People and Society

Toru Sasaki

Study of Museums, Art Museums, Aquariums and Zoos

Toru Sasaki , Professor

Graduate School of Letters  (Department of Humanities and Human Sciences, Faculty of Letters)

High school : Hokkaido Sapporo Kita High School

Academic background : Graduate School of Letters, Hokkaido University

Research areas
Museum Management, Cultural Anthropology
Research keywords
museum, curator, management, evaluation, cultural anthropology

What made you start your current research?

Did you ever have an experience like
this at a museum?
(Inside the Africa Exhibition Room
of the National Museum of Ethnology) 

Let me first say that my current job is my fourth occupation.
First, I worked at a travel agency to transform my hobby into my work and engaged in tour conducting and sales. Facilities where I guided my clients always included museums. Later, I wanted to study again, so I went on to graduate school and, after completing the course, became a researcher of a private think tank, which became my second occupation. There I engaged in research and planning of museum and other facility construction.
My third workplace was a museum. I was a curator involved in introducing cultures of northern indigenous peoples from the perspective of cultural anthropology. You may be unfamiliar with the occupation of curator. Curators are specialized staff working in historical museums, art museums, aquariums, zoos, botanical gardens, science museums, etc. They plan and implement exhibitions and education programs, collect, preserve, cultivate and study collections (or animals / plants). They stage museums from behind the scenes. As described, museums were always an integral part of my work experience.
However, I was unhappy with two things when I was working in a museum. They were: (1) shortage in human resources who lead management, and (2) lack in data to support management in many museums in Japan. I felt this was why precious collections and curators’ abilities were underutilized and that the social role and value of museums were not well communicated to local residents which led to a weak presence of museums. My desire to solve these problems was the force that made me move to the University, which is my fourth workplace.



What are your research themes?

My research themes are how to accumulate data to support management described above and how to use such data for management.

For example, one of my themes is “the study of evaluation systems and their practical application.” Up to around 2000, most Japanese museums did not actively collect data of visitors to special exhibitions that they held. In addition to not having visitors’ satisfaction level or complaint related data, they also had no information regarding gender, age, or area of residence. By introducing an evaluation, however, you can determine how much a special exhibition contributed to the museums social role. By compiling the evaluation results into a report, you can help common understanding of the exhibition’s effectiveness and need among museum staff and local residents. Because evaluation results contain many hints to improve future special exhibitions, such reports will enable smooth improvement activities.



How can students of Hokkaido University participate in museum activities?

There are three ways.

One is to take nine subjects, including Introduction to Museums, Museum Exhibitions and Museum Materials, in order to acquire the qualification of curator. I also teach some of these subjects. Starting from their second year, all undergraduate students of sciences or humanities of Hokkaido University are eligible to take the subjects to acquire the qualification. Finally they can practice in an actual museum.

The second way is to participate in various programs provided by the Hokkaido University Museum. There are a wide variety of programs, including the Parataxonomist Training Course, Exhibition Renewal Practicum, and student participation projects. Students completing the prescribed program are certified as “museum meisters.”

The third way is to undertake museum research as the subject of your bachelor's thesis as I did. There are various possible themes. For example, after studying feedback from visitors to an aquarium, you can develop and propose to the aquarium an education program considering the features of the fish of the aquarium. If you found a tool that belongs to a museum but the use of which is not known well, you may be able to cast light on its use method and value at the time they were used through survey of relevant information and literature.

I hope many students who have an interest in museums will enter Hokkaido University and pursue study in the field.

Lecture from the course Introduction to Museum Studies

Created through the Exhibition Renewal Practicum 
at the Hokkaido University Museum
(Exhibiting the research results of Professor Yasuchika Hasegawa 
of the Faculty of Engineering who appears in the photo above)



(1) Shinichi Ueyama and Ikuko Inaba, The Museum as a Catalyst for the Revitalization of the City: Management Practice and Evaluation (museum ga toshi wo saisei suru), Nikkei Publishing, 2003. 

(2) Sasaki Tooru and Osamu Kamei, Museum Management (hakubutsukan keieiron), The Society for the Promotion of the Open University of Japan, 2013