The quest to excavate Vietnamese antiques has not only become the lifelong passion of Nishino Noriko, from Japan, but also brought her and her like-minded husband together.
At first glance, Noriko and her husband, Nishimura Masanari, look like locals with their impeccable Vietnamese, plain looks and simple lifestyle.
They take great delight in their rustic life, including local dishes and pastoral pleasures like bathing in the silt-laden water of the Hồng River.
Most would be surprised to learn that both members of the couple are Japanese intellectuals with a Ph.D in archeology.
They have each spent over 12 years digging for antiques at Kim Lan village, near the Hồng River.
Struck the first time
Noriko explained in flawless Vietnamese that she first came to Việt Nam in 1999 to study Vietnamese linguistics at the Hồ Chí minh City University of Social Sciences and the Humanities.
After finding out that she was from Tokyo, her professor joked that she should be studying in Hà Nội, as residents of the capital can relate more easily.
Noriko caught a train to Hà Nội not long after that.
After classes, during one of her strolls around the city’s old quarter, she was stunned by the exquisiteness and sheer beauty of the antique bowls displayed at a souvenir shop.
Since the owner was going to charge her a whopping US$10,000, Noriko could only gaze longingly at them.
“I realized striking similarities between them and my own country’s culture and aesthetics.
They may look simple and rough yet are tasteful and sophisticated indeed,” Noriko recalled.
With her passion for Vietnamese antiques growing, she switched from linguistics to archeology and finished her university thesis on the renowned Phú Lang pottery of the Northern plains.
“A lecturer once told me that I have just touched the outer layer of Việt Nam’s thousand-year-old history, and it would take me relentless effort to grab onto its soul,” Noriko confided, explaining the motivation to complete her Master’s and Ph.D. dissertations on pottery spanning from the Lý (1009 – 1225) and Trần (1226 – 1400) dynasties to the present day.
The first excavation she took part in was on the 300-year-old tomb which belonged to a Japanese national named Tani Yarirobei in central Quảng Nam province’s Hội An ancient town.
Part of Kim Lan ancient village
Struck once more
She first met Nishimura Masanari, her future husband, at a Vietnamese history professor’s home.
The insatiable passion for Vietnamese antiques they shared soon brought them close together.
The couple has worked closely on several archeological projects since then..
One such project saw them join local experts in surveying the Kim Lân village in Hanoi’s Gia Lam district, following reports that fragments of antiques had been found in the area.
Destiny drove the duo to the village, where they ended up spending the next 12 years.
“We are family.
Without this bond, I wouldn’t have been attached to the village for this long,” she concluded.
As a sign of their appreciation for the couple’s zeal, local villagers enthusiastically helped with the digging but wouldn’t accept a penny in return.
Antique coins excavated in Kim Lân by Noriko and the villagers
Prosperous ancient culture revealed
Thanks to their painstaking, relentless effort, a glamorous ancient culture was brought back to life with thousands of artifacts unearthed, including shoe-shaped tiles, bricks adorned with phoenix patterns, and ancient Thái Bình and Thiên Phúc coins dating back to the Đinh and Tiền Le dynasties (968 – 1009).
The artifacts, both broken and intact, depicted Kim Lân as a 2,000-year-old village, which thrived during the Lý (1009 – 1225) and Trần (1226 – 1400) reigns and was a major supplier of construction materials for the Thăng Long citadel, Việt Nam’s old capital.
The artisans in this town made pottery for both royalty and commoners.
Noriko and Masanari also discovered that many of these artifacts had been found in Japan and dated back to the 14th century, proving that Vietnamese handmade products had made their as far as Japan.
The Kim Lân antique museum, which Noriko and her husband raised funds to build
The couple tied the knot in 2001, and wedding reception was attended by locals from their excavation sites.
They lead a simple, frugal life, but have managed to raise funds to help establish the Kim Lân pottery museum.