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Mariko Murata addresses the issues and possibilities of decolonising museums in Japan

by Richard Meckien - published May 17, 2023 11:05 AM - - last modified May 26, 2023 02:19 PM
Rights: Original version in Portuguese by Mauro Bellesa.

Exposição permanente do Museu e Parque Ainu Nacional Upopoy
Permanent exhibition of Ainu artifacts at the Upopoy National Ainu Museumnd Park

The practice of museum decolonisation will be examined by Japanese sociologist Mariko Murata (Kansai University) on May 29, at 10:00 am, when she will give the conference "Decolonising Museums and Exhibitions on the Indigenous Ainu in Japan."

The debaters will be Michiko Okano (Federal University of São Paulo), Sandra Mara Salles (Afro Brasil Museum), Susilene Elias de Melo (Worikg Museum), and Suzenalson da Silva Santos (Kanindé Museum). The mediator will be Ilana Goldstein (Federal University of São Paulo).

The activity has been organized by IEA's Research Group Fórum Permanente: Cultural System Between Public and Private in partnership with the Olavo Setubal Chair of Art, Culture, and Science. It will be held in English with simultaneous translation into Portuguese, taking place in the Alfredo Bosi Room, at the IEA. There will be a live transmission over the internet.

Mariko Murata
Sociologist Mariko Murata

Ainu, the earliest settlers of northern Japan, have been colonised and marginalised by the Japanese for centuries, according to Murata. They were also collected, exhibited, and subjected to othering in expositions and museum exhibitions. Meanwhile, the Ainu people themselves created some collections as part of their ethnic movement, also organizing ethnic tourism in their settlements.

In 2020, the Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park was opened in Hokkaido as the first national museum specialising in Ainu culture. While the movement to establish a national museum had started earlier, it became part of the government’s campaign to showcase the diversity of Japanese culture to the international audience only after Japan’s bid for the Tokyo 2020/2021 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The museum adopted various methods to decolonise the earlier representation of Ainu culture. However, since its opening, the museum received much criticism, especially due to its approach to storytelling from a first-person perspective of the Ainu.

For Murata, museum exhibitions are media that convey the museums’ messages directly to the audience; they are also sites of tension, negotiation, and contestation among the stakeholders.


Decolonising Museums and Exhibitions on the Indigenous Ainu in Japan
May 29, at 10:00 am
The event will be held in English and there will be simultaneous translation into Portuguese
Venue: Alfredo Bosi Room (IEA - 109, Rua da Praça do Relógio, ground floor, Cidade Universitária, São Paulo, SP)
Live transmission at
More information with Sandra Sedini ( or by phone (+55 11 3091 1687)

Photos (from the top): Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park and Kansai University