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<< Suggestion to Three Museums - Snow Culture>>

In April 2004, UMEX was asked by the Association of Three Museums consisting of Tokamachi City Museum, Suzuki Bokushi Memorial Hall in Shiozawa and Tomioka White Art Museum in Muikamachi to write up suggestions from the view point of non-Japanese regarding how to improve those museums. Those three museums share the same concept, that is, relation between snow and living in UONUMA.

UMEX set up a task force for this project with IUJ students and visited the three museums on May 8. We reported our results at the meeting of the Three Museums on May 21, 2004. We enjoyed a lively discussion with the attendants surpassing our expectation. Our suggestions were mentioned in the Niigata-Nippo (newspaper) on May 25, 2004.

The task force's members are as follows:
Mr. Ken Sudo (1st year, Graduate School of International Management)
Mr. Yuki Masujima (2nd year, Graduate School of International Relations)
Mr. Shunsuke Okano (1st year, Graduate School of International Relations)
Mr. Jorge Primavera (Philippines, 1st year, Graduate School of International Relations)
Mr. Mihai Isacovici (Romania, 1st year, Graduate School of International Relations)
Mr. Anton Kim (Uzbekistan, 1st year, Graduate School of International Relations)
Ms. Etsuko Ohira (UMEX)
Ms. Satoko Takeda (UMEX)

I. Impressions of the three museums

(1) Tokamachi City Museum
The Tokamachi City Museum successfully and effectively incorporates events in Tokamachi's history which have shaped and influenced the culture and way of life of its people. Three main factors that had and continues to have an important impact on Tokamachi culture are appropriately highlighted: heavy snowfall during winter from which a totally unique and distinct way of life developed; the weaving industry, whose development may partly be attributed to long winters with continuous snowfall; and the Shinano River, which made agriculture and fishing possible, allowing people to develop a way of life which is highly dependent on it.

The collections of the museum are quite extensive and include artifacts and specimens dating back to as far as the primitive times. It is very interesting to see the expositions and the scenes in real size because it gives one a quick and real idea about how life in those times was like.

By putting emphasis on snow, its textile weaving industry, and the Shinano River, the Tokamachi City Museum successfully presents to the visitor, a glimpse of Tokamachi's colorful and very unique culture and way of life. Lastly, showcasing these three very interesting things all in one place Tokamachi Town Museum makes a good investment for the tourist.

(2) Suzuki Bokushi Memorial Hall
The fact that a memorial hall was built in his honor emphasizes the significant contribution of Suzuki Bokushi's works to the development of literature about life in snowy areas like around Shiozawa in particular, and in Japan in general almost 300 years ago. The exhibits of his literary and artistic works show how talented and keen an observer Suzuki Bokushi was. More interesting than the items exposed in this museum are the stories in his book, "Snow Country Tales," describing the way of life in snow country. His efforts at having these stories published are really impressive, not giving up even if it took 40 years before a publisher finally agreed to do so.

The hall itself is really impressive. The wooden structure makes use of natural light more than any other wooden building we have been to so far. The strong points of the museum (aside from its collections) are the sense of space and light that one observes which relaxes the eyes and leaves the heart and mind peacefully enjoying the beauty of the museum.

The chemistry class that some of the staff were giving to a group of kids that we witnessed, was really interesting and a good idea to attract Japanese visitors and schools. This is one good way of acquainting kids to museums at such n early age. However, some tourists may not find this very interesting.

(3) Tomioka White Art Museum
This art museum is more like an art gallery than a museum. The only thing different is that the works on display are permanently those of Mr. Soichiro Tomioka. His distinctive style and choice of colors truly sets him apart as an artist. Featuring his works in this museum is an apt way of honoring him. Surely, his choice of colors and medium was greatly influenced by his hometown, Takada, presently known as Joetsu City. His creation of a special kind of white paint whose quality does not deteriorate over time is truly remarkable.

The explanation by the staff gave us a very good idea of how Mr. Tomioka created his paintings.

The atmosphere that dominates the building is really very enjoyable. The large exhibition hall, with plenty of light and nice music, complements the beautiful black and white paintings of Mr. Tomioka.

The museum itself is an architectural achievement. It is like a white shell in the middle of rice paddies. The coffee shop with its majestic view of Hakkai-san will truly make an impression among its visitors. It is a very nice place to sit down, relax and have a good chat.

It is a very good idea to attract more visitors through organizing other cultural activities, like concerts.

II. Specific Suggestions for Each Museum

(1) Tokamachi Town Museum:
・ A quick renovation of the building as well as of the concept driving the museums.
・ Add more dynamism to the collection in order to eliminate the sense of stillness and dimness the representations may give to the museums. For such endeavour, light, music and glass panels will work. Also, allow the visitor to use a textile machine or one of the tools to fish salmons in the Shinano river.
・ Use existing monitors to explain what museum cannot exhibit, but which is essential in making the picture complete. For example: a popular, scientific explanation of snow formation.
・ Provide English language information cards for the displays. Without any descriptions available to foreign tourists, they will be left to just guessing what the use and importance of an exhibit is. Also, incorporate English-speaking staff or volunteers to explain the different expositions to foreigner visitors, for free.
・ Exhibit more of clothing of the people of the past; Ordering the displays in a stricter chronological order.
・ Highlight the main attractions of the museums - like the Sasayama Site excavations items, snow artefacts, the big boat that once was floating on Shinano river, the big sewing machines and small textile artefacts (I remember the handkerchief on which 1000 people sew in order to give their blessings to the one going to fight the war) and many others.
・ Support demonstration activities of old craftsmanship (kind of workshops for local people, students and foreign visitors).
・ Organise activities related to its featured artefacts (during the winter, maybe it can build those 4m high snow walls between narrow paths, or in the summer, it can simulate an archaeological site in which students can pretend to be archaeologists, and if they discover something they may keep that item - of course, a duplicate of one of museums items).

