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

Study and Publication of Historical Trails of the Japanese Society for Ethnology's Collection

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

Reserch Theme List


By paying attention to the background of collection, we will classify 21,000 items from the collection of the National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) attached to the Japanese Society of Ethnology (Hoya Museum), which Minpaku received from the Department of Historical Documents, Ministry of Education (currently, the National Institute of Japanese Literature), in 1975,. To enhance their value as academic historical materials, we will build a database that enables users to search and retrieve materials by the names of the collectors/contributors and the expedition that prompted collection. Concurrently we will provide encyclopedic information of the names of the collectors/contributors and the expedition.
Further, we will demonstrate that the materials of Hoya Museum, which constitute the core of Minpaku’s collection’s value growth, were collected by researchers and members of the general public alike, and promote an understanding that Minpaku's early history was built on forum-like activities. In the long term, this will also prompt researchers who are well-versed in folk culture and modes of life in the Taisho and Showa periods (and source communities that an Info-Forum Museum anticipates) to use the database as well.


Keizo Shibusawa (1896-1963) and his peers began collecting the materials mentioned above in the 1910s. They grew in number as a result of the activities of the “people of the Attic Museum” in the 1920s. In 1937 this collection was donated to Hoya Museum, the ethnological museum attached to the Japanese Society of Ethnology (currently, The Japanese Society of Cultural Anthropology) in 1937. Like the Attic Museum era, until 1962 the collection kept grew continuously, thanks to the efforts of its many members. The materials were stored at Department of Historical Documents, Ministry of Education (and its successor the National Institute of Japanese Literature) from 1962 through until 1975, before they were transferred to Minpaku; thus, they were called referred to as the “materials of the former DHD”. However, the period when the collection actually grew in size was that preceding the Hoya Museum era (and the Attic Museum era, prior to that).
Although the period was limited when the collection was built, the items were collected for more than half a century from an extensive area centering on Eurasia. However, to date there have been limited ways of clarifying the complete picture (even for Minpaku’s regular staff). As it stands, the only clue is a registry of those items prepared by Hoya Museum. The late Professor Masaki Kondo, of Minpaku, spent a great many years checking the contents of this registry against Minpaku’s registered items, in attempt to organize the items, and the results are expected to be published FY2016. Nevertheless, it cannot be said, that the persons described in the registry and their relations with the items have been fully clarified.
In this project, guided by the information in the registry that Professor Kondo digitized in Excel format, we will develop 1) a list of collectors or donors and 2) a list of materials related to individual collectors or donors. Then, 3) we will organize achievements made by them. Considering the information in 1-3 as a set, we will increase the amount of data, including not only the names of individuals but those of expeditions, so that materials may be searched and retrieved from these lists, while the size of materials may be appreciated tangibly at the same time.
This work does not involve building a database in the strict sense of the term. Instead, it should be regarded as building a portal (gateway) to access materials. In addition, it will help dramatically to enhance the convenience of understanding an outline of Minpaku’s collection in the early years. As described in 5-1, it can serve as a future interface for researchers and source communities to use the database. In order to fulfill this objective, we will have researchers familiar with anthropological history and the background of building the collection join us as collaborative researchers, and will organize regular workshops to bring information together, thereby moving the work forward.
It is anticipated that it may not be appropriate to publish the names of some individuals on the Internet. We will discuss at the workshops whether disclosing their names in this way is appropriate.

Expected results

Note: The results also reveal what kind of database it would be.
A portal (gateway) will be built, which will allow users to see the entire picture of the items previously owned by Hoya Museum, but that now constitute the core of Minpaku’s collection. In turn this will enable users to grasp firmly the growth of Minpaku’s collection during the first half of the 20th century. Infrastructure for using Minpaku’s database for research purposes will be put in place.
In addition, we will provide an encyclopedic description to enable users to know both the individuals involved in the collection or obtain an overview of an expedition (within 1,000 letters per person or expedition). This should enhance reading convenience. As this encyclopedic description in itself will become an important handbook for understanding the history of Japanese ethnological development, we are considering publishing it in printed form, after the project ends.
Enhancing descriptions of individuals and expeditions is expected to arouse interest in the database. This means that an environment will be put in place that will allow those who own information about folk culture and modes of life in the Taisho and Showa periods to use the database interactively in the future. In turn, this is expected to promote the further development of the project.

Outcomes from 2016

1.The state of the implementation of this year’s research
Via three research meetings on Sunday April 17, Sunday July 17, and Saturday December 3, we discussed the procedures required to improve and release the database of the collection owned by the ethnological museum attached to the Japanese Society of Ethnology (Hoya Museum), which was transferred to the National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) in 1975 from the National Institute of Japanese Literature (formerly the Historical Documents Institution, Ministry of Education). As a result, we agreed that it would be necessary to construct separately and release the personal name database of collectors and donators for clarification of our collecting situation, in addition to updating the existing database for detailed information on specimen materials.
At the meetings, we discussed the specifications, items, and operational policies for the personal name database and the collection database, respectively. We decided that the operation of both databases would start in FY 2016 by making preparations through commenting by members toward the release. The records to be released would be chosen by referring to such comments in FY 2017.

2. Overview of the research results (achievements of the research objects)
Based on the discussions at the above-mentioned meetings, we constructed a system. Then, we made it possible to input each member’s information into the database as comments by sharing a database format among the members. The operation of the personal name database already started in December 2016, and comments have been accumulating since that time. These comments will be reflected in updating of the database scheduled for around March 2018. Operation of the material database will start in March 2017.

3. Records disclosing achievements (publications, public symposia, sectional meetings of academic conferences, electronic media, etc.)
Taku IIDA and Toshio ASAKURA (Eds.) “A Museum Managed by Japanese Society of Ethnology: The Hoya Museum and a History of the Collections” (To be published as a research report of the National Museum of Ethnology)