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

Anthropological Studies on Disaster

Joint Research Coordinator HAYASHI Isao

Reserch Theme List


The objectives of this research are as follows. First, to bring together experts from the natural sciences, humanities and social sciences to implement joint research concerning natural disasters, and ethnographically research, based on specific examples of the ways natural disasters interrelate with society and culture. Second, to aim to extend the study of natural disasters, which until now has been largely the purview of natural scientists, to the realm of sociocultural research. In treating disaster research as interdisciplinary research, anthropologists could contribute to include terms of reappraisal of methods and results. That is, we will examine things from the perspective of the humanities and the social sciences, consider how natural disasters and human beings relate in terms of impact on society and culture, and investigate how anthropological research could contribute to the enhancement of the ability of society to respond to natural disasters, such as disaster prevention and disaster mitigation.

Research Results

Researchers from various fields participated in this joint research. By adopting an approach that emphasized on-the-spot investigations of the diverse aspects of natural disasters, we examined the possibilities for anthropological research in disaster research, and thereby contributed to enhancing the ability of society to respond. We looked from the standpoint of community disaster prevention, in terms of the impact on disaster-hit areas by assistance activities on the part of international organizations and NGOs as well as mass media reporting. We also looked at disaster prevention that was more sophisticated because of lessons from past disasters. We recognized that the emphasis of field research on the local community level, which sheds light on the details involved, lends maximum vitality to the anthropological perspective and survey methods. At the same time field research allows evaluating these activities and contributing to the enhancement of disaster responsiveness.
Including the participation of our joint research group in an open forum conducted as organization research, we convened research meetings on 14 occasions. At those sessions 40 reports were presented. The institution research, “Anthropological Research on the Disaster Response Process,” served as the basis for our joint research. In addition to open forums held on three occasions about the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami Disaster, MINPAKU sponsored open lectures, academic open forums, and general open forums, among other events. At these events joint research committee members participated as presenters, panelists or chairpersons, and they announced results related to our joint research.
For major disasters subsequent to the commencement of our research, including the Niigata-Chuetsu Earthquake Disaster (October 23, 2004), Indian Ocean Tsunami Disaster (December 26, 2004), Pakistan Earthquake Disaster (October 8, 2005), Central Java Earthquake Disaster (May 27, 2006), Solomon Islands Earthquake/Tsunami Disaster (April 2, 2007), and Java Trench Earthquake off the southwest coast of Sumatra (September 12, 2007), joint researchers either investigated in the field or special lecturers presented reports on their investigations. The aim was for information-sharing about conditions in disaster-hit areas and related issues.
The presence of our joint research loomed large what with Isao Hayashi, who participated as a collaborative member with special responsibilities in the Committee on the Creation of a Safe and Secure Society against Increasing Natural Disasters around the World of the Science Council of Japan (establishment period: February 13, 2006-May 31, 2007), engaged in question and answer sessions and coordination of outside reports. The sessions and coordination included the provision of information for several specific examples. When appropriate, joint research members were asked their opinions.
Based on this joint research, we achieved real results through our disaster research system that brought together researchers from several areas with anthropologists. We believe our participation played a part in the allocation of subsidies in scientific research for the project “Research on Overcoming Environmental Change and Fragility concerning Large-scale Disaster Hit Areas” (FY2008-12) by the SCJ.