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

Research and Development of a Program for Intercultural Understanding based on Creative Expressions at the National Museum of Ethnology: Designing Ways to Promote Awareness of Others

Joint Research Coordinator NISHI Hiroko

Reserch Theme List


co-creation, bodily expression, awareness


This research aims to categorize human expression as integration of sensory behavior and intellectual behavior the body. In addition, such expressions of the self position the body as a coexisting intermediary, and further expression centered at that point can be thought to create and form a cycle. This research will attempt to use this multidimensional place known as a museum for this kind of cycle of expression and make use of its cultural resources in application to programs for understanding other cultures. As a result, individuals involved with these resources hopefully will begin to feel for the lives and thoughts of people living in various cultures, which can lead to the integration of an intellectual understanding of these cultures to deepen their feelings. That is, this research aims to create the designs for assisting creative expression such that deepening feelings towards the existence of individuals living in other cultures will be stimulated.

Furthermore, this multifaceted forum has double meanings: a place for the function known as a museum that gathers together various cultural resources and a place for existence where people of different ages and genders, with or without physical handicaps, and with varying degrees of knowledge express, can exchange with each other and with the involvement of cultural resources. If in this double sense this research can prove itself in giving birth to and engendering a cycle of bountiful expression, we should be able to use the programs which we develop in educational activities in the schools or apply them even more broadly in general social education and practice. At that time programs can also assist in promoting expressive creation in multifaceted forums, so that this research will be able to apply technical support from the field of mechanics in addition to past human assistance. This technical assistance aspect should also provide help in the construction of programs for understanding other cultures.

Research Results

This joint research project was a search for new possibilities for Minpaku, both as a museum and a space for learning. Individuals differing in background and values were brought together. As artifacts and bodies interacted in new forms of creative expression, we began to weave for ourselves a new story in which Minpaku is no longer a place that only communicates information about different cultures. It becomes, instead, a space for collaborative creativity in which the structures of feeling embedded in artifacts can be experienced and new values created together.

During the three and a half years of the project, we met 14 times. Lively debates centered on fundamental theories from anthropology, engineering, education, dance, and physical performance related to the research objective and were organized around three key words: “body,” “connection,” and “expression.” In addition we discussed and developed detailed plans for experimental workshops at Minpaku, aimed at developing new programs that transcend disciplinary boundaries. That work resulted in our organizing two workshops. The first,  “Encountering shadows, connecting with shadows—Wayang Kulit,” was held on March 21-22, 2010. The second, “Encountering ideas, connecting with wishes—Indian Embroidery,” was held on June 5, 2011. Both were held at Minpaku, and the more than 100 participants discovered new topics of interest. Members of the joint research project have presented their findings eight times at meetings of the Japanese Society for Dance Research, the Japan Society of Physical Education, Health and Sport Sciences, and the Japan Society of Research on Early Childhood Care and Education. A portion of the results was also presented by Yoko Nishi as “Co-Creation of Physical Expression” at the Humanities Speaking of ‘Bodies’ international symposium organized by the International Center for Folk Culture Studies.

In the project’s final year, our research results were incorporated in a series of programs to facilitate museum and educator collaborations. These included a workshop for teachers in charge of summer programs at Tokyo kindergartens (100 teachers; August 21, 2011), plus two-day workshops for 2nd and 5th graders at the Kanazawa University elementary school (70 children; October 13-14, 2011), and the Ishikawa deaf school (30 children; November 21-22, 2011). These special workshops were featured in newspapers and on NHK and private TV networks, both in Ishikawa Prefecture and nationwide.