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

A Japan-US Joint Study to Enrich and Connect Korean Collections Databases

Research period: April 2017 - March 2020 / Project for Database Improvement (project period: max. 2 years) Coordinator OTA Shimpei

Reserch Theme List

Objectives

The world's interest in the culture of the Korean Peninsula has been rising, with concomitantly growing social demand for related databases. Minpaku, which maintains a very large collection of sample materials related to the Korean Peninsula, consisting of approximately 30,000 items, has developed one of the world's largest databases that might serve such demands. Approximately 2,700 items, however, lack adequate information. The primary objective of this project is to supplement this information.
Simply having an elaborate database does not promote its international use. A similar point been indicated for databases of the American Museum of Natural History. A second objective of this project is to create an integrative entrance (portal) to the Korean Peninsula database of the American Museum of Natural History and to promote its international use.
The third objective is to raise the quality of information related to the materials and the portal itself using the forum-style function of the portal by working with researchers at other institutions in Japan and abroad, which have similar databases. This is also expected to encourage the participation of other institutions in the portal and to help examine the feasibility of its use by the public.

Description

This project will follow the following process.
(1) Improve information related to 1,200 items among the 2,700 items with inadequate information found in the sample materials related to the Korean Peninsula held at Minpaku (approximately 30,000 items comprising 9% of all materials). This improvement will be performed in line with the characteristics of an existing database for the food culture of the Korean Peninsula.
(2) Support a sample material database already released by The American Museum of Natural History, with plans to add approximately 300 photographs and videos taken by the late Roy Chapman Andrews, a naturalist who became the director of the American Museum of Natural History, and his then wife (a photographer) to the database. Such efforts of Minpaku and the American Museum of Natural History are conducted through a system of mutual cooperation and joint research system based on an academic exchange agreement signed in fiscal year 2017. [now in the first year]
(3) Discuss ideas related to the portal built between Minpaku and the American Museum of Natural History and ascertain its specifications. The overview of the portal that has been proposed in discussions held to date is provided in a separate sheet
(We will also visit the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian) (United States), National Museum of Ethnology (Netherlands), and National Museum of Denmark (Denmark) through a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (Young Scientists B) and seek their ideas related to the portal).
(4) Improve the academic information related to the remaining 1,500 items among the 2,700 items with inadequate information in the sample material database held by Minpaku. This improvement will enable us to integrate the data with the existing database for the food culture on the Korean Peninsula.
(5) Build a portal system with functionality to span multiple databases based on additional information related to the databases of the two museums organized through the activities described above. Use the system as a trial among relevant parties and build a provisional system. [now in the second year]
(6) Release the resultant portal to researchers at domestic and overseas institutions having similar databases and improve information related to materials using the forum-style function. Seek ideas that can raise the quality of the portal itself. Potential institutions include The Institute for the Study of Japanese Folk Culture at Kanagawa University, Shibusawa Memorial Museum, Miyamoto Memorial Foundation, Tokushima Kenritsu Toriiryuzo Memorial Museum, National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian) (United States), National Museum of Ethnology (Netherlands), National Museum of Denmark (Denmark), Seoul National University Museum (South Korea), and the National Folk Museum of Korea (South Korea).
(7) The Seoul National University Museum and the National Folk Museum of Korea particularly will receive historical evidence from source communities.
(8) Organize the collected ideas and invite researchers at domestic and overseas institutions such as the above candidates to discuss ideas and hold an international workshop at Minpaku. This international symposium is expected not only to help obtain ideas that will increase the quality of the portal before its release, but also to solicit institutions that will participate in the portal in the future.
(9) Partial repair of the portal
(10) Release the database and portal to the public [now in the third year]

Expected results

Note: Results also reveal what kind of database it would be.
A database that includes the sample materials and information related to samples related to the Korean Peninsula maintained by Minpaku, which is useful in an integrated manner including the food culture database, is expected to be ever more enhanced and completed. The portal will be able to retrieve sample material databases, photograph and video databases, and information related to the materials of both Minpaku and the American Museum of Natural History, which is expected to broaden the accessibility of the American Museum of Natural History considerably to academic institutions in Japan. Conversely, a tool for people in the English-speaking world to learn about and to make use of Minpaku, its sample materials, and information related to the materials will be completed. The forum-style function will facilitate access to information related to sample materials and photograph materials from around the world, thereby providing a space for research related to the Korean Peninsula. Furthermore, the portal format allows subsequent augmentation from databases of other institutions, from which a ripple effect of growth through projects of other institutions can also be expected after the completion of this project.

