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

A Reexamination of Anthropological Studies of Korean Society: Establishing a New Research Partnership between Japan and Korea

Joint Research Coordinator ASAKURA Toshio

Reserch Theme List


The objectives of this research are for Japanese and South Korean anthropologists who are studying both Japanese and Korean society and culture to come together to develop new themes for anthropological research about South Korean society, as well as develop their methodologies and possibilities. As we enter the twenty-first century, major social and cultural changes are occurring in South Korea. Anthropologists will reexamine past anthropological research on South Korea and search for new possibilities and directions for this research. Broader objectives include joint Japan-Korean research to overcome the current problem of bifurcation of research between the research subject and research object, and to prove through this joint research that we can investigate approaches for building shared social and cultural understanding. Concerning phenomena arising in South Korean society today, which in the past were not the focus of attention of anthropologists, Japanese and Korean researchers will jointly discuss these issues and seek new directions for cultural anthropological research for the future East Asian society.

Research Results

This joint research brought together at the museum visiting international guest professors (Moon Ok-pyo, Yoo Myung-ki) and a special guest researcher (Lee Gyu-san) together with South Korean anthropologists now doing research in Japan (Chun Kyung-soo, Seo Yeong-jin, Yu ki-jun, Koo Ji-young, Lee Young-jin, Park Jee-hwan), who were invited as guest speakers, and who presented papers following the establishment of themes. In attendance as observers in addition to those presenting papers were MINPAKU guest professors Han Bok-jin and Choi In-tag and visiting researchers Koh Keum-hee and Ahn Mi-jeong, as well as Professor Kim Kwang-ok from the Department of Anthropology, Seoul National University, and Professor Park Sang-su from Cheju Tourism College. Numerous other researchers from South Korea and domestic researchers on South Korea attended as observers as well. Participants in the joint research were specialists in several different areas, and they discussed the themes of the research group in Korean.
On January 19, 2007 members of the “Twenty-first Century Peoples’ Livelihood Historical Research Group,” visiting Japan for research on South Koreans and North Koreans living in the Osaka/Kobe area, went the museum to exchange opinions. On July 11, 2007 the curator of the National Folk Museum of Korea and members of his staff went to MINPAKU to discuss an exchange agreement, and at that time, opinions were exchanged. During the final year of the project we participated in the 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Korean Society for Cultural Anthropology. Through such activities as sponsorship of joint research activities for bilateral exchanges, including the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, we worked to forge broader relations for mutual cooperation between anthropological researchers in South Korea and Japan.
First, this process clarified that there is a gulf in mutual recognition between Japanese and South Korean researchers. Often we would get into a discussion through the dimension of statements like: “What do you want to do?” or “Why did you raise that question?” For this reason we could point out differences between the objectives of South Korean social science to explain things in terms of Western-stipulated (closed) knowledge systems, compared to the Japanese research group approach in which this trend is understated, which led to a lack of commonalities in recognizing conditions. Second, we came to see South Korean research on South Korea as an object for comparison, and thus realized that the Japan which conducts Japanese research on South Korea has its own position. Research on South Korea in Japan has developed independently, but this research has not necessarily reflected trends in regional research and anthropology as a whole in Japan. Although in South Korea research on South Korea has indeed compared references to regional studies and anthropology as a whole, in Japan there has been a tendency to presume their limits of applicability. In viewing these differences in the Japanese and South Korean approaches, the question is not which is right or which is more applicable. Rather we should give both these research approaches their due and compare the other with one’s own. Such an approach would appear to be the most productive strategy.
There is also a history of close ties between Japanese and Korean anthropologists in their research on South Korean society. South Korean researchers are now pursuing full-fledged research on Japan, and the number of South Korean anthropologists conducting research on Japan is growing. Based on these conditions, the Japanese and South Korean anthropologists engaged in dialog and cooperative investigation into the degree to which a joint anthropological approach is relevant to studying both societies and cultures. We believe that this has particular significance in terms of mutual understanding and for exploring the possibilities of an interactive approach.