Let's Go To The Museum / 100,000 Items Illustrate Ancient Ways Of Life

Let's go to the museum / 100,000 items illustrate ancient ways of life

By Noriya Nagashima / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterKokugakuin University includes many students who want to become Shinto priests or work in other jobs related to that religion, but the university also has a big presence in the field of archaeology.

Kokugakuin University Museum teaches visitors about how traditional Japanese culture has been established through exhibits focusing on two main pillars — archaeology and Shinto.

The museum was founded with about 4,000 excavated items and related documents provided by Kiyoyuki Higuchi (1909-1997), who was a professor emeritus of the university. Higuchi was an archaeologist known by the nickname "Umeboshi Hakase" (Dr. Pickled Plum). He donated the items in 1928, when he was a student at the university.

Other items have since been added to the collection, such as earthenware and haniwa clay figures collected by the university’s teaching staff and found by students during excavation activities. Currently, the museum possesses about 100,000 items.



Taku Yaginuma/Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

This stone pillow, designated as a national important cultural asset, was discovered through university research.


Taku Yaginuma/Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

Mirrors and dotaku bronze bell-shaped vessels are lit up at the museum.


Taku Yaginuma/Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

A reproduction of an altar of the Yoshida sect of Shinto, which was established in the Muromachi period (1336-1573)


The Yomiuri Shimbun


Upon entering the Archaeological Repository, visitors will notice samples of rope for forming decorative patterns. The ropes, about 100 of them, were reproduced based on analyses of patterns on the surfaces of Jomon doki earthenware.

An item called an ishi makura (stone pillow), which was used to support the head of a dead person buried in an ancient burial mound, is designated by the government as a national important cultural asset.

Yoshiko Tanaka, 75, of Sakado, Saitama Prefecture, visited the museum with her husband. She said she could imagine how people in ancient times lived. "It’s fun to think about history while looking at the exhibited items, and before I knew it, an hour had passed."

Also interesting is the Shinto Repository, an exhibition space that explains the differences in the building structures of Shinto shrines.

Ise Jingu shrine in Mie Prefecture has pillars on both sides to support the ridge beams, while Izumo Taisha shrine in Shimane Prefecture has nine pillars surrounding a large central pillar.

Shrine buildings all look the same if visitors don’t observe them carefully. But details such as the number of pillars, the location of entrances, and the inclination of the roofs differ in accordance with region or age.

The university’s predecessor was Koten Kokyujo, a facility for kokugaku (the study of Japanese classics) established in 1882, the 15th year of the Meiji era.

Partly because Prince Takahito, who was then head of the Arisugawa-no-miya royal family, served as the first president of the facility, the museum possesses many items related to the Imperial family. These include decorations and inro portable containers decorated with pieces of seashells.

Taro Fukasawa, a 39-year-old associate professor who is an archaeologist and the supervisor of the museum, said, "Earthenware, dietary culture, festivals and other [practices] change in keeping with the times. I hope visitors will see traces of how Japanese people went about their lives."


Kokugakuin University Museum


The museum was established in 2013 by integrating an archaeological archive dating to 1928 and a Shinto affairs archive established in 1963. Its permanent exhibition space comprises three repositories of archaeology, Shinto and the university’s history. Until Dec. 10 last year, a special exhibition about the development of Shinto and ancient religious rituals was held to celebrate the registration of Oki no Shima as a World Heritage site.


Address: 4-10-28 Higashi, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo

Opening hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The museum is open on an irregular schedule.

Admission: Free

Inquiries: (03) 5466-0359Speech