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Study and Publication of Historical Trails of the Japanese Society for Ethnology’s Collection

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

Coordinator IIDA Taku



By devoting attention to the background of collection, we will classify 21,000 items from the collection of the National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) attached to the Japanese Society of Ethnology (Hoya Museum), which Minpaku received from the Department of Historical Documents, Ministry of Education (currently, the National Institute of Japanese Literature), in 1975. To enhance their value as academic historical materials, we will build a database that enables users to search and retrieve materials by the names of the collectors/contributors and the expedition that prompted collection. Concurrently, we will provide encyclopedic information of the names of the collectors/contributors and the expedition.
Furthermore, we will demonstrate that the materials of Hoya Museum, which constitute the core of Minpaku’s collection’s value growth, were collected by researchers and members of the general public alike and promote an understanding that Minpaku’s early history was built on forum-like activities. Over the long term, this is expected to encourage researchers who are well-versed in folk culture and ways of life in the Taisho and Showa periods (and source communities that an Info-Forum Museum anticipates) to use the database as well.


Keizo Shibusawa (1896–1963) and his peers began collecting the materials described above in the 1910s. They grew more numerous as a result of the activities of the “people of the Attic Museum” in the 1920s. In 1937, this collection was donated to Hoya Museum, the ethnological museum attached to the Japanese Society of Ethnology (currently, The Japanese Society of Cultural Anthropology) in 1937. As during the Attic Museum era, the collection kept grew continuously until 1962, by virtue of the efforts of its many members. The materials were stored at Department of Historical Documents, Ministry of Education (and its successor the National Institute of Japanese Literature) from 1962 through 1975, before they were transferred to Minpaku. Consequently, they were designated as the “materials of the former DHD.” However, the period during which the collection actually grew in size was that preceding the Hoya Museum era (and the prior Attic Museum era).
Although the period was limited when the collection was built, the items were collected for more than half a century from an extensive area centering on Eurasia. However, limited means have existed for clarifying the complete picture to date (even for Minpaku’s regular staff). As it stands, the only clue is a registry of those items prepared by Hoya Museum. The late Professor Masaki Kondo, of Minpaku, spent a great many years checking the contents of this registry against Minpaku’s registered items, in attempts to organize the items. A part of the achievements in this effort was published for the first time in February 2017 as “A Museum Managed by the Japanese Society of Ethnology: The Hoya Museum and a History of its Collections (Senri Ethnological Reports 139),” which, however, must be improved for the use of the information in the collections for research purposes.
During the first year, we developed a database of individuals listed as data collectors (indicated as “collectors” in the register) and donors (indicated as “donors” in the register), expedition tiles, and other information (designated as “individuals’ names” below) based on the files organized by Professor Masaki Kondo. In the second year, we expect to organize information related to such individuals’ names, correct errors, and modify the data to, for instance, eliminate the names of persons for whom disclosure is inappropriate to reveal the characteristics of the collections based on the names of individuals involved in the collections.
Furthermore, we will attach a list of materials collected by each to records of individuals’ names in this database and link them to two databases related to samples. The two material databases to be linked are 1, the detailed information related to sample materials already built by Minpaku and 2, the original register database in the era of Hoya Museum based on information digitized as Excel files by Professor Masaki Kondo. Although the disclosure of the former is limited within the museum, disclosure of each record will present no difficulty if the names of collectors and donors should be disclosed. Although not entirely, resources that have not been used in the past will be widely available for use simply by deciding whether to disclose the records of each name and by disclosing what can be disclosed. The latter database also includes a remarkable amount of information that had been largely unknown in the past, in which details of materials that might be discovered in Minpaku could be found in addition to storing Minpaku database information. The tasks in the second year therefore consist of building a system that allows access to more information related to sample materials using the database of individuals’ names as a portal and gradually disclosing each record.

