Konbu and Miyok: A Voyage into the Maritime Cultures of Japan and Korea
Period Tuesday, March 17 –Sunday, May 17, 2020 *canceled
*The temporary closure of the museum will be extended until further notice in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). As soon as the new schedule has been determined, we will inform them on this website. We appreciate your understanding.
Venue Special Exhibition Galleries A&B, National Museum of Japanese History

Adults: ¥1000 (¥800)
college students:¥500 (¥400)
* Fees in parentheses apply to groups of 20 or more.
* Admission to permanent exhibitions included.
* Free admission for High school age and below.

Hours 9:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m. (entrance closed at 4:30 p.m.)
* Open hours and days are subject to change.
Closed Mondays (When Monday is a national holiday, the Museum is closed the following Tuesday.)


Since 2015, the National Museum of Japanese History and the National Folk Museum of Korea have been working together on an international exchange project, “Pragmatic Research Development of Japanese and Korean Regional Studies,” aiming to propel their academic and cultural exchanges. While doing so, the two museums embarked on another collaborative project, “Comparative Research on Japanese and Korean Cultural Systems Shaping Maritime Productions, Faiths, and Rituals.” Over the last three years, we—researchers and the museum staff—advanced our research through visiting various places in Japan and Korea. Now, it is our pleasure to share our findings with you, as the international special exhibition entitled “Konbu to Miyok: A Voyage into Maritime Cultures of Japan and Korea.” This has been a groundbreaking attempt in that the national museums of two countries jointly formulated a plan to exhibit around 400 items, presenting almost the same in content. The exhibition in Korea was held from October 2 (Wed) 2019 to February 2 (Sun) 2020 and received favorable recognition.

Konbu and wakame (miyok in Korean) are familiar types of seaweed, and both have long been important sources of nourishment in Japan and Korea, being consumed on a daily basis. The cultural significance of these seaweed types, however, differs between the two countries. In Japan, konbu plays a critical role as a ceremonial food and gift while its equivalent is wakame in Korea. Extending their roots around rocks under the sea and waving their long dark blue figures, konbu and wakame resemble to each other, but are somehow different. Being inspired by the idea that comparative research on konbu and wakame will help us further explore the relationship between Japan and Korea, we began developing this exhibition.

Having their long coastlines, the Japanese archipelago and the Korean peninsula bear many similarities in their maritime environments. On the other hand, each country has unique environmental features, as seen by Korea’s expansive tidal flats in its southwestern sea and Japan’s seashores facing the Pacific Ocean. Moreover, these two countries have achieved their own cultural and technological advancements while sharing an East Asian cultural foundation buttressed by their long history of interaction. In this exhibition, we explore the similarities and differences in the changing histories of Japan and Korea, by shedding light on mundane daily lives surrounded by the sea. Specifically, I would like you to perceive Japanese and Korean predecessors as vibrant figures who influenced one another and embraced each other’s cultures.

Highlights of the exhibition

* This is Japan’s first attempt to hold a large-scale exhibition comparing cultures of Japanese and Korean everyday lives. Come and enjoy!

* Let’s go beyond yakiniku or bulgogi. We will introduce complex types and usages of marine products in Korea, including fermented guts made from various sea products (shiokara) and seafood offered at ancestral rituals.

* We will introduce relations between marine products and Japanese people, such as the history of dashi (broth) and that of noshi (a gift decoration symbolizing pureness and made from a sea critter), which even Japanese people might need to review!

* Is this Japan or Korea?
We will explore the similarities and differences in Japanese and Korean maritime cultures, such as fishermen’s skills and faiths.

* You can also enjoy lively images of Korean people through videos depicting fishing villages, fish markets, and festivals.

* We will examine Japanese and Korean cultural interactions in the modern era from the perspective of ordinary people who actively accepted each country’s cultural influence.



Prologue   Everyday Life Surrounded by the Ocean

What kinds of marine products do Japanese and Korean people eat? How do they prepare them? We will explore these questions by displaying scenes of storefronts of Japanese and Korean fish stores on a monitor and demonstrating fishermen’s dialogues.


