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

A Basic Study of Folk Culture in North Korea

Joint Research Coordinator ASAKURA Toshio

Reserch Theme List


North Korea, Korean Studies, North Korean defector

Major Objectives (Extract of Application 5-1 Objectives)

The discipline of cultural anthropology, which takes as research objects areas throughout the world, has provided universal insights regarding human culture. The discipline has also made broad contributions to society by accumulating individual evidence concerning specific physical locations through regional research into the folk cultures in different locations. This research examines the northern half of the Korean Peninsula, which until this point has been overlooked, so as to supplement available cultural anthropological findings.
Research on northern areas of the Korean Peninsula since the establishment of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (hereafter North Korea) has made progress in politics, foreign relations and economics, but ethnocultural research, especially by Japanese scholars, has been heretofore lacking. That is because on-site research has not been implemented. However, that does not mean that research concerning the ethnoculture of the northern part of the Korean Peninsula is impossible. There is research material concerning the ethnoculture of this region which predates the establishment of North Korea. A great deal of more recent research concerning life and culture in North Korea has been published in South Korea. These make basic research feasible. In addition, North Korea-affiliated ethnic Koreans are living in northeast China, Central Asia, Japan and elsewhere, and this provides one method for collecting internal information from the periphery.
We hope that through the use of these methods this research will serve as a starting point for research in Japan on the cultural anthropology of the northern part of the Korean Peninsula.

Research Results

This Inter-University Research Project, entitled "A Basic Study of Folk Culture in North Korea," had two primary objectives: (1) to review previous research related to this region and (2) to consider procedures for conducting anthropological research on North Korea. Although participants were likely to be interested mainly in the second objective, nevertheless the following activities also were conducted:

  1. The introduction and investigation of literature published in North Korea (Kawakami, Kan);
  2. Presentations on the status of contemporary South Korean research on North Korea (Okada, Ko Jeong Ja, Asakura, Ota, Hidemura);
  3. The translation by several participants and joint discussion of the bibliography Household Culture in North Korea Prior to Reunification (Seoul University Press, 2001);
  4. Presentations of research on defectors from North Korea (Ito, Hayashi, Lee Hyeon Ju);
  5. Presentations on relations between North Korea and Koreans living in Japan (Shimamura), the U.S.A. (Kotani) and Mongolia (Konagaya); and
  6. Reports on visits to North Korea (Lee Ai Liah, Kan, Ito, Suzuki).

Through this Inter-University Research Project, it was intended to assemble in Minpaku translations of Korean literature pertaining to research on North Korea. However, a planned full review of Japanese colonial era literature related to this region, and establishment of a collection of translations at Minpaku could not be completed. Nevertheless, this project enabled each participant to reconfirm the importance and significance of "anthropological research on North Korea," and it provided an impetus to develop research on "the cultures in the Korean Peninsula," not just those South Korea.