Annual Report

Outcomes from 2018
1. The state of the implementation of this year's research

 Since last year, information has been added to 3,000 items of the material artifacts, photos, and visual recordings related to the Korean Peninsula owned by Minpaku, for which metadata is insufficient. Information has been also added to all material artifacts, photos, and visual recordings associated with the Korean Peninsula housed at the American Museum of Natural History (hereinafter “AMNH”), with which an international joint research has been conducted. In consultation with the National Folk Museum of Korea, with which Minpaku concluded an academic exchange agreement, collaboration with Korean source communities has started.
 For this year, the project consists of the following four subprojects: (1) Records for 10,800 items related to the Minpaku collection were added (keywords for material artifacts: 600 items + Hangeul notation for material artifact names: 600 items + romanization of material artifact names written in Hangeul: 600 items plus thumbnail images: 3,000 items plus Japanese names finally determined for material artifacts: 3,000 items plus English names of material artifacts: 3,000 items equals 10,800 items) ; (2) Among the artifacts owned by AMNH, records for 4,412 items required for linkage with Minpaku’s artifacts were added (Hangeul notation for material artifact names: 1,088 items plus romanization of material artifact names written in Hangeul: 1,088 items plus keywords for material artifacts: 1,088 items plus keywords for photo materials: 30 items plus thumbnail images: 1,118 items equals 4,412 items); (3) For integrative classification of the artifacts owned by the two museums, our activities were grasped by the faculty members of AMNH while revising with them the categories temporarily created last year for user-friendly ones; and (4) Collaboration with two groups in the source community in Korea was attempted, for planning of full-scale collaboration with source communities expected in the next year.
 Categorization using key words, one of the features of this project has been further improved by Minpaku and AMNH researchers with the cooperation of Korean and Dutch researchers.

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

 The above (1), (2), and (3) were conducted as joint research with Minpaku’s two faculty members in charge, AMNH’s two faculty members in charge (Laurel Kendall, Alex de Voogt), and five young researchers (foreign students) aged 35 or younger, including four women, who had not experienced academic activities in any English-speaking country. The faculty members jointly thought out the materials, providing young researchers an opportunity of working part-time or as research assistants. Particularly, three young researchers were qualified as visiting researchers at AMNH. Thus, we could provide them an opportunity to broaden their activities as researchers, in addition to making progress in their own research.
 Regarding (4), in consultation with the National Folk Museum of Korea, with which Minpaku concluded an academic exchange agreement, the chief investigator collaborated with two groups in the source community.
 First, the chief investigator collaborated with a Korean women’s group seeking knowledge to live better lives today from their traditional culture. They responded by saying that they would rediscover their daily lives anew by using this database. For example, when I showed the data on Minpaku’s pojagi (Korean patchwork wrapping cloth) created in the early 20th century, they came up with a good idea to improve their everyday lives by saying, “We don’t go on using our eco shopping bags, to which we do not feel personal attachments, leading to a non-ecofriendly result. Our own pojagi bags created from old cloth holding good family memories will solve this problem.”
 Additionally, a group of people born in the 1960s who experienced the South Korean democratic movements, which the chief investigator has been studying for 20 years, also cooperated with us. Many preceding researches pointed out that their life histories are filled with references to the national politics and global economy, which results in putting restraints on their very limited personal memories owing to social or collective memories in macro-level politics or economy. The research which the chief investigator has conducted so far also shows a strong tendency to tell their own life histories through national politics, such as progress in democratization or global economy like the limit of capitalism. Thus, the work to dredge up their individual memoires was always hard. However, they told completely different life stories, looking at the artifact data of Minpaku. I finally heard their memorable days when they lived together with their grandparents and impressive events they saw or heard at the time, which were inspired by the traditional living goods in the database. Looking at the material artifacts in the 1970s and 1980s, they talked about their ordinary younger days without political or economic issues, which they had not spoken of before. A few days after the hearing survey, one of the members wrote in her blog, saying, “Oh, my life was full of good memories rather than the democratic movements, and my life was richer than expected.” Through the advancement of these tasks in the next year, new research development, which will release the people in the democratic movement generation from their political or economic memories, is expected. At the same time, I expect that this project will provide them with an opportunity to rediscover themselves.

