Professor Kinji Ono of the National Institute of Informatics

TOKYO, Japan - Professor Kinji Ono of the National Institute of Informatics is working to create a cyber museum dubbed the "Digital Silk Road," digitising pictures and documents concerning the old continental route linking Europe and the Orient for centuries.

It is part of a project jointly being undertaken with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to leave cultural assets to posterity.

For a start, Ono is digitising Buddhist monuments at Bamiyan, Afghanistan.

“I want to open the site to the public next year,” said Ono, who has never been to Afghanistan.

Ono has long played a leading role in research and development in the information and telecommunications field.

After graduating from the University of Tokyo in 1963, he joined Kokusai Denshin Denwa Co, the forerunner of DDI Corp, and was involved in the first satellite TV transmission between Japan and the United States.

Several years later, Ono went to the U.S. and studied packet communications, which paved the way for the Internet.

“I was really lucky,” he said. “Every technology I took interest in later became the main technology of the times.”

Ono joined the forerunner of the National Institute of Informatics in 1993 and worked together with Thai government offices and universities to develop a system to analyse cyclone mechanisms and ancient roads in the Khmer Empire using satellite data.

The research has broadened the scope of Ono’s work and interest to cover the Silk Road.

But Ono said that digitising cultural assets is not as easy as it appears.

“Archaeology and folklore traditionally attach importance to fieldwork,” he said. “Some scholars are strongly against sharing cultural assets and documents on the Internet.”

Still, there are many other scholars who share Ono’s dream of creating a cyber museum.

“Digital Silk Road is, as it were, a box in which to put information and knowledge all over the world,” Ono said.

“Building the museum will continue forever.”

Ono, 64, is a native of Oita Prefecture. (Kyodo News)

by Keisuke Yoshimura, Japan Today, June 15, 2003