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

Research on the Diversity and Politics of Display as a Style of Representation

Joint Research Coordinator KAWAGUCHI Yukiya

Reserch Theme List


The tendency is to associate the word “display” with museums. However, display in the general sense of behavior is designed to arrange and show things, phenomena, scenery, and other items in a certain design. This is not a phenomenon seen solely at museums or similar facilities. Beginning with merchandise in supermarkets and department stores or advertisements and publicity which have flooded our streets, various forms of physical performance and rituals/ceremonies, architectural and urban sights, or even military operations display in multifarious forms and exist where least expected.
This research will observe the phenomenon of display from a broad perspective as a form of narrative, showing the historical development of various kinds of displays, considering the kinds of political intent they might possess, and comparatively examining them from a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary perspective. We hope to shed new light on the various special characteristics of the narrative of display..

Research Results

(1) Diversity of displays
Displays of various kinds have been composed and discussed in assorted ways. For example, starting with displays on culture and history, there is art or visuals we find brought to other designated sites, such as museums and art galleries, especially equipped for their showing. We also have tangible examples such as military-use maps, golden dolphin symbols on castle roofs, and collections of Chinese classics. Then too are things like literature, migration, localness of land or space. There is an incredible diversity of displays. Our researchers discussed how these displays are implemented and the special characteristics of diverse places and spaces for displays, including public thoroughfares in cities and military bases, suburbs, and castle construction. This research, which transcended specific disciplines to gain multiple perspectives, proved able to surpass the former framework of discussions about display and delivered major results.
(2) Political nature of displays
Amidst our discussions on the diversity of displays in the past, whether in the East or West, we were able to shed light on the political nature in operation in the staging of a given display, as well as the political import of the location. That was something on which we could all agree, and through our discussions, we again noted how museums, whether traditional or art museums, have their own special characteristics. Museums are a product of the modern West and are facilities especially designed for display. No doubt examination of the political aspect of museums would be connected to defining modernity. We believe displays could be a major theme for future development.