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Building an Info-Forum Database for Cultural Collections of Central and South America

Research period : April 2018‒ March 2022 / Project for Database Improvement (project period: max. 2 years)

Coordinator YAGI Yuriko



The Minpaku Exhibition on the Americas includes an exhibit on Central and South America that displays materials ranging from prehistoric archaeological items to artifacts emblematic of the lifeways of people in the modern age. Each item on display includes a caption listing its source region and ethnic name. Further, explanatory notes have been provided for the items already incorporated into the exhibit guide. However, detailed information is still limited to only a small selection of all items on display. Enhancing the info-forum functions of the database will demand the inclusion of additional information and the development of a platform for information-sharing. To that end, this project will add background information on individual artifacts with particular attention to material artifacts relevant to the Minpaku exhibit on Central and South America. Backed by this information, the project will also endeavor to build in multilingual functionality in Japanese, English, and Spanish and create a more highly versatile database equipped with a data browsing and search system that is organized around regional and ethnic classifications. As another measure to enhance the quality of the material information, the database will be equipped with functions that allow the entry and display of comments by users with access rights, and encourage the addition of supplementary information from relevant local institutions.


This project will be implemented with the following procedures and methods.
(1) Information enhancement: The Exhibition on the Americas consists of five sections, each with its own arrangement of material artifacts from Central and South America. Project members with field knowledge of the regions represented by these artifacts will share responsibilities and provide supplementary information on those materials within their respective areas of expertise. The initial phase of database development will comprise a thorough review of artifacts in the exhibit, with the addition of new categories to supplement current, basic information. Fresh information will be added on that basis, as necessary. Further, images and bibliographic information will be added as background data of relevance to specific material artifacts. For that purpose, current field photos owned by Minpaku faculty members as well as data and photos collected during Minpaku’s early days and now owned by joint researchers (Minpaku professors emeriti) will be used as much as possible. The project will also utilize the Hiroyasu Tomoeda photo collection held by Nanzan University.
(2) Multilingual functionality: Complementing the original information in Japanese with English and Spanish language functionality will lay the groundwork for the browsing and addition of information by users in local regions. For versatility, the database will, for the time being, incorporate multilingual functionality in three languages, including the official languages of the regions concerned.
(3) Improved accessibility: Although the current database contains a diverse range of information on ethno-cultural materials from Central and South America, from the perspective of novices and users from those regions, access to that information and database searches based on conventional keywords are not easy. To address this , the project will enhance the above-described database by classifying its material artifacts into the categories of “region (country),” “ethnic group,” and “artifact name” and adding a search engine display screen that allows users to easily find the information they are seeking, not only with search text strings but also with maps and photos. This can be expected to facilitate the inclusion of learning support functions for elementary and middle-school students.
(4) Info-forum functionality: In the interest of developing a database with info-forum capabilities, the final phase of this project will assimilate the views and opinions of relevant institutions and specialists in Japan and abroad, and expand on its efforts to share and add more information. Work at the database development stage will be conducted in collaboration with specialists from Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology, the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology, and History (Peru), and Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. Eventually, access rights will be granted to other leading museums in Central and South America to facilitate and expand the mutual exchange of information.

Expected results

Note: Results also reveal what kind of database it would be.
In addition to conventional catalog information, the database developed through this project will incorporate images, bibliographic data, and other background information, thus acquiring the capacity to provide more-detailed information of scholarly value. Moreover, the integration of multilingual features together with a data search and browsing engine that does not rely solely on text input will facilitate improved database accessibility. It is anticipated this will increase database utilization significantly, as well as expand the user base beyond the research community to include students as well as members of the general public. Further, the inclusion of functions that allow the entry of supplementary information from external sources can be expected to aid the formation of a database-centric info-forum network that links Minpaku with leading research centers throughout Central and South America.

