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Information Disclosure Project for Documents Related to the Japanese Culture Exhibition at Minpaku

Research period: April 2016 – March 2018 / Project for Database Improvement (project period: max. 2 years)

Coordinator HIDAKA Shingo



The Japanese culture exhibition section, newly established in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, displays many aspects of Japanese culture from four perspectives: “rituals, festivals, and performing arts,” “everyday life,” “Okinawan lives,” and “multiethnic Japan.” It specifically examines local community cultures that have developed under the influence of various cultures of adjacent areas surrounded by diverse natural environments, from Hokkaido to Okinawa, and the many non-Japanese who are recent neighbors of the Japanese. This exhibition consists of various items on display, minimal captions, and explanatory notes. However, the information does not touch on the background data related to each item that is displayed. This project shall therefore create a system for reading detailed information related to the documents stored at Minpaku on a database.


This project was conducted to release more detailed research information related to sample materials displayed at the Japanese culture exhibition through a database (“Japanese culture exhibition database”) by adding detailed research information to the existing index. In the existing public database of information related to items owned by Minpaku, an index database contains an “item name,” which is the common name for the item, an “item number” assigned to each item, a “locality” from which the item was collected or produced, an “ethnicity” of the people related to the item, “notes” providing additional information related to the item, “dimensions and weight” of the item in W × D × H and weight format, a “year of acceptance” (A.D.) when the item was accepted into the Minpaku collection, “images” of the item taken from diagonally above, face, side, and top, and the “date” on which these data were created. It might be said that the existing database is serving its purpose to some extent to outline the items owned by Minpaku. However, publication of the database is restricted; detailed information added by the researcher at the time of collection of each item is accessible only on the Museum floor. Therefore, such information is stored without being put to good use. For this reason, the project will re-examine the detailed research database and the cards of the items on display. The project shall also attempt to organize them into a suitable system for publication. Currently, no provision is made for information about these Japan-related items that is as extensive as the classification of folkloristic materials. This project shall therefore classify the materials based on the large and middle classifications presented in Nihon Minzoku Shiryo Jiten (日本民俗資料辞典 Dictionary of Folk Life and Lore of Japan) (published in 1969) edited by Miyashizu Hori, Keigo Seki, and Keitaro Miyamoto and supervised by Cultural Properties Protection Department, Agency for Cultural Affairs, and report the results. This effort shall thereby facilitate data search and create an environment in which researchers can use information more easily. The result will also serve as a database that is readily available to undergraduate and graduate students, providing them with academic support, and constituting a model of forum-style information supply.
Furthermore, the project is expected to complete the development of a tsunami monument, temple, and shrine database, which has been produced by the large disaster recovery committee established in Minpaku after the Great East Japan Earthquake, to publish the database on the website, and to display it at the Japanese culture exhibition. When it was newly built, the Japanese culture exhibition was added with a section to report Minpaku support activities for victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake in the section related to life in the Tohoku Region. This section was established to demonstrate Minpaku’s determination not to forget the disasters until the declaration of completion of restoration efforts for the Great East Japan Earthquake was issued. We have been creating exhibits of the support activities that have become full-fledged since 2012. By placing the tsunami monument, temple, and shrine database in this section, we emphasize the memories of disaster control before the earthquake and demonstrate the importance of passing down such memories in the exhibition.

Expected results

Note: Results also reveal what kind of database it would be.
The Japanese culture exhibition database will include information related to the sample catalogue and research details, which are expected to offer more academic and detailed data. The database will also be able to provide information based on the exhibition context by including data related to the materials for the Japanese culture exhibition. This will force us to organize a certain group of materials. The database should become extremely convenient for the museum visitors who are interested in the exhibition, although the information supply is expected to be one-directional. In addition, more detailed research information will be available through the database by building a mechanism that allows the visitors to read information from publications related to the exhibits.
The tsunami monument, temple, and shrine database, which is the other objective of the project, will be published on the internet and equipped with a function to allow the addition of new data, which is expected to facilitate information exchange between database users and Minpaku staff who created the database and help develop a larger forum-style network after its release.

Annual Report

Outcomes from 2017

1. The state of the implementation of this year’s research

During fiscal year 2017, the final year of the project, we prepared classification items according to Minpaku’s exhibition and completed the classification of all exhibition materials based on the classification of folkloristic materials of the Agency for Cultural Affairs. We have added a brief description to each classification item for the presumed audience, including researchers, college students, and other people interested in Japanese culture, translated all these descriptions and material information into English, and created English pages to produce a database that is fit for international use. Additionally, we have considered the feasibility of extending the classification experimented in this project to the folkloristic materials of Taiwan, prepared for an effort to organize materials related to numerous folk utensils kept at schools across Japan, and prepared for the production of a database that could be used for school education and development into the formulation of methodology for output as an educational tool.
We subsequently developed a database environment capable of providing images related to exhibits by linking it to the Virtual Museum Database (tentative name), which is based on the Panorama Movie scheduled for release in fiscal year 2017. In addition, we requested that prefectural museums across Japan link their databases to this database. We also prepared to link the databases of museums that are expected to cooperate with us in producing our database.

