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Literature museum goes into cyberspace

Limitless Web space attracts book-lovers to Hyogo Prefecture experiment

by Kenzo Moriguchi

KOBE — The opening earlier this month of a new museum of literature in Hyogo Prefecture was marked by the usual ceremonial pomp.

But unlike other institutions, visitors to this new museum don’t need to have a map, know the nearest station or a regular address. The only thing they need to know is www.bungaku.pref.hyogo.jp — the URL of Net Museum Hyogo Bungakukan.

As the first publicly run museum entirely laid out in cyberspace, Hyogo Prefectural Government officials are confident that Bungakukan displays as much literature as a conventional museum dedicated to literature — if not more.

“The obvious advantage of an Internet museum is that it has no limit on its physical space,” prefectural official Takezumi Kawato said. “We can accumulate as much information on literary works and related matters and keep them on display, while at conventional museums any display has to be rotated due to space restrictions.”

The museum was “constructed” to promote literature and inspire people to read more books, according to Kawato, because Japanese — especially the younger generation — tend to read less today.

In its regular exhibition, the museum displays information on more than 130 authors who had links with the prefecture, including a biography and the titles of their main works.

The display is a simple accumulation of facts that enables the information to be used as a database, Kawato said.

The museum plans to add more information once relatives of other authors give consent for the data to be placed on the Web site.

More work has gone into the sections on author Junichiro Tanizaki and poet Rofu Miki, as well as Suma and Akashi beaches as scenes in literary works.

Tanizaki (1886-1965), who used a great deal of eroticism in his works, is most famous for “Sasameyuki,” a story of four sisters in Osaka in the late 1930s.

Miki, a poet from Tatsuno, Hyogo Prefecture, is famous for writing the lyrics of the well-known children’s song “Akatombo” (“Red Dragonfly”). Appropriately, a red dragonfly leads visitors to details on his life and his works.

The sections on Suma and Akashi detail how images of these beautiful shores have appeared in Japanese poetry, from the sixth century Manyoshu anthology to Matsuo Basho’s haiku of the early 17th century.

The museum plans to open new sections in the spring on Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1724), a scenario writer for kabuki and “joruri” ballads, as well as Kunio Yanagida (1875-1962), a folklore scholar and author of “Tono Monogatari.”

Kawato said the exhibitions can be expanded continuously, the only limit being the capacity of computer servers, which are easy to upgrade.

The exhibition budget for this fiscal year was 50 million yen; funds allocated for next year will be spent on new programs or research, as maintenance costs are negligible compared with conventional museums.

Not surprisingly, admission is free.

In comparison, the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Arts, which hosts the Bungakukan computer server, opened in April at a cost of 30 billion yen. Even Himeji City Museum of Literature required a budget of 167 million yen and 10 employees for the current fiscal year.

Of course, being in cyberspace, the museum cannot provide a “real” feel for its showpieces. But a museum of literature is designed to present what authors were trying to say in their works, and “if visitors want to feel the real things of literature, then they can read the books,” Kawato said.

The new museum has seen more “visitors” than expected — about 12,000 hits in the first three days.

Due to the large number of visitors, some of the pages were slow to open, but Kawato said the technical problems are relatively easy to overcome.

“The museum has just been born,” he said. “It can be developed and improved according to the demands of visitors. After all, everything in this museum is in a virtual world. I hope this will provide a new possibility for museums.”