Annual Report

Outcomes from 2019

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

In this last year of the project, the following work was undertaken.
1) As additional resources to the 400 Central and Southern Americas artifacts from the Americas exhibition hall already inputted into the database, data on 395 artifacts from the Andean ethno-cultural resources were added.
2) As part of the data enhancement, 35 pieces of comment data from producers (Central America–9 comments; South America–26 comments) were newly added to the database.
3) Images of the region and production process selected from the associated Andean ethno-cultural collections of Nanzan University and Minpaku were attached to individual artifacts, strengthening background data.
4) In addition to Japanese, basic information on each of the materials was translated into English and Spanish, creating a multilingual database.
5) In order to improve accessibility, in addition to the search by artifact name, region and ethnic group a unique search functionality was created which allows searches to be carried out by artisan (producer) name and their family lineage.
6) Based on the test database, and with the cooperation of colleagues at our partner institution (Instituto Cultural Teatral y Social), a workshop held in Peru brought together those in the local community involved in the production of ethno-cultural materials. At this time, in order to encourage the local people’s use of the database, usability and functionality testing took place and further feedback was received.
7) An expert from our partner organization (the Director of the National Museum of Peruvian Culture), together with a retablo (portable box type altar) artisan were invited to Minpaku and undertook a thorough examination of the Andean cultural artifacts. (This event has been postponed to the next year due to the effects of the coronavirus)
Utilizing the results above, the test database was modified, insufficiencies addressed and we constructed the database to be ready for its official release and operation.

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

1) During this project, the inputted data went well beyond our original aims, with additional Andean artifact data added to the originally planned related Minpaku exhibit artifacts. In relation to the Andean data in particular, we were able to construct a substantial ethnological database with the collaboration of the local community. This database was not limited to data on the artisans (producers) of the artifacts, but also brings together data on production, use and the world view embedded in the materials. For this reason, we constructed a multilingual database which, in addition to English and Japanese also functions in Spanish, the official language of the local area.
2) Images from the ‘Digital Picture Library for Area Studies’ (a collection of images shot by Minpaku emeritus professors between the 1960s-2000 as part of Andean ethnological surveys) were also utilized. An effort was made to improve the general users’ understanding of the materials and their use by adding background information on their time of collection and use.
3) With the cooperation of local institutions, workshops were held during the project period which brought together a variety of artisans involved in the production of the materials. At these workshops, the database was tested and functionality improved and this together with the collection of feedback allowed for the preparation of the foundations of the info-forum database.
3. Records disclosing achievements (publications, public symposia, sectional meetings of academic conferences, electronic media, etc.)

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

Outcomes from 2018

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

 The information was enhanced by adding background information associated with Central and South American material artifacts displayed in the Americas Exhibition Hall. Concretely, information on collection, use, production, and exhibition was added to the basic information on individual artifacts. In addition, more detailed information was provided for the artifacts by adding bibliographical information and comments from experts. Regarding these pieces of information, based on the completed Japanese version, the frameworks for basic information written in English and Spanish were established as preparations for “multilingualization”.
 In addition to the applicable artifacts displayed in the exhibition hall, among the related artifacts focused on in this project (alebrijes in Mexico and some artifacts of Andean area), we met local producers of Andean retablos, statues of saints, and pottery to obtain their comments on these artifacts. We also took and collected photos on how they are produced now.
 In addition, photo slides were collected from the persons concerned as information showing the local situations at the time of collection (1960’s) and how they were produced. Approximately 8,000 slides loaned from Professor Emeritus Tatsuhiko Fujii were digitalized for selection of associated images and linking to material artifacts. Regarding the collection owned by the late Professor Emeritus Hiroyasu Tomoeda, we requested the person responsible for management of the photos to allow us to use them.

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

 For this fiscal year, an emphasis was put on adding Japanese information and collecting associated artifacts. We have finished adding background information to the selected 399 material artifacts subject to this project. Although we will continue to collect detailed information as much as possible, including bibliographical information and comments from experts, a maximum of 30 pieces of artifact information have been added to each artifact. Among the highlighted artifacts, regarding 43 retablos and 21 statues of saints of the Andes, comments from producers or specialists were added to their basic information, and images were arranged to clarify their production processes. Particularly, detailed information on the artifacts owned by Minpaku was collected from relatives as successors to the two great masters of Peruvian retablos, the late Mr. Florentino Jiménez (1935-2004) and the late Mr. Jesús Urbano (1929-2014), as well as from relatives as successors to the late Mr. Hilario Mendívil (1927-1977), a craftsman of statues of saints.

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

 A presentation entitled “World of the Andean Retablos – From Rural Life to Historical Recollection” for a lecture for Minpaku Associates in February 2019, “Andean Retablos — transformation of the religious object in Peru” for a conference of Inter-University Research Projects of Minpaku entitled “A comparative study of contemporary religious world through the objects” in February 2019, and a workshop for the persons involved in production, collection, and conservation of retablos in Peru had held in March.

4. Achievements in database development (scheduled for completion as of March 31, 2019)

 Number of materials (artifacts, video and audio materials): 399 sample materials and 8,268 photographic images
 Number of records: Approximately 10,000 (estimated)