Hard-working history museums exhibits

At the Hachijō-jima Museum of History and Folklore, I encountered a particularly solid range of engaging exhibits. It reminded me that a good museum exhibition offers inspiration on how to present information and tell a story.

But first, a word about the islands

Inhabited since pre-historic times and used as a penal colony during the Edo period, the island of Hachijō-jima has always had a close relationship with mainland Japan even though it’s 300km away.

It’s the farthest of the Izu Seven Islands, all of which are Tokyo municipalities. The closest, Oshima, makes for a great day trip, while the others require a long weekend. The Tokai Kisen ferries leave from Takebashi Terminal, close to Hamamatsucho Station.

Plenty of Tokyo-ites have visited Oshima once or twice & most haven’t ventured any further. But the ones who have — well, they’ve usually been to a few & can tell you which one they want to visit next! The islands hold a wonderful allure, while managing to (mostly) stay under the tourism radar.

Map of Izu Islands, from Wikipedia
Map of Izu Islands, from Wikipedia

Six exhibits of ‘dry’ subject matter  

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Let’s start with this simple map, which shows how jōmon pottery made its way to the island. The names of present-day cities dotted along the coastline help us orient ourselves on this map. Then, there’s a layer which shows the geography of various regional styles that traveled an impressive distance to the Izu Islands.

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A diorama of how people in the pre-historic Jōmon era crossed the sea, because at this point you’re thinking about the 11hr ferry ride you took from Tokyo… and wondering what that trip would have looked like 6,000 years ago.

Well, this is it — a boat style that is quite close to what the Polynesians used to cross the Pacific. The little round things on the tip of the boat are baby boars, meant to breed and become food on the islands. Yes, baby boars! I bet they got plenty seasick.

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Tiny bits of accessories aren’t that interesting, even when they’re quite decorative and fun for the eye to explore. I liked how hanging them on a cut-out person made it a lot more real. Suddenly, the accessories become favored items that a long-lost ancestor adorned on their bodies to represent themselves. Not sure why they chose such a funny looking lady.

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By displaying photos next to old scenery paintings, we can imagine how the artist — probably a political criminal that was in the wrong place at the wrong time, now trying to amuse himself on the island — was inspired by the same scene.

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I love this infographic “calendar”, which communicate what kind of animals, fish and plants that people ate throughout the seasons. The outmost circle represents time (winter at the top, summer at the bottom) and the inner circles show the fruits of hunting, gathering and fishing.

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This diagram is probably a printout from a book, showing the types of fish that can be found at the varying depths of the surrounding sea. The right is the shallower Japan-side, and the left is the deeper Philippine Sea.

A few more photos…

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And that’s all I’ve got!

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