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

Information Disclosure Project for Documents Related to the Japanese Culture Exhibition at Minpaku

Research period: April 2016 - March 2018 / Project for Database Improvement (project period: max. 2 years) Coordinator HIDAKA Shingo

Reserch Theme List


The Japanese culture exhibition section, newly built in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, displays many aspects of Japanese culture from four perspectives; namely, "rituals, festivals, and performing arts", "everyday life", "Okinawan lives", and "multiethnic Japan". It focuses on local community cultures that have developed under the influence of various cultures of adjacent areas surrounded by diverse natural environments, from Hokkaido to Okinawa, and the many non-Japanese who are recent neighbors of the Japanese. This exhibition consists of various items on display, minimal captions, and explanatory notes. However, the information does not touch on the background data related to each item on display. In this project, we will organize a system by which a visitor will be able to view detailed information contained in the database, mostly related to the items owned by Minpaku. In addition, we will study and organize previously unpublished visual records related to the items on display, and build a system to make such visuals available on the database.


The project aims to publish more detailed research information on the database by systematically connecting detailed information on the items on display in the Japanese culture exhibition section with related visual programs. As an additional objective, we will study literature related to the Japanese culture exhibition section, publish a list of reference books, and organize a system via which undergraduate and graduate students can obtain information from the exhibition useful for their studies of cultural anthropology and folkloristics.
In the existing public database of information on the items owned by Minpaku, there is an index database that contains "item name", which is the common name for the item, "item number" assigned to each item, "locality" from which the item was collected or produced, "ethnicity" of the people who are related to the item, "notes" to give additional information on the item, "dimensions and weight" of the item in W x D x H and weight format, "year of acceptance," the year A.D. when the item was accepted into the Minpaku collection, "images" of the item taken from diagonally above, face, side, and top, and the "date" on which these data were created. It may be said that the existing database is serving its purpose to some extent to outline the items owned by Minpaku. However, publication of the database is restricted; detailed information added by the researcher at the time of collection of each item can be accessed only on the Museum floor. This means that such information is stored without being put to good use. This is why the project will re-examine the detailed research database and the cards of the items on display, and attempt to organize them into a suitable system for publication. Currently, there is no provision of information about these Japan-related items that is as extensive as the classification of folkloristic materials. To remedy this, in this project, we will classify the items pursuant to the high-level classification system of folkloristic items proposed by Nihon Minzoku Shiryo Jiten (Japanese Folkloristic Material Encyclopedia, printed in 1969) collated by the Cultural Properties Protection Department of the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Government of Japan, and edited by Miyashizu Hori, Keigo Seki, and Keitaro Miyamoto, and make the resultant classification accessible. This will facilitate data search and create an environment where researchers can use information more easily. We will also study the video recording by Professor Ryoji Sasahara, who is in charge of "rituals, festivals, and performing arts", and the video recording by Professor Emeritus Hiroshi Shoji when he produced "multiethnic Japan," and organize a system to publish these related visual materials on the database. For items on long-term loan, we will conduct study meetings with the musuems that own them, to build a foundation for effectively presenting information on the items and the owning institutions, and explore the possibility of linking our database with the databases of the institutions that have loaned these items to Minpaku. Thus, we will be able to have a database that is usable by undergraduate and graduate students for their studies and that is also linked with local museums. This will serve as a model of an info-forum-type exhibition.

Expected results

Note: The results also reveal what kind of database it would be.
The database to be created will contain both item index data and detailed research data, and will provide more detailed academic data than is currently available. By focusing on the items belonging to the Japanese culture exhibition section, provision of information based on the context of the exhibition will become possible. This means an arbitrary grouping of items and the characteristics of mono-directional information provision. Nevertheless, it will be a highly convenient database for those visitors to the Museum interested in knowing more about the items on display.
We will also organize a system for users to view the video recordings made by Professor Sasahara and Professor Emeritus Shoji, both of whom played central roles in the production of the exhibition and the bibliographical information related to the items on display. This will ensure that more detailed research information will be available on the database. By linking our database with those of other museums from which we borrow items, we will be able to present a concrete model of an info-forum-type exhibition in the Japanese culture exhibition section.

Outcomes from 2016

1.The state of the implementation of this year’s research
This project aims to disclose more detailed research information of the materials displayed in the Japanese culture exhibition section than that of the existing specimen material catalog. An additional goal is the creation of a system from which university or graduate school students can obtain useful information in learning cultural anthropology and ethnology from exhibitions by researching books related to the Japanese culture exhibition section for release as a reference literature list.
In this fiscal year, we researched the current situation of local museum databases developed on the website. As a result, Japanese local museums are not ready to disclose their databases at present. This is mainly because their PCs are not updated to keep pace with the rapid advance of web services. Therefore, we have found that it is difficult for local museums to share their databases on materials related to Japan, while we have realized anew that the search items of this database to be developed by the National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) are attracting much attention. We also discussed repeatedly with the secretariat of the Info-Forum Museum the possibility of introducing videos in this project. However, considering the portrait right issue to introduce fully-fledged videos, server load, and other factors, we decided to suspend it for this project, but to treat it as a later challenge.
As a result, during this fiscal year mainly we reorganized the items of material information shown in the database, and input data for each item.

2. Overview of the research results (achievements of the research objects)
As our research outcomes in this fiscal year, we surveyed the current situation of the databases of local museums developed on the website. As a result, we found that Japanese local museums are not ready to disclose their databases at present. This is mainly because their PCs are not updated to keep pace with the rapid advance of web services. To this end, I think this shows that the operating environment of each expected user’s PC must be updated in a timely manner as a minimum requirement for smooth interaction.
Then, we exchanged opinions on information items adopted in this database with members from the National Museum of Japanese History, the Tohoku History Museum, Tohoku Gakuin University, and the Old Tanaka Family Metal Casting and Folklore Museum, which cooperate with us as external organizations. As a result, as basic information referred to in the database, we decided to introduce “exhibition material names,” “item names,” “item numbers,” “locations” showing collection or production places (current prefectures, cities, towns, and villages), “dimensions and weights” showing the width (W) × depth (D) ×height (H) and weight of each material, “acceptance year” in the Western calendar when Minpaku accepted the materials, photo information of the materials, research information uploaded in the detailed database for research, and bibliographic information about the papers, where such materials are introduced. In addition, we also confirmed that we should classify the materials according to the large classification items for folklore materials presented in the “Nihon Minzoku Shiryo Jiten (Japanese Folkloristic Material Encyclopedia),” compiled under the supervision of the Cultural Properties Protection Department, the Agency for Cultural Affairs and edited by MiyaShizu HORI, Keigo SEKI and Keitaro MIYAMOTO (published in 1969) as basic classification items.
We have completed already the tsunami memory database to be developed in the Great East Japan Earthquake corner in the subsection of the Life in the Tohoku Region as a related database, in order to be prepared for the release from the next fiscal year.

3. Records disclosing achievements (publications, public symposia, sectional meetings of academic conferences, electronic media, etc.)
Shingo HIDAKA, 2016 “To Utilize the Material Information Exhibited in the Japanese Culture Exhibition Section”, Minpaku Tsushin [Minpaku News Letter] No. 155 p. 12-13, December 26, 2016, National Museum of Ethnology