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

Publications
A. de Voogt, S. C. Ota and J. W. B. Lang
2018 “Work Ethic in a Japanese Museum Environment: A Case Study of the National Museum of Ethnology”, Bulletin of the National Museum of Ethnology 42(4): 435-448. S. C. Ota
In print “Academic Hypothesis and Social Reliability: On the Dual Structure of the Korean Spiritual World,” M. Hayakawa, A. Kato & K. Matsukawa (eds.) The Interpretative Turn and Multiple Anthropologies.
In print “The First Pancake Is Always Lumpy: Toward a Poliphonic Exhibition of Korean Ancestor Worships,” Senri Ethnological Studies.
Shimpei Ota
2018 “Smallpox Scars”; “Education Science Education Communication” 445:2.
2018 “When Kim-jang is Continued – From Women’s Collaboration to a Family Event or an Urban Event”; “vesta” 112, Ajinomoto Foundation for Dietary Culture: 38-41.
2018 “When Free Retrieval is Inconvenient – An Attempt to Change the Retrieval of Sample Materials”; the 163rd issue of “Minpaku Newsletter,” National Museum of Ethnology, NIHU: 10-11.
Hisahiko Kamizuru, Shimpei Ota, Takahiro Ozaki, Yukihiro Kawaguchi (Ed.)
In print 『문화인류학에서 보는 동아시아』, Jee-hwan Park (Translated).

Outcomes from 2017
1. The state of the implementation of this year's research

We have improved information related to materials in the database of 3,000 items related to the Korean Peninsula held at Minpaku.
More specifically, we have added the Romanized versions of Korean names to all the items in the collection according to the South Korean Revised Romanization of year 2000 specified by the South Korean government. Although this activity was not in the plan, we concluded after discussions with research collaborators in the U.S. that such Romanization was necessary for a database that could be used internationally.
Additionally, we accomplished more tasks than initially expected in the plan. We supplemented Hangul titles which had been missing from 2,400 items and added keywords for category search. We were able to correct information about two items, which had Japanese names that caused problems, and proved the inaccuracy of the years of production indicated for two other items, which were questionable, through the supervision of experts from the U.S. and South Korea.
Through these activities, all the information attached to 1,099 items in the collection used for the current exhibition has been upgraded to the optimal condition as of this time. Furthermore, we have been able to reduce omissions and inaccuracies of information related to the materials in the storage area faster than we had initially expected.

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

We have been able to identify the types of data required of an internationally useful database by carrying out the activities above while discussing issues with research collaborators from the U.S. and South Korea. By virtue of such discussions, we have been able realize, particularly that the 2000 South Korean Revised Romanization approved by the South Korean government should be used rather than katakana or the McCune–Reischauer Romanization, which requires the use of diacritical marks, for the presentation of names in the local language. We consider that this has made the database more versatile.
The effective progress of the discussion presented above helped us complete the improvement of 3,000 items in the collection and 5,404 records, which exceeded 1,200 items and 3,600 records initially planned for the current fiscal year.
We regard the correction made to the questionable years of production initially indicated for the two items as worthy of recognition, which was achieved thanks only to the research collaborators in the South Korean source community and the U.S. collaborators as a third party in a neutral position.
As noted at the planning stage, however, materials related to the Korean Peninsula stored at Minpaku include hundreds of items with inadequate information. Furthermore, adding Korean titles to all the Korean Peninsula-related materials stored at Minpaku based on the 2000 South Korean Revised Romanization will require another several months of work.

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

Research lecture
Shimpei Ota. “Research, Exhibition, Education, and Korean Cultural Studies at the National Museum of Ethnology, Japan.” Core Project of College of Humanities at Kyungpook National University. February 5, 2018.