Expected results

Note: Results also reveal what kind of database it would be.
A portal (gateway) will be built to allow users to see the entire picture of the items owned previously by Hoya Museum, but which now constitute the core of Minpaku’s collection. In turn, this will enable users to understand the growth of Minpaku’s collection during the first half of the 20th century. Infrastructure supporting the use of Minpaku’s database for research purposes will be emplaced.
This will provide relevant researchers with access authorization to improve the information in vastly numerous records, consisting of 21,000 items, and allow data accumulation even after release of the database. A researcher team much larger than the current one must be organized to achieve participatory database development in the true sense. Development of a basic infrastructure for such team building can be expected.
If one year of project extension is approved, then we might be able to edit the descriptions in the individual name database to improve legibility and publish the database as a handbook to facilitate the learning of the history of Japanese ethnology. We initially planned to publish it on a two-year budget. However, chose to prioritize publication on the internet because of an excess of necessary workload and costs that exceeded the initial estimate. Publication of books will be described in a separate document.

Annual Report

Outcomes from 2017

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

We held two seminars on Sunday May 21 and Saturday December 23 for practical preparation for the release of a database of Hoya Minpaku’s collection received from the National Institute of Japanese Literature (formerly Department of Historical Documents, Ministry of Education), by Minpaku in 1975. During the last fiscal year, we built two databases i.e., a database of the names of people (including groups and expeditions) who contributed to, for instance, the collection of Hoya Museum’s materials, and a material database based on the original register of Hoya Museum’s collection. In the current fiscal year, we comprehensively updated the individual name database, particularly to prepare for the release.
When updating the individual name database, we confirmed the correct pronunciation of names and dates of births and deaths, organized written works and reference literature, and described the achievements and relationships with the collection in detail to make the information viewable both on the internet and in publications. We also took steps to translate the information to make it available in English. Furthermore, we limited modification of the material database to the minimum required changes. Materials collected by specific persons can also be viewed as images, which allows English readers to obtain information at a certain level. We are currently at the final stage of the preparation of these databases to make them available on the internet at the end of the fiscal year.

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

As described in the following paragraph 7, we completed three databases, including an individual name database in Japanese, an individual name database in English, and a material database in Japanese, as databases for disclosure. Although we were about to select individual names and objects to disclose r to build the databases because of privacy matter. As our research of collectors and other people who are concerned made progress, however, we finally decided to disclose all the names which appears in the “collector” cells in the inventory books, as well as all the objects. As a result, we introduced names of 324 individuals and 24 groups, together with other 169 individuals’ names as search index for objects, and information of 21,310 objects (or descriptions in the inventory book exactly)

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

After writing the report for the first fiscal year (2016), at the end of the first fiscal year we published “A Museum Managed by the Japanese Society of Ethnology: The Hoya Museum and a History of its Collections” edited by Taku Iida and Toshio Asakura, as one of the Senri Ethnological Reports. Although this is a result of a study taken over from an earlier research project, we located the records of 634 items in the collection covered in this project, which were held at Minpaku without being registered.
The report described above was the only one that we were able to publish during the project period of two years. Although we did have insufficient time to hold a public symposium, if permitted, we hope to extend the project for a year and hold a symposium to promote the use of the databases (see the attachment).

Outcomes from 2016

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

Via three research meetings on Sunday April 17, Sunday July 17, and Saturday December 3, we discussed the procedures required to improve and release the database of the collection owned by the ethnological museum attached to the Japanese Society of Ethnology (Hoya Museum), which was transferred to the National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) in 1975 from the National Institute of Japanese Literature (formerly the Historical Documents Institution, Ministry of Education). As a result, we agreed that it would be necessary to construct separately and release the personal name database of collectors and donators for clarification of our collecting situation, in addition to updating the existing database for detailed information on specimen materials.
At the meetings, we discussed the specifications, items, and operational policies for the personal name database and the collection database, respectively. We decided that the operation of both databases would start in FY 2016 by making preparations through commenting by members toward the release. The records to be released would be chosen by referring to such comments in FY 2017.

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

Based on the discussions at the above-mentioned meetings, we constructed a system. Then, we made it possible to input each member’s information into the database as comments by sharing a database format among the members. The operation of the personal name database already started in December 2016, and comments have been accumulating since that time. These comments will be reflected in updating of the database scheduled for around March 2018. Operation of the material database will start in March 2017.

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

Taku IIDA and Toshio ASAKURA (Eds.) “A Museum Managed by Japanese Society of Ethnology: The Hoya Museum and a History of the Collections” (To be published as a research report of the National Museum of Ethnology)