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Between Diversity and Decolonisation: Museums as Media, and the Representation of Ainu in Museums in Japan

  • Prof. Mariko Murata (Kansai University)
Wednesday 7 December 2022
Leiden Lecture Series in Japanese Studies
On campus (Lipsius 147) and online via Zoom

This lecture will be held via Zoom: click here for the link.


In this lecture, I will discuss ‘museums as media’ by looking into the politics of display and the representation of the indigenous Ainu in museums in Japan. 

While museums around the world are tackling the process of decolonisation with reference to slavery, Orientalism, and the representation of indigenous peoples, museums in Japan show little interest in decolonising their institutions and collections (for example, objects ‘collected’ by Imperial Japan from Korea, Taiwan, China, and the indigenous Ainu). This ‘indifference’ is largely grounded in the mindset of contemporary Japanese society which was formed during the postwar era. However, when the Olympic and Paralympic Games were held in Japan in 2020/2021, Ainu culture was suddenly propelled as a symbol of the country's efforts to promote diversity. Can the promotion of diversity be a pathway to decolonisation? Or are 'diversity' and 'decolonisation' separate discourses that do not intersect? I will examine Ainu-related museums in Japan to shed light on this matter, the newest being the Upopoi National Ainu Museum and Park which opened in Hokkaido in 2020. By considering the politics, negotiations and confrontations embedded in the process of displaying Ainu culture, I will demonstrate how museums act as communication media and platforms for discussing these issues. 

About Mariko Murata

Mariko Murata is a Professor in the Department of Sociology, Kansai University. She is currently a Research Fellow at the International Institute of Asian Studies in Leiden. She specializes in Media and Cultural Studies, and Museum Studies. She received her PhD from the Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies, the University of Tokyo in 2012. Her research focuses on ‘museums as media’; she considers the museum space, collection, and practice as sites of dynamic and complex communication.

Her recent papers include “Fostering Diversity through Art/Museums” (Dialogue with Diversities, Iwabuchi K.(ed), Seikyusha Publishing, 2021) and “Decolonizing Museums through Exhibits/Exhibitions: methods to deconstruct the ‘colonial technology’” (Bulletin of the Faculty of Sociology, Kansai University, vol. 53(1), 2021). Her publications include Museums as Ideology: Media Studies on Objects and Spaces (Jimbun Shoin, 2014) and Popular Culture Museums: Collecting, Sharing and Consuming Culture (Minerva Shobo, 2013). 

Link to the lecture (Zoom)

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