Popular Culture and Created Heroes
Sponsor National Museum of Japanese History
Period of Exhibition Tuesday, March 16 through Sunday, June 6, 2004
Venue Special Exhibition Galleries
Hours 9:30 - 17:00
(visitors admitted into Garden no later than 16:30)
Admission Fees
(Special Entry Fees)
*Fees in parentheses apply to groups of 20 or more
Adults : JPY 830 (JPY 560) ⁄ Senior high school & college students : JPY 450 (JPY 250) ⁄ Elementary & junior high school students : JPY 250 (JPY 130)
Closed 3/22.29, 4/, 5/

Until now, the National Museum of Japanese History has held exhibitions and conducted research on the history of the lives and culture of the Japanese people over a broad spectrum without focusing on specific historical figures. However, although outlaws make up part of what is meant by "the people", they are not subjects that are easily researched, which is why they have not been covered by exhibitions and the like until now. In this Special Exhibition, we publish the results of research on outlaws who have, as yet, never been covered in the annals of history.

Stirring up trouble as lawless, anti-social, and anti-authoritarian elements of society, outlaws have continued to be excluded from official history and other academic disciplines. Therefore, making them the focus of historical research has been fraught with much difficulty.

However, there was once an unofficial history of the common folk. It competed with official history and the protagonists that filled this history were outlaws such as gamblers, chivalrous men, masterless samurai, itinerant priests, and entertainers. Of all the periods of Japanese history, it was at the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate and beginning of the Meiji Restoration that the roles played by these legendary heroes reached their peak. They were written about in books, depicted in colored woodblock prints, portrayed in Kabuki, and appeared in stories and narrative ballads, becoming popular heroes deeply ingrained in the people's consciousness.

This Special Exhibition aims to retell history, starting with these gamblers and chivalrous men who appear in legends. In particular, through their activities, we attempt to sift through the history of the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate and beginning of the Meiji Restoration. Making use of the methods of written history, we draw closer to the outlaws that appeared in Kabuki and stories by gradually peeling away the firmly encrusted layers of fact and fiction.

In the first part of the exhibition, called "Backgrounds of the Outlaw", we pursue the ideological roots that gave rise to outlaws while focusing on the "Shi Ji" (one of the first official histories of China) and the "Shuihu Zhuan" ("Suikoden", a Chinese novel translated as "Outlaws of the Marsh"). From the prosperity of silk production, highway stations, ports, and landings of riverbank, we capture the foundations of society in which outlaws lived.

In the second part, called "A Group of Outlaws", we move away from the fiction as we close in on the facts about outlaws who were turned into heroes, such as Kunisada Chuji and Shimizu no Jirocho, and the figures who appear in the "Tempo Suikoden". We also examine the Meiji Restoration, a period when outlaws burst onto the pages of official history, from the perspective of the gamblers who were eradicated.

In the third part, called "Invented Heroes in the Media", we study how outlaws were made into heroes through a wide range of media, including stories, narrative ballads, plays, and movies.


"Tsuzokuchugi Suikoden"
"Tsuzokuchugi Suikoden"
translated by Okajima Kanzan (1757-1790), in the Museum's collection.
"Nakamura Shikan as Seiriki Tomigoro from Kinsei Suikoden"
"Nakamura Shikan as Seiriki Tomigoro from Kinsei Suikoden"
by Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III) (1861), in the Museum's collection.
"Yakko no Koman likened to Kosanjo from the series of Tosei Suikoden"
"Yakko no Koman likened to Kosanjo, from the series of Tosei Suikoden"
by Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III) (1859), in the Museum's collection.
"Tsuzoku Suikoden Goketsu Hyakuhachinin no Hitori"
"Tsuzoku Suikoden Goketsu Hyakuhachinin no Hitori - Rorihakucho Chojun"
by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (from the end of the Bunsei Era, 1818-1830), in the Museum's collection.
"The actor Ichikawa Danjuro >as Kunisada Juji"
"Kasagawa Higezo and company making a surprise attack on Iioka no Sutegoro"
by Utagawa Yoshitora (1867), in the Museum's collection.
"Kasagawa Higezo and company making a surprise attack on Iioka no Sutegoro"