phan Huy Le, president of the Viet Nam Association of Historical Science, the wood replica can provide necessary figures to restore Mong Phu Village to its original form in case it suffers from any damage.

“The project of restoring Duong Lam ancient village has become a model for preservation efforts in Viet Nam. The wood replica of Mong Phu Village demonstrates the feelings of Prof Akiyoshi for Viet Nam’s heritages.”

Luong Thu Huong


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