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

A Cultural Anthropological Study of Isyu Retsuzo

Joint Research Coordinator OHTSUKA Kazuyoshi

Reserch Theme List


The Isyu Retsuzo published in 1789 (the first year of Kansei) concerns an Ainu uprising in the eastern part of the Ezo region (present eastern part of Hokkaido), and includes portraits and explanatory materials concerning12 influential Ainu who performed meritorious services in the negotiations with Matsumae han (clan) that resolved the fighting. Artist Kakizaki Hakyo painted portraits. He was in the service of a Matsumae chief retainer (karo). Until now, these materials have largely been discussed by researchers in early modern art in terms of the portraits themselves. This research aims to use the Isyu Retsuzo newly recovered from MINPAKU’s collection to comprehensively research the Isyu Retsuzo that will bring together not just specialists in art history but also in related fields such as cultural anthropology, early modern history, distribution economics, and materials analysis.
Attaining a multifaceted reading of the value as scholarly evidence of the Isyu Retsuzo has significance in showing how the Ainu society that forms its backdrop was essentially harmonious, and will hopefully provide clarity from new perspectives to the ties in terms of trade and ruling/being ruled that various countries of East Asia had with indigenous peoples.

Research Results

This research project was included as one aspect of joint implementation of coordinated research with the National Institutes for the Humanities (Advanced Use of Cultural Resources); collaborative research project "Comparative Research on Pictorial Representation of Ainu Culture— Isyu Retsuzo and Attempts to Digitize the Contents of the Munro (Neil Gordon Munro) Collection," which was initiated in 2006. In connection with "Comparative Research on Pictorial Representation of Ainu Culture," researchers in Japan and abroad launched materials research, and this joint research project was designed to discuss and debate the results of this research. Among the results which should be noted are that research concerning the portraits in the Isyu Retsuzo was carried out not just from the standpoint of art history. Other disciplines to include Japanese history, Ainu ethnology, and biological ecology, were involved. For instance, these portraits were given full consideration from the standpoint of cultural anthropology in terms of Ainu ethnography. These portraits provided major clues on the great role that trade, especially the fur trade, played in the relationships for Northeast Asia. In addition, research conducted from the standpoint of animal ecology allowed us to classify the animals depicted, which led to discussing the biological necessities for the animals depicted. In art history, through reexamination of the various depictions and Hakkyo’s plain sketches and completed works, new interpretations of the manuscript and sketches became possible. Historical research revealed that the poems written in brush in the copy of the Isyu Retsuzo that was passed down within the main branch of the Matsumae han bear very close resemblance to specimens from the author Matsumae Hironaga’s own hand. Thus, our research produced valuable findings about the background to the Kunashiri-Menashi War, the reason for the production of the portraits in the Isyu Retsuzo, and other areas.