Crating and Packing

After spending some time in Osaka seeing the sites, ( bunraku, fugu, kobe beef, Ceramics Museum, shopping) I headed to the city of Nara ready to get down to work.  I arrived at the museum with the intention of condition reporting  our statue and its base and then overseeing the crating of each.  If time permitted I would do the same for a small statue from  Philadelphia Museum of Art.  The pieces had been loaned for the exhibit “Imperial Envoys to Tang China: Early Japanese Encounters with Continental Culture”. A very important and huge exhibit that traced Chinese influence on Japan during the Nara Period (710 CE- 794 CE).  Over 200,000 people attended the exhibtion  making it a huge success, and a great addition to the celebration of the 1300th anniversary of Nara becoming the capital of Japan.   People from all over Japan came to see the exhibit and had very nice things to say about it.

The crating of an object can always be a bit tricky, particularly when there is a language barrier and a lot of chefs in the kitchen.  The process involved my packing requests going through  a translator who would relay my message to the chief curator who discussed this with the head of the packing company (Nippon Express) who would then tell his staff what to do.  This, coupled with the fact that there were 8 guys doing a bunch of things at the same time while I tried to condition report and photograph the piece made the situation a little tense.  Try doing your job with 12 people watching your every move and slightly annoyed that they can’t just be left alone to do what they do best in the quickest way possible.

Then there are the things that you didn’t plan for but must be dealt with.  Is it okay to add a strap around to the statue? Yes.  Can we put some paper between the statue and this bracket?  Okay.  Do you have any preference for how this gets put on the palette?  Horizontal with no stacking.  Do we have shipping labels?  We need to print them.  And so it goes, with decisions made on the fly and slight deviations from the plan at every turn.

On the eight hour trip from Nara to Tokyo: Do you stay with the truck that contains the statue on the side of a busy highway while a flat tire gets fixed, or seek a safer spot and use a cellphone to stay in contact?  The answer isn’t always so clear cut when priceless artifacts are involved.

The Penn Museum piece on the left and an often compared statue from Yakushiji Temple in Nara.

Nippon Express rigs the statue out of its base to be placed in a crate.

We used a laser to lower the statue into it's crate.

The statue in its crate. Now onto the base.

With all the pieces safely back in their crates we rolled them into the vault and headed out for a much needed party with the rest of the couriers and staff from the Nara National Museum.

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  • http://chaari.wordpress.com Travis

    Thank you for this peek behind the scenes. It is always interesting to hear something about the detailed logistics of how these sorts of things are done.

    I’m a little unclear on the function of the laser, though. Are you simply using it to measure the distance to the artifact, so that at the precise moment it hits the bottom of the crate you can stop lowering it, or something like that? Or is there more to it?

    • Stephen Lang

      Good question. The laser was used to make sure the statue fit into the crate symmetrically. The packers took a photo of the piece when it first arrived at the museum and was uncrated. They would mark a spot on the floor and put a small device there that would shine the laser on the statue. Then they took a photo of where the laser fell on the statue. This marked the exact position of how the statue was situated in it’s crate when it arrived at the Nara Museum. When it was time to lower the statue back into the crate for return to America, they put the laser on the same spot on the floor and compared where it was in relation to when they first opened the crate. If it didn’t match, they adjusted the statue accordingly. This way they were sure that they packed it in the same position that the piece had originally arrived in when it entered the Nara Museum. Maybe a little overkill but you can’t fault them for being precise!

  • http://www.heightscrating.com/services.html Heights Crating

    We can empathize with your dilemma in having to use a translator. When export crating and packing from Houston, our logistics team works with all ethnicities globally. It’s a challenge, but a rewarding one!