PartⅠ   Savoring Tastes of the Sea

1.1 Marine Products as a Source of Flavor

The ingredients creating foundational flavors for Japanese and Korean cuisines are different. For example, umami, a crucial element enhancing a Japanese-style meal, is broth made of dried bonitos and konbu. In contrast, shiokara plays a key role in creating flavor for Korean cooking. By introducing the processes of making such broth and shiokara as well as the types of these manufactured products, we will illustrate the histories of these sea-based products crucial for Japanese and Korean food.


1.2 Rituals and Marine Products

Marine products are used at various settings of Japan’s annual events including those at the new year. Especially for gift-giving and ritual settings, marine products such as noshi abalone and dried bonito are necessary. On the other hand, dried pollock, dried yellow croaker, and octopus are important offerings at Korean ancestral rituals. At rites of passage ceremonies for Korean children, wakame is used to pray for their safety at birth and growth. Let’s explore significant meanings demonstrated by such marine products in Japan and Korea.


PartⅡ   Living by the Sea

2.1 The Art of Fishing

Japanese and Korean fishing methods resemble in some ways and differ in others. Such similarities and differences suggest consumers’ preferences toward marine products and fishermen’s ongoing trials to develop strategies to catch seafood. In this section, with the use of Japan’s konbu fishery and Korea’s wakame fishery as references, we compare Japanese seashore fishing with their Korean counterparts by analyzing boats and tools. We also introduce Japanese bonito and tuna fisheries along the Kuroshio Current in the Pacific Ocean while exploring how Koreans conduct mud flat fishing by using the large tidal ebb and flow on the southwestern coast of Korea.


2.2 Fishermen’s Faith

Sustaining maritime safety and bountiful catches are crucial for fishermen in Japan and Korea, irrespective of their national origins. They pray to gods for such matters. In this section, we will tackle an intriguing question related to this issue—What kind of divine powers or spiritual figures do these fishermen worship? We will grasp the ocean image that the Japanese and Korean fishermen embrace in their hearts by exploring the following: dragon deities worshipped in both Japan and Korea; a general enshrined by Koreans on the belief that he would promise their fishing boats maritime safety and a plentiful catch; and Ebisu, a god who gained popularity among Japanese fishermen. Additionally, we will compare festivals held at Tsubakidomari in Tokushima Prefecture and those held at the Chuja Island in Jeju Province.


PartⅢ   Crossing the Sea

3.1 East Asia’s Modern Era and Interactions between Japanese and Korean Fishers

Japanese fishermen had already started fishing in water adjacent to the Korean Peninsula during the early Meiji Period, but their activities expanded as the situation became more favorable when the two countries signed the “Japan-Joseon Fisheries Agreement” in 1889 (Meiji 22), and after Japan annexed Korea in 1910 (Meiji 43). We will learn how small-scale seasonal fishing operations, such as rod and reel fishing and bottom trawling, developed into a large-scale and more organized industry, such as a purse seine fishery to catch sardines. Here, we will investigate the process in which relations between Japanese and Korean fishermen changed.



3.2 Fishermen’s Migration and Acculturation

As the modern era progressed, Japanese fishers adopted new fishing techniques and the Korean Peninsula was incorporated into the broader economic zone in East Asia. Such changes brought significant transformation in existing fisheries and also had a great influence on food culture. One of them is katakuchi iwashi (Japanese anchovy). The Japanese introduced their culture of dried anchovies to Korea, which is now familiar to contemporary Koreans. Also, we can learn about female divers from Jeju Island who reached the adjacent waters of Japan; they left their traces in Japanese female divers’ culture today. This shows that through migration, Japanese and Korean fisherwomen and fishermen brought significant changes to each other’s cultures.



Epilogue   The Sea Connecting People and Things between Japan and Korea

Mentaiko, one of the familiar everyday items on tables in Japan, in fact has an interesting history; through an attempt of recreating nostalgic tastes of Korea, the mentaiko that we know today developed in Hakata after the World War II. This Japanese style mentaiko is considered to be authentic even in Korea while the traditional Korean style mentaiko has been lost. By using mentaiko as an example, we reaffirm that connections between Japan and Korea continue to create new cultures.