Memorial Lecture Movie

Japanese Culture and Cultural Exchange with Asia
With an introduction of Kyushu National Museum’s activities

I would like to talk about the origins of Kyushu National Museum and some of its activities. Dazaifu, where Kyushu National Museum is located, was the political, economic, and cultural center of Kyushu in ancient times. For geographical reasons, Kyushu has historically always had exchange with Asia. In particular, foreign trade during Japan’s Sakoku period of isolation was particularly unique. At that time, foreign trade was only permitted with China, Korea, and the Netherlands, and only at four designated ports: Nagasaki, Tsushima, Satsuma, and Matsumae. These were called Yottsu no Kuchi (Four Ports), and of these, three (Tsushima, Nagasaki and Satsuma) were located in what is now referred to as the Kyushu-Okinawa region. For this reason, exhibits that show how Japanese culture was shaped by this exchange with Asia form the core of the exhibits at Kyushu National Museum.

An Example of cultural transmission from the continent

As an example to illustrate cultural transmission, I will talk about calligraphic manuscripts, cultural transmission from the continent was the arrival of writing, followed by the introduction of Buddhism, the introduction of the Xizhi Wang style of Chinese calligraphy, the transition of writing style from Sanpitsu (“Three Brushes”) to Sanseki (“Three Traces”), the development of hiragana from man’yogana, and the establishment of a Japanese calligraphic style. Trade with the Song and Ming dynasties led to the introduction of Zen Buddhism to Japan, constituting the second wave of cultural transmission from the continent, and included Gozan culture, bokuseki (Zen style calligraphy), and suibokuga (ink wash painting). In addition, in the third wave, even as the country enforced its Sakoku isolationist foreign policy, Joseon missions to Japan and interactions on Dejima continued, and Confucianism, Ōbaku-shū Zen Buddhism, Karayo (Chinese-style Japanese Calligraphy), bunjin (literary) thought and bunjinga (paintings by literary artists) spread among the intellectual class in Japan.

About Kyushu National Museum

Kyushu National Museum is a new museum which opened its doors in 2005, and is located in the city of Dazaifu, in Fukuoka prefecture. As previously stated, Dazaifu, where the museum is located, has a long history, and flourished as a cosmopolitan city, the center of politics, economy, and culture of Kyushu in ancient times. Although people’s movement is restricted during the current COVID-19 pandemic, the museum remains open, but is taking precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.
Kyushu National Museum is jointly managed and operated by the national government and the local Fukuoka prefectural government. The movement that led to the establishment of the museum started about 40 years ago. The local community, residents throughout the region, and business communities in all the prefectures of Kyushu united together to work on the project. In addition, because land belonging to Dazaifu Tenmangū was donated to Fukuoka Prefecture, it meant that the building site for the museum was secured in advance, and this greatly facilitated the process of establishing the museum. The building has five floors above ground and two basement levels, stretches 160 meters from east to west and 80 meters from north to south, and is equipped with a seismic isolation system. As the museum is surrounded by a forest, visitors can enjoy cherry blossoms in spring, the chirping of insects in summer, crimson foliage in fall, and snowy landscape scenery in winter.

International Exchange Activities

At Kyushu National Museum, in order to fulfill our role as an institution that promotes cultural exchange with Asia, we actively engage in academic exchange with museums abroad. Currently, we have agreements with 11 institutions, of which 3 are in South Korea, 6 are in China, and 1 each are in Vietnam and Thailand.

Educational Outreach

At Kyushu National Museum, we actively engage in educational outreach services, with our slogan, “More engaging than the classroom, and more illuminating than a textbook.”

Conservation of Cultural Properties

The museum has Kyushu’s first comprehensive facility for conserving cultural properties and was an early adopter of X-ray CT scanning technology. The restoration work undertaken using this conservation equipment is not conducted by the museum’s staff, but rather is contracted out to companies that specialize in the restoration of national treasures and important cultural properties.

Striving for Continuous Improvement

We strive to be a museum that welcomes more visitors, where visitors can enjoy learning, by expanding our collection through purchases and gifts, creating easy-to-understand exhibits and promotional materials, and beautifying the museum’s environs by, for example, planting cherry trees. I believe that now is the time for the Japanese to form a new way of thinking—one that is summed up by the expression Wakonkansai (literally, “Japanese spirit imbued with Chinese learning”) coined by Sugawara no Michizane, the man enshrined at Dazaifu Tenmangu which is located immediately adjacent to Kyushu National Museum. This way of thinking should incorporate elements from a diversity of cultures and at the same time reflect Japanese spirit and wisdom, and should be something that can be a contribution to the world.