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Osaka Time CapsuleDr. 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 time capsule. 

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 construction.

The following article by Eric Lefcowitz examines the Osaka Time Capsule in depth.

(This article originally appeared at Retrofuture)

Osaka Time Capsule Expo '70
By Eric Lefcowitz

Osaka Time CapsuleVinyl 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 turntable.

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.

Osaka Time CapsuleWhen 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).

Osaka Time CapsuleThe 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 safekeeping.

Osaka Time CapsuleIn 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.

Osaka Time CapsuleA 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."

Osaka Time CapsuleIn 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.


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