Dr. Kenji Yoshida of the Museum of
Ethnology in Osaka organized the first ITCS conference in September 2000, which
was planned around the opening of the upper section of the Osaka World's Fair
The Osaka Time Capsule was enclosed in the grounds of Osaka Castle in 1970,
with the upper section of the capsule being regularly checked to ensure item
integrity. The lower portion of the capsule will remain in place for
another 4970 years.
The conference featured papers on various time capsule subjects, such as
Robert Barclay's presentation on "Security
and Longevity: Mere Details Neglected," which dealt with time capsule
The following article by Eric Lefcowitz examines the Osaka Time Capsule in
(This article originally appeared at
Osaka Time Capsule Expo '70
By Eric Lefcowitz
Vinyl lovers take
heart-when the Osaka Time Capsule is finally unearthed in 6970, one of
the most technologically-advanced objects found inside will be a
Yes, those old things with tone arms and needles.
The most-comprehensive time capsule of the 20th Century doesn't include a
compact disc player. Home computer? Nope. Cell phone? Palm Pilot? DVD?
Ditto. None of these items is in the Osaka time capsule for good reason-they
hadn't been invented by 1970.
When it was created for Japan's World
Exposition, Time Capsule Expo '70 was at the very cutting-edge of technology. In
many ways, it was far more ambitious than its celebrated predecessor, the
Westinghouse Time Capsule (pictured right) of the 1939 New York World's Fair.
Time Capsule Expo '70 is still cutting-edge. But more than a symbol of the
future, it is a unique window into the past, reflecting the 20th Century's
greatest achievements (the Apollo space missions, heart transplant surgery) as
well as its greatest failures (a special collection of mementos of the Hiroshima
atomic bomb, a list of endangered species).
The breadth and scope of the Osaka-based
capsule are unequalled. Everything from the sacred to the profane is represented
in the 2,008 objects (pictured left) enclosed: a silk condom, false teeth, a
glass eye, insects encased in resin, an origami instruction book, pamphlets on
how to brew sake, handcuffs, counterfeit money, a string of fake pearls, and
that essential part of 20th Century life-a "micro-mini" television set.
The latter item was donated by the co-sponsor of the project, the Matsushita
Electric Industrial Company (better known here as Panasonic), which subsidized
the construction of the Time Capsule Expo '70. Their goal was to produce a
lasting memento of the 20th Century, one which would stand up over time. To
achieve this aim, a team of scientists, engineers, and historians was assembled
with the job of picking a cross-section of items that reflected everyday life in
1970 and employing the latest preservation techniques to ensure their
In order to achieve the latter goal, it
was agreed that one capsule-a control capsule-would be periodically unearthed,
inspected, re-treated as necessary and then re-buried. The other would be left
undisturbed for 5,000 years. The first scheduled opening of the control capsule
was set for the year 2000; it will be opened every hundred years thereafter.
One of the first things scientists will check when they unearth the control
capsule is the condition of two stocks of bacteria and phage which are being
stored inside. After running tests to determine if any changes in the bacteria
have occurred and if any life exists, they are instructed to re-cultivate it and
re-bury it until the next check in the year 2100.
Before sealing the twin stainless steel containers with argon gas, handlers
are asked to transcribe any languages which have become archaic since the last
unearthing so that future generations will be able to comprehend the
instructions that have been enclosed. A "linguistic key" is also included on the
plaque housing the capsules-a self-described "modern-day Rosetta stone" bearing
an inscription in Japanese as well as the five official languages of the United
Nations: Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. This plaque is sealed to
the base of the monument adorning the time capsule.
A significant factor in the success of
Time Capsule Expo '70 was the support of the Japanese public, who were
encouraged to submit ideas about what should be included in the capsules. Some
of the most interesting documents to be chosen for inclusion were essays from a
nationwide contest held among Japanese schoolchildren to write a letter
addressed "To the People 5,000 Years Hence."
The winners included a fourth grader from Tokyo who cheerfully asked "How are
you, people of 5,000 years from now?...I wish I could live again in your age.
But I am quite happy now. I have kind parents and also a sister with whom I can
quarrel once in a while." He concluded, "We must do our best until the next age
takes over. Goodbye from 5,000 years in the past."
In the year 2000-when the upper capsule
is opened for the first time-it may appear, to some onlookers, that the contents
are hopelessly dated, even laughable. But that is the function of time capsules:
to capture, record and preserve one particular moment in time. And one imagines
when the citizens of 6970 finally unearth Time Capsule Expo '70, they will be
intrigued, excited, and perhaps even perplexed by the contents inside.
Especially those LP records.
Photographs from Retrofuture article (top to bottom): © Matsushita Electric
Industrial Co., Ltd.; courtesy City of the Museum of New York; © Matsushita
Electric Industrial Co., Ltd.; © Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd.; ©
Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd.; © Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.,
Ltd.; © Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd.