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An Info-forum Database for Minpaku Micronesia Collections; Focusing on Materials Collected in the Early 20th Century

Research period: April 2019 – March 2021 / Project for Database Improvement (project period: max. 2 years)

Coordinator HAYASHI Isao



Focusing on 1,917 Micronesian cultural objects housed at Minpaku, our prime objective is to increase the basic information relating to each of these objects, based on field research conducted where the objects were originally collected, as well as research of related literature and documents. In particular, for the objects collected in the first half of the 20th century, which were later donated to Minpaku, we intend to learn as much as possible about the background of how each cultural object came to be collected by collating information from related data, the archived documents of ethnological research, and academic literature that Minpaku received around the same time. Keeping in mind the succession of history and local culture, as well as the current state of education in the source community, the second aim of this project is to work with local museums, schools and members of the source community to develop a new program which utilizes the database.


903 of the 1,917 Micronesian cultural objects were donated by the Department of Anthropology in the Faculty of Science of the former University of Tokyo (former University of Tokyo materials) shortly after Minpaku was founded. A further 400 items, which had previously been in storage at the Japanese Society of Ethnology (the former Hoya Museum), were moved to Minpaku after being stored at the National Institute of Japanese Literature. In other words, the majority of Micronesian cultural objects were collected from the region known at the time as the “South Pacific Mandate” (now known as Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia), which was under Japan’s rule during the first half of the 20th century. In addition to scholars, such as Akira Matsumura, Tadao Fukutomi, Kotondo Hasebe and Kenichi Sugiura, artists Hisakatsu Hijikata and Atsushi Someki also went in search of adventure in the southern seas and collected these cultural objects in the former South Pacific Mandate.

We will be able to reveal the history of Japanese intellectual interest toward Oceania at that time by drawing a link between Minpaku’s Micronesian cultural objects and the documents and photographs that were gathered by the collectors, scholars and artists who traveled in the field during the same period. In particular, we believe it is possible to approach the ethnological interest, which saw enormous growth with the development of Japanese colonialism, from the perspective of material culture observation, collecting, recording, and educational, literary activities. It is to approach the history of the development of Japanese folklore and cultural anthropology from a new point of view.

Furthermore, once we have constructed an integrated database using the newly collected data from the research mentioned above, we will work together with museums, schools and people in the source community to develop a program for using the database, in order to contribute to the development of future research on Micronesia, as well as the succession of history and culture, and education in the source community.

Expected results

We will construct an integrated database featuring documentary and visual data from the Minpaku library and research archives, related materials sourced from outside Minpaku, and data obtained through field research. The database will be made available not only in Japanese and English, but also in local languages. With regards to objects from the former University of Tokyo and former Hoya Museum, we will clarify as far as possible the historical and social background to the formation of each collection. As a result, we expect the understanding towards the traditional culture of the relevant areas to deepen internationally. At the same time, we aim to provide a better understanding of how Japanese researchers and artists of the first half of the 20th century considered the “South Pacific Mandate”, and hope that using this database will help to further advance the research into the historical progress of collecting ethnic cultural objects. We will aim to construct a database that is user-friendly not just for researchers, but also for people in the source community.

Outcomes from 2020

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

In this the last year of this project, the following work was undertaken.
1) A thorough review of additional information sent through from our international collaborators who had examined the artifacts in February 2020.
2) A review of our data, cross referencing the artifacts collected by Someki that are held by Minpaku with the text and illustrations of Atsushi Someki’s “ Mikuroneshia no fūdo to mingu (Environment and folk artifacts of Micronesia)”.
3) A careful review of our data based on cross-referencing Minpaku housed materials with the content of Tokyo University Card (University of Tokyo information cards) and “Naigai Dozokuhin Zushu (Collection of Domestic and Foreign Folk Objects)”.
4) Related information was organised and cross-referenced with the text of Shizuo Matsuoka’s “Ethnography of Micronesia”.
5) Minpaku’s collection of artifacts was cross-referenced with sketches from “SUGIURA Kenichi Archive”.
6) Postcards and photographs from relatives of Atsushi Someki were photographed at Minpaku and memos from Someki were organised.
7) The database information was translated into English.
8) We looked into the possibility of collaborating with the Info-Forum Museum Database Establishment project ‘Maritime Adaptation and Material Culture in Maritime Asia-Based on the museum materials from Southeast Asia’’ (Project leader: Rintaro Ono) for cross-referencing and so on.

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

In this year of the project, we undertook a survey of still image and documentary materials and inputted those into the database which were connected to Micronesian cultural artifacts.
We had planned to carry out local surveys in the Marshall Islands and in Micronesia with our research collaborators and to invite them to Minpaku for examinations of the materials, however we were unable to do this due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We also looked into the possibility of meeting online, and into the collection of information on cultural materials, however we had to give up on this due to the lack of materials and state of internet accessibility in those areas. Consequently, we focused on Minpaku held documents and archival material and undertook a survey of related information, mining the relevant data.

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

Outcomes from 2019

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

1. Provided an overview of the Info-Forum Museum to four domestic collaborators and introduced the database that has already been published. We then assigned roles for project execution and also checked artifacts and archive materials. (June 28, 2019)
2. Two collaborators investigated information regarding artifacts, and collected information by interviewing 13 individuals in Palau. (August 13 to 23, 2019)
3. One collaborator investigated information regarding artifacts relating to the Marshall Islands.
4. Extracted relevant information about Micronesian artefacts from Mikuroneshia no fūdo to mingu (The Natural Features and Everyday Folk Artifacts of Micronesia) by Atsushi Someki, Tokyo University Card (University of Tokyo information cards), and the Naigai Dozokuhin Zushu (Collection of Domestic and Foreign Folk Objects).
5. Visited Atsushi Someki’s studio in Tachikawa, and photographed sketches and photo albums from his 1934 tour of the South Pacific Mandate. (July 28 – 31, 2019)
6. Thanks to the generosity of Atsushi Someki’s surviving family, we were able to photograph postcards that had been pasted into an album at the Minpaku, and make records of the memos left by Someki on the back of each postcard.
7. Invite one individual from the Palau Conservation Society to carry out a careful inspection of the artifacts (scheduled for mid-February, 2020)

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

This year, we focused on scrutinizing data relating to Micronesian artifacts, and gathering/organizing new information. First, two joint researchers built a human network for the project in Palau while also gathering information relating to the Minpaku’s Micronesia collection, including local place names. Information gathering on the Micronesia collection was carried out by interviewing 13 individuals in the states of Koror, Airai, Ngeremlengui, and Sonsorol (at the Koror office).
[As a result, we have learned that] in some cases, the physical objects themselves have been lost, and only exist as photographic records – thus highlighting the importance of the Minpaku collection. Minister of State Faustina Rehuher-Marugg, who previously served as Director of the Belau (Palau) National Museum for many years, has indicated that she has high expectations for the project, citing the fact that Palauan materials are also housed in museums in Germany, collected during the time of German occupation: “We would like to know specific details about the kinds of Palauan materials in German and Japanese museums. And together, we would like to think about how we might access these materials, and what sorts of projects would be possible in the future.”
In addition, our overseas collaborator, Bernie Ngiralmau (whom we plan to invite in February 2020) is deeply aware of the importance and enjoyable aspects of younger generations learning about the cultural heritage of Palau, and is eager to pioneer new learning opportunities within Micronesian society by interacting with Minpaku materials together with other Micronesian islanders. As stated above, high expectations for the project have been expressed in Palau, and we have been able to set up a system that has secured cooperation towards research and giving back to society.
325 artefacts in the Micronesia collection were collected by artist Atsushi Someki during his 1934 tour. We have unearthed relevant materials from Someki’s studio, and have also made excerpts from his books, organized information, and matched these to artifacts. Quite a few young artists visited the South Pacific Mandate in the 1930s, and we have learned that Someki had interacted not only with them, but had also made friends with Hisakatsu Hijikata and the scholar Kenichi Sugiura. In addition, we also extracted and organized information pertaining to Micronesian materials from the University of Tokyo information cards and Collection of Domestic and Foreign Folk Objects.

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

This year, we have focused on building a research collaboration system, scrutinizing information on Micronesian artifacts stored at the Minpaku, and collecting/organizing related information, and have not yet reached the stage of presenting our achievements.