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

An Info-Forum Database for Popular Culture Collections from the Middle East

Research period: April 2017 - March 2019 / Project for Database Improvement (project period: max. 2 years) Coordinator NISHIO Tetsuo

Reserch Theme List


The West Asia exhibition, renewed as a forum in the first year of the renovation process of the Main Exhibitions, has been eliciting responses from visitors from both inside and outside Japan. Enhancing the forum function through exhibition will require a mechanism of sharing more profound information through each exhibit. This project is expected to accomplish the following: 1, survey and develop a database for the collection of the late Motoko Katakura, Professor Emeritus at the National Museum of Ethnology, on the nomadic society on the Arabian Peninsula; 2, survey and develop a database for the Gluck collection of folk art of modern Iran; and 3, survey and develop a database for the Shimegi collection of the coffee culture globalized from the Middle East, in view of developing forum-style information in the future from all materials related to the Middle East (including North Africa) held by Minpaku. The materials for each task are exhibited at the West Asia exhibition. Ideally, we will build a system that facilitates access to each database through individual exhibits.

* Gluck collection: Jay Gluck, an American expert in art history and a collector, was a student of A. U. Pope, a distinguished expert in the Persian art history. He was affiliated with the Asia Institute in Shiraz, founded by Pope as a research institute for Persian art and archeology. Moreover, he studied and collected Iranian art and crafts from the latter half of the 1960s to the 1970s. After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, he lived in Kobe with his Japanese wife. Before he returned to the United States later in life, Minpaku accepted a part of his craft collection in 2000. The West Asia exhibition displays a “tear bottle” and pen cases from the Gluck collection, which are important as exhibits of the folk craft of modern Iran.

* Shimegi collection: approximately 300 items related to coffee collected by the late Mr. Yukitoshi Shimegi,who owned “Moka", the legendary coffee store with café located in Kichijoji, Tokyo. Not only coffee utensils, but also many coffee roasting and extraction instruments that Mr. Shimegi purchased from around the world are extremely valuable and significant when having an overview of the global history of coffee.


We will go through the process of database development in this project based on the following method and system.

  1. To survey and develop a database for the Dr. Motoko Katakura collection (approximately 320 items) on the nomadic society on the Arabian Peninsula, we will examine the basic information that is already found in Minpaku database in cooperation with Hiroshi Nawata (a professor at Akita University and Research Associate at Minpaku) currently conducting a joint research project at Minpaku, the Motoko Katakura Foundation for Desert Culture, research institutions of Saudi Arabia through Saudi Aramco, and local people of the Saudi Arabian oasis while reviewing the sample materials when necessary. Based on this, we will organize the data and add information in Japanese, Arabic (including local dialects), and English. Information related to photographs taken by Dr. Motoko Katakura for her collection is currently being organized as the image database in the Digital Picture Library for Area Studies, Minpaku's project for building a foundation for academic research support. We will ultimately enhance the forum-style database by linking it to the database to be built as described above.
  2. To survey and develop a database for the Gluck collection (179 items) of folk art of modern Iran, we shall, as in the case presented above, examine basic information that is already in a database while reviewing the sample materials when necessary. We will also add descriptions based on documents of information obtained by Jay Gluck, which have not been added to Minpaku data. Furthermore, we expect to add more detailed information by cooperating with researchers, who are experts in Islamic art history and who have extensive knowledge of craft collections stored at other overseas museums and institutions and seek cooperation also of experts at the National Museum of Iran (planning to sign an academic agreement with Minpaku) for database development.
  3. To survey and develop a database for the Shimegi collection (approximately 300 items) of the coffee culture spread from the Middle East, we shall first examine basic data obtained by the former owner for the scheduled new arrival exhibition because the materials were acquired in 2016. We shall also organize the materials as Minpaku's basic sample database. Subsequently, we will add detailed data jointly with the UCC Coffee Museum. If possible, we expect to organize information held by Minpaku in addition to the above collection related to materials associated with coffee cultures around the world.
  4. We will release the database on the internet and facilitate access to the database through related individual exhibits at the West Asia exhibition.
  5. The database created in this project will be used in thematic exhibitions such as the life of Muslim women in the desert and changes over half a century scheduled for fiscal year 2019. The Gluck collection and Shimegi collection will also be developed into international joint research within the framework of the Area Studies Project for the Modern Middle East and into a thematic exhibition in the future.
Expected results

Note: Results also reveal what kind of database it would be.
We intend to add information to the database for Dr. Motoko Katakura's collection of materials from the nomadic society of the Arabian Peninsula with the cooperation of local communities and to then link the upgraded Motoko Katakura's collection database to a visual image database from the time of collection for the purpose of using the resulting information as data related to the material culture in order to identify social changes in local communities. As a further development, by having a thematic exhibition based on a forum-style database tour around Saudi Arabia, we will be able to give the materials held at Minpaku a function of cultural succession in the local society. The databases on the above-mentioned other two collections, the Gluck collection and the Shimegi collection, will similarly provide opportunities to enhance the research of material culture related to these collections with the cooperation of researchers inside and outside of Japan. We will be able to develop such activities into international joint research in the modern Middle East research project through promotion of international joint research via database sharing, which is among the original concepts of the Info-Forum Museum.