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

Water and Vessels-From Cupped Hands to the Planet

Water and Vessels–From Cupped Hands to the Planet
Exhibition Summary
ñWater and Vessels„From Cupped Hands to the Planetî

 To quench our thirst, we lift a vessel filled with water to our lips – but where does the water come from? In Japan, much of it probably comes from water faucets and PET bottles. Elsewhere, however, it may have been taken from a well or a jar that catches rainwater.

People have used water from sources such as groundwater, rainwater, and rivers, and have drawn it using wells or water taps. People deal with water using various vessels as the water makes the journey from its source to our mouths. This journey is comprised of a multitude of containers: familiar ones, artificial ones, and natural ones – water vessels serve as a bridge between the ecosystem and human life.

People cannot live without water, and cannot use it without vessels. Collecting and sharing water is possible precisely because we have vessels. Thus, water vessels form links among people. They also reflect the relationships between people and nature and between their lives and water. Throughout time, people have used water vessels for special purposes and have drawn various meanings from them.

This exhibition was planned as a way to think about water. Utilizing the collection of the National Museum of Ethnology and based upon the research done on people and water by members of the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, it presents a variety of water vessels from all over the world. Following the four-part character meaning ‘vessel’ ( utsuwa), we decided to think about water by dividing the exhibition into four parts: 1) familiar vessels from everyday life, 2) various sources of water, 3) our planet Earth as the largest water container, and 4) PET (polyethylene terephthalate) water bottles. The four parts of this exhibition link the course that water travels: going from our hands back to the source, to the global mechanism that brings forth water, and then back into our hands again.

In recent years, there have been concerns about a “water crisis,” and there has been intense discussion over water resources as a global environmental problem. Because Japan is blessed with water, it may be difficult to imagine the conditions in regions where water shortages and water pollution have become critical problems. For this reason, we want everyone to expand their imaginations from the water they hold in their hands toward its connections with lifestyles, regions, the modern world, and our planet Earth.

Everyone needs water, but since it is not obtained the same way everywhere, water vessels from all over the world teach us that, in each region, people have developed different relationships with water and, that in their daily lives, they have given birth to new relationships with water.