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Cultural Transmission against collective Amnesia: Bodies and things in Heritage Practices Opening Remark

Good evening everyone in Japan, and good morning to European colleagues.
I am very much honoured to open this series of seminars “Cultural Transmission against collective Amnesia: Bodies and things in Heritage Practices”. This series is a part of our Museum’s ongoing Special Research Project “Contemporary Civilization and the Future of Humanity: Environment, Culture and Humans”, which is implemented with a solution-focused approach to tackle urgent challenges facing our contemporary civilization. The project is composed of 7 research programs. The program called “Humanity and Communities in Cultural Heritage in the Age of Digital Technology” is one of the 7 programs, and the organizing body of this series of seminars.

I understand today’s seminar is the first meeting of the “Collective Amnesia” series. Originally, the seminar was planned to be held in the form of two or three days international symposium at our museum, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan. Because of the covid-19 pandemic, the symposium has been transformed into 5 webinars held every weekend between February and March, 2021. But I am very pleased to host this series of academic meetings on-line to deepen our understanding of “Cultural heritage”, or by using the term Dr. Iida, the convenor of this webinar is using, “cultural transmission”


I would thought that the form of holding a series of webinars to realize a large scale international academic forum would be a model of organizing academic meeting under covid 19 pandemic.

Museums used to be considered as places for preservation and exhibition of the tangible objects of the past. But now museums are becoming places for people to meet and transmit collective memories from one generation to another. The concept of memory is one of the central focuses in museum activities.

Let me start with introducing our institution, National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku in Japanese abbreviation),

Our museum, Minpaku, opened to the public in 1977 . Although it is called a Museum”, National Museum of Ethnology is basically a research institute for ethnology/cultural anthropology, founded as an Inter-University Research Institute. It is equipped with museum facilities as well as post-graduate educational facilities. Around 60 members of the academic staff carry out field work in various parts of the world.

Minpaku currently holds 345,000 artifacts in its collection, which makes it one of the largest collection of ethnographic materials that has been built since the late 20th century. As for the scale of the facilities, Minpaku is now the largest ethnographic museum in the world.

As for the issue of “cultural transmission”, I would like to introduce our museum’s unique activity related to Ainu people, the indigenous people in Japan.

At our museum, every year, we receives three or four Ainu craft artists for about a month so that they may scrutinize our Ainu collection, by actually touch and handle objects. Some participants publish books based on their research of our collection, and others make replicas of the old pieces which were made by their predecessors and ancestors.

During their stay, we also hold an Ainu traditional ceremony called ‘kamuinomi’. According to Ainu belief, all beings including animals, plants and even houses and artefacts have got spirits called ‘kamui’. So, at our museum, once a year, we hold ‘kamuinomi’.ceremony to comfort spirits which are related to the objects stored in our museum. For the ceremony, objects usually kept in our storage are actually used . Whenever I joined the ceremony, I always feel that it is an occasion when our collection are infused with real life.
Being based on the experience with this collaboration with Ainu people. Minpaku is now promoting the “Info-Forum Museum” project. The project is now composed of 18 programs covering the whole world, and aims to share the information of our collection with not only researchers and visitors of the museum, but also with the people of the local communities where the artifacts were made or collected, and in the case of photographs and films, where the photographs and films were originally taken, and put newly gained knowledge, understandings, and even memories concerning each material into the database for subsequent sharing, leading ultimately to new joint research, joint exhibition, and community activities.

In some cases, especially those of Taiwan and Korea, real objects were brought back to the source countries and communities, exhibited there, and newly acquired information relevant to the objects were added to the data-base . In other cases, source community members are invited to our museum. They study our collection in detail by handling each object, and add pieces of information of the object including, not only it’s name and usage, but also the reviewer’s memory and experiences concerning the object. A workshop might be held in situ to see and discuss about the objects by means of images gained from internet. Whole process are filmed, and the videos are also to be kept in the data-base.

As for audio-visual materials, old photos are brought to the communities where the photo was taken several decades ago, and shared with community members in the form of albums. Usually people receive them with great joy. Some people shed tears in looking images of their granpas or granmas.

Many of the source community members say that they participate in the projects for the purpose of making their children and grandchildren access to the information and memories relevant to their own objects. Through the “Info-forum museum” project, our museum is now becoming a sort of “memory-bank” of humanity, and a platform for “our” building the future.

For this reason, I am very honoured to host this webinars on “Cultural transmission against Collective Amnesia” at our museum.

I have gone through the abstracts and papers of this webinars, and found a lot of inspiring discussion about the issues surrounding the “transmission” of cultural heritage and memories.

I do hope, and I do believe, that the Serial Academic Webinars “Cultural Transmission against Collective Amnesia: Bodies and Things in Heritage Practices” will provides us with fresh insights into the challenges and possibilities of “heritage practices”, and open a new field of collaboration among all of us participating in this webinars.

Once again, I sincerely welcome all of you to this Webinar . Please enjoy your time with us!

Thank you very much.