2. Overview of the research results (achievements of the research objects)

Achievements in this project include the creation of the Minpaku version of material classification items based on the classification of folkloristic materials of the Agency for Cultural Affairs and the completion of the classification of materials in the database. For these activities, we cooperated with the National Museum of Japanese History, Tohoku Gakuin University, Kyoto University of Art and Design, and the Tohoku History Museum, exchanged opinions with the people of Kesennuma, the field of research of the Coordinator of the Inter-University Research Project, as a local community, organized the details, and achieved the database production in a forum research environment in the true sense. Results revealed that, in the classification of folkloristic materials considered for this database, the conventional exclusive classification method that assigns one material to each category is inadequate for delivering the cultural information of the materials. In the material classification based on livelihood culture, we have discovered, as new academic findings, the possibility that an overlapping classification method which assigns multiple categories to each material is more appropriate.

3. Records disclosing achievements (publications, public symposia, sectional meetings of academic conferences, electronic media, etc.)

We held an international forum “Rediscovery of Local Culture: from the Perspective of Universities and Museums” at Beppu University on October 21 and 22, introduced this project in the explanation of the purport, and discussed the roles played by universities to discover local culture symbolized by the Japanese Culture Exhibition while comparing cases in Japan and Taiwan. We also contributed a refereed paper which was approved for publication “An Effort to Develop a Database of Exhibits at the Japanese Culture Exhibition, National Museum of Ethnology” in Mingu Kenkyu, the bulletin of the Society for Mingu of Japan,. The paper is scheduled to be included in Mingu Kenkyu No. 157 in the current fiscal year.

Outcomes from 2016

1. The state of the implementation of this year’s research

This project aims to disclose more detailed research information of the materials displayed in the Japanese culture exhibition section than that of the existing specimen material catalog. An additional goal is the creation of a system from which university or graduate school students can obtain useful information in learning cultural anthropology and ethnology from exhibitions by researching books related to the Japanese culture exhibition section for release as a reference literature list.
In this fiscal year, we researched the current situation of local museum databases developed on the website. As a result, Japanese local museums are not ready to disclose their databases at present. This is mainly because their PCs are not updated to keep pace with the rapid advance of web services. Therefore, we have found that it is difficult for local museums to share their databases on materials related to Japan, while we have realized anew that the search items of this database to be developed by the National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) are attracting much attention. We also discussed repeatedly with the secretariat of the Info-Forum Museum the possibility of introducing videos in this project. However, considering the portrait right issue to introduce fully-fledged videos, server load, and other factors, we decided to suspend it for this project, but to treat it as a later challenge.
As a result, during this fiscal year mainly we reorganized the items of material information shown in the database, and input data for each item.

2. Overview of the research results (achievements of the research objects)

As our research outcomes in this fiscal year, we surveyed the current situation of the databases of local museums developed on the website. As a result, we found that Japanese local museums are not ready to disclose their databases at present. This is mainly because their PCs are not updated to keep pace with the rapid advance of web services. To this end, I think this shows that the operating environment of each expected user’s PC must be updated in a timely manner as a minimum requirement for smooth interaction.
Then, we exchanged opinions on information items adopted in this database with members from the National Museum of Japanese History, the Tohoku History Museum, Tohoku Gakuin University, and the Old Tanaka Family Metal Casting and Folklore Museum, which cooperate with us as external organizations. As a result, as basic information referred to in the database, we decided to introduce “exhibition material names,” “item names,” “item numbers,” “locations” showing collection or production places (current prefectures, cities, towns, and villages), “dimensions and weights” showing the width (W) × depth (D) ×height (H) and weight of each material, “acceptance year” in the Western calendar when Minpaku accepted the materials, photo information of the materials, research information uploaded in the detailed database for research, and bibliographic information about the papers, where such materials are introduced. In addition, we also confirmed that we should classify the materials according to the large classification items for folklore materials presented in the “Nihon Minzoku Shiryo Jiten (Japanese Folkloristic Material Encyclopedia),” compiled under the supervision of the Cultural Properties Protection Department, the Agency for Cultural Affairs and edited by MiyaShizu HORI, Keigo SEKI and Keitaro MIYAMOTO (published in 1969) as basic classification items.
We have completed already the tsunami memory database to be developed in the Great East Japan Earthquake corner in the subsection of the Life in the Tohoku Region as a related database, in order to be prepared for the release from the next fiscal year.

3. Records disclosing achievements (publications, public symposia, sectional meetings of academic conferences, electronic media, etc.)

Shingo HIDAKA, 2016 “To Utilize the Material Information Exhibited in the Japanese Culture Exhibition Section”, Minpaku Tsushin [Minpaku News Letter] No. 155 p. 12-13, December 26, 2016, National Museum of Ethnology