(2) Bokushi Suzuki Memorial Hall
・ Introduce more relevant displays in the museum and order the displays in a harmonized way.
・ Incorporate more audio-visuals, scenes and inter-active activities, for example, performances of some of the tales.
・ Activate and make accessible existing Q&A electronic system (it didn't work when we were there).
・ The exhibits don't have a lot of descriptions in English though, so unless a tourist knows Nihon-go very well, or is accompanied by an interpreter, the items won't be fully appreciated. Also, incorporate English-speaking staff or volunteers to explain the different expositions to foreigner visitors, for free.
・ Organise more events involving local people and tourists (I really appreciated the presentation made to elementary school children by a group of students and their professor from Niigata University while we were visiting the museums - good idea to involve children in the mysteries of snow, water and cold). ・ Promote the culture incorporated in Bokushi's work - textiles, amusement, legends, folklore.

(3) Tomioka White Art Museum
This museum is the most specialized one the smallest one. It should appeal to people with interest and understanding of paint art and it definitely needs to be extended.
・ One of the ways to perform extensions is to place photos of the natural phenomena he painted so a visitor would be able to compare the real photo and the unique view of the author about the place.
・ There is a strong interest to see not only the paintings but also the objects used by the painter in his everyday life that would tell me more about the painter's life beyond his work. Therefore, incorporate audio-visuals and inter-active activities, for example, allowing the visitors to paint something with white colour on the way Soichiro Tomioka used to do.
・ Paintings should be orders in thematic or chronological order.
・ The museum itself is an architectural achievement. It is like a white shell in the middle of rice paddies. The coffee shop with its magnificent view of Hakkai-san will truly make an impression among its visitors. Put it in value!!!
・ The Hall can be the host of local / prefecture / national contests, conferences or concerts.
・ The mini Kissaten in the lobby of the museum can improve its menu and transform its view on the mountain in another trademark
・ Organize painting camps for interested people (students as well) during the winter (and summer, during the holiday period). On these occasions, they can familiarize with Tomioka's technique, and maybe, one of the participants will unveil the secret of his pure white.
・ Incorporate explanations and a brochure in English. Also, involve English-speaking staff or volunteers to explain the different expositions to foreigner visitors, for free.

III. General Suggestions

(1) Advertisement
Museums are located in the area that is far away from usual tourist itineraries and therefore need to advertise heavily in order to attract tourist to the area. Creation of a Multilanguage web-site that is highly searchable in major search engines like goggle, yahoo, MSN with distinct for Niigata prefecture and museums in particular key words would be of great help. The contents of the website should include a good description of all of the 3 museums, provide virtual samples of the displays, and thoroughly explain various ways how to get to the museums and a brief description of other external attractions that may attract the tourists. For example, the web-site may briefly describe other temples, shrines, castles, and events in the area that may attract the tourists. The museums should make use of any positive externality that would convince people to come and visit them.

Brochures with accompanying maps should be made available in the major cities in Niigata such as Niigata City, Nagaoka, Joetsu, as well as ryokans, hotels and universities, where tourists are most likely to pass by.

Museums can attract group visits from local schools and universities with the help of presentations and school administration arrangements. Museums can be advertised among IUJ students.

(2) Transportation
The museums are tolerably distant, but still distant from each other. For those who come as tourists, public and frequent transportation is essential. However, provided that marginal cost of such a setup will be extremely high and most likely not profitable, I suggest to make museums a part of a bigger package that includes other places (such as Aizu-Wakamatsu) and involves intensive sightseeing.

If possible, proportionate transport between the main train station and the three museums to foreign visitors included in the price of the ticket for the three museums.

Since transportation is not readily available to people wanting to go to these museums, the network administering these three museums should make available an online tour booking service to make it convenient for tourists to go to these three museums all in the same day.

There could be organized one-day package for tourists, including transportation and lunch, for groups of more than 4 persons. Also, the package can be promoted with the help of an Internet site or in international universities (in IUJ, UMEX can organize such a trip - of course, discounts for students will help increase the demand for the tourist package).

(3) English Language
It is essential for foreign tourists to make sense from what they see in the museums. Each display in all museums should be provided with an information card that would brief English speaking tourists as to the nature of the artifact and story behind it. Cohesive explanation would extremely facilitate and add more pleasure to tourist experience and reduce a need for an English speaking guide to a minimum. Card making is one-time, low cost act that would bring many benefits to the museums.

Hiring an extra guide with English language abilities is not cost effective. However, I would suggest (during the next hiring session) hire a regular guide with an ability to speak English. Of course, if budget is big enough hiring an English speaking guide is a big advantage. English speaking volunteers would be of great help.

Brochures in English would be of great help for tourists so the museums may want to print those.

(4) Interactivity
Things a best perceived and learned through interaction. Therefore we offer a suggestion to incorporate audio-visuals and inter-active activities, for example, allowing the visitors to paint something with white color on the way Soichiro Tomioka in Tomioka White Art Museum, performances of some of the tales in Bokushi Suzuki Memorial, or allowing the visitor to use a textile machine or to use one of the tools to fish salmons in the Shinano river in Tokamachi Town Museum.

(5) Expositions Overlapping
The three museums should decide what to expose together. Nowadays, Tokamachi Town Museum and Bokushi Suzuki Memorial Hall expositions are overlapping each other. As the three museums are offering a ticket together, the contents should not be repeated.
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