The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

The Sea Otter and Glass Beads: Trade of Indigenous Peoples of the North Pacific Rim


National Museum of Ethnology
Senri Foundation

NHK Osaka
Mainich Broadcasting System

Commemorative Association
    for the Japan World Exposition 1970
Japan Airlines
Nippon Express
Sapporo Image Production
Miyamoto Memorial Foundation
Komine Research Institute
September 20, 2001 - January 15, 2002

The furs of sable and sea otter are considered some of the top quality pelts because of their superb luster and feel. In the North Pacific rim, these animals occur in large numbers and their fur was highly valued in China and Europe until the early twentieth century.
Beginning in the seventeenth century, the fur fetched very high prices, which led government bodies, armies, and merchants of countries such as China, Russia, and Japan to expand into the North Pacific rim for the lucrative furs. Indigenous peoples in the region obtained glass beads, silk cloth, or iron goods in exchange for the furs. They incorporated foreign materials into their native garments and crafts and developed their own art and crafts with beautiful designs. Sea otter fur and glass beads could be regarded as symbols of the trade that was traditionally conducted between the indigenous North Pacific peoples and the people outside the region.
This special exhibition highlights the trade of the indigenous peoples through the display of various artifacts, emphasizing that they made their living not only by hunting and gathering, but through trade during which they undertook extensive journeys on specially designed trade boats.