Museum in Hokkaido Features Pandemic Exhibit with Everyday Items

everyday artifacts of life during covid-19 are featured in japanese museum exhibit

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Daily artifacts of life that show what humanity experienced during the novel coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19 are on display at a museum in Japan, USA Today reported. The museum curator hopes to preserve the items for future generations to see. Over the last 30 years, Japan has faced many challenges.

Emperor Hirohito after his enthronement ceremony in 1928
Hirohito (1901-1989) was the 124th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession. Photo by Imperial Household Agency / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The subtle and not-so-subtle alterations to life due to the novel coronavirus pandemic are being displayed at a museum in Hokkaido, according to USA Today—featuring some surprising artifacts.

“Takeout menus. Directions for attending a funeral. A leaflet from a local shrine, announcing the cancellation of summer festivals,” the article said. “These humble, everyday artifacts of life in the pandemic have found a home in the Historical Museum of Urahoro, in Hokkaido, northern Japan. Thanks to the museum’s curator, Makoto Mochida, it has a repository of the dross of the moment, stuff that may tell future generations what it was like to live in the time of COVID-19—how life has profoundly changed with social distancing and growing fears over the outbreak.”

Japan has braved its share of adversity in the last 30 years, from the death of an emperor to a financial crisis.

The Chrysanthemum Throne

Hirohito, the 124th emperor of Japan, reigned from 1926 until his death in January 1989—a major turning point in modern Japanese history.

“It was a long and slow death from intestinal cancer; he was in a coma for weeks, and his impending death cast a long shadow over the last months of 1988, and the start of the new year,” said Dr. Mark J. Ravina, Professor of History at Emory University. “The death of the emperor marked the start of a new era, both figuratively and literally. By tradition, Japan officially marks time according to the ascension of each emperor. So, the ascension of Hirohito in 1926 marked the beginning of the Shōwa period; 1926 is Shōwa 1 in Japanese reckoning.”

Hirohito’s declining health caused many Japanese to reflect on his rule, which included World War II and the advent of the American bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The month before Hirohito’s death, the mayor of Nagasaki—Motoshima Hitoshi—said publicly that Japan should acknowledge Hirohito’s responsibility for the bombings, which he said could have been prevented. His comments sparked outrage, including the major getting kicked out of his political party, as well as an attempt on his life by conservative extremists, which he survived.

In fact, Motoshima ran for a fourth term as mayor of Nagasaki and said he stood by his comments. He won with the support of virtually every political party in Japan, besides the one that removed him.

“That’s a pretty striking measure of how the emperor’s death opened up old wounds and unresolved issues,” Dr. Ravina said. “The people of Nagasaki rallied behind a mayor who was rejected by his own party and targeted for assassination by the extreme right.”

A Devastating Economic Implosion

“In 1985, commercial real estate prices in Tokyo jumped 42%, and then the next year the increase was 122%, and in 1987 over 1986, that was another 54%,” Dr. Ravina said. “The numbers were unsustainable, but they paralleled in other parts of the economy. For example, residential real estate prices in Tokyo rose over 100% in 1987; residential prices in Osaka jumped 500% in five years.

The Nikkei 225 stock index surged as well. It passed 13,000 for the first time in 1985 and it just kept moving up until in 1989 it hit almost 40,000.”

Dr. Ravina said the Japanese government knew something was wrong, but the measure they took to slow things down—raising interest rates—came too late and the bubble burst. The Nikkei 225 fell 35% in 1990 and fell all the way to 8,000 points by 2002.

“Real estate was only slightly less bleak. Within a few years, commercial real estate prices were off by over 80%, although in the sub-category of prime commercial real estate in the financial district, that was down to an astonishing 1% of peak value. So this was one of the epic financial bubbles in world history, and it continues to shape Japan to this day.”

Modern Japan has faced awful hardship since the late 1980s. The Historical Museum of Urahoro in Hokkaido, with its COVID-19 exhibit, is testament to Japanese resilience and perseverence.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily

Dr. Mark J. Ravina contributed to this article. Dr. Ravina is Professor of History at Emory University, where he has taught since 1991. He received his AB from Columbia University and his MA and PhD from Stanford University.