For a field trip for one of my classes I got to go to the Liberty Osaka Human Rights Museum. It’s the only human rights museum in Japan. Though it has recently lost government funding, it’s still free for elementary and middle school students, as well as senior citizens. The most expensive entry fee is 500 yen for a special exhibit.
The particular course I’m taking is called Culture, Power, and Belonging: The Making of Minorities and Majorities in Japan. Throughout the course, we have read and discussed topics about different minority groups in Japan like the Ainu, Burakumin, Ryukyuans, and Zainichi Koreans. The museum itself has information on all of these groups and more.
The weekend we went there was a special exhibit going on featuring a particular activist. I forget his name (hoping to come back to this later) but he is a Manchurian-born Japanese citizen. When he was around 6 years old his parents died and he started working to support himself and his siblings, he never was privileged enough to attend school. Fast forward to his mid-20s, after coming to Japan he was met with incredible difficulties since he was technically an illiterate adult. At this time, Japan had schools that these adults could go to, to learn basic literacy skills so they could function in day-to-day life, give them agency, express themselves, and more. Around the 1970s, the Japanese government tried to close these schools. Around this time was when the activist stepped up and became the poster-man for protests. He was a living, breathing example of how these schools worked.
The exhibit was filled with relics from this protest age. It featured photographs, school books, written post cards, the clothes the activist wore, banners he and other protesters painted pleading to save the schools, modern day support of these schools, and more. The most amazing thing was that he was actually there, and we got to meet him. We was very friendly, and thankfully my teacher did a lot of translating to help us understand his Japanese.
After the special exhibit we at lunch at the museum cafe before we entered the main portion of the museum. Our professor had explained to us that recently (within the last decade or so) the museum had been criticized for not being “kid friendly” enough, so if you ever get a chance to go you’ll see many different interactive exhibits suited for children. This includes pillars simulating the different stages of birth in the middle of a room outlined with statistics on school bullying, children with disabilities, domestic violence, Japanese abducted by North Koreans, and more. The museum had volunteer attendants walking around to help elaborate on particular parts of the exhibits.
The next portion of the museum focused more on minority groups in Japan. They even have a “dress up” area where you can try on traditional Korean and Ainu clothes. This portion of the museum seems to be more adult oriented, considering it had many videos (including recordings of spoken Ainu) you could watch with subtitles in 2 languages (Japanese and English). Unfortunately the museum itself is only open for about four hours/day due to budget cuts, so we stayed until close, but I hope to go back again.