Jinruikan Incident (Humankind Pavilion Incident) (人類館事件)

Jinruikan Incident, also known as 'Gakujutsu-Jinruikan Incident' or Osaka Exhibition Incident,' occurred at 'Gakujutsu-Jinruikan' in the fifth National Industrial Exhibition held in 1903 at Tennoji, Osaka, at the exhibition, living people dressed in their ethnic costumes and their ethnic houses were exhibited, those people were from Okinawa, Korea, India, Malaysia, Java and Africa as well as the Ainu tribe and the Takasago tribe of Taiwan.

Exhibition -point of view of Imperialism-

The exhibitions of the middle 19th century to the early 20th century are said to have served as a 'giant system to display Imperialism.'
Originally exhibitions were held to show off the power of host countries, but as the imperialist powers extended their colonies, they began to collect and display various items to show the vastness of their territories to their nation and the outside the world. It was an extension of this to display living residents of their colony. The Paris World Exposition in 1889 was the first exhibition where humans were put on display.

Behind those 'human exhibition', there were ideologies such as evolutionism and racism which spread globally at that time. Evolutionism takes a simple view of humankind development that all mankind develop through the same process. Therefore, regional differences in different area across the world are understood as difference of their stage of historical development. In other words, civilizations of Africa and Asia were considered as the stage in development which Europe had experienced in distant past, and those civilizations and people outside Europe were regarded as'primitive' and 'inferior'. This means that 'human exhibition' is a way where viewers see the 'real' lifestyles that are different from theirs to 'discover' the differences between them, and to interpret it as 'inferiority'.

Osaka Exhibition

In the Meiji period, products of culture and systems were introduced to Japan from Western in various ways and exhibition was one of them. As Japan had participated in international exhibitions since the end of the Edo period, it began to actively hold 'the National Industrial Exhibitions' as a means of fukoku kyohei (fortifying the country, strengthening the military) in the Meiji period. The initial purpose of the exhibitions was to serve as a place to introduce the products of culture and learn the techniques from the Western, and to work on them. The fifth Osaka Exhibition revealed its negative side of 'point of view of Imperialism'. This was because Japan started to gain self-pride as one of the world's powerful countries after winning the Sino-Japanese war.

The 'human exhibition' was conducted in Gakujutsu-Jinruikan (Academic Humankind Pavilion) and Taiwan Pavilion at the Osaka Exhibition.
In "Fuzoku Gaho" (Manners and Customs in Pictures) no. 269 published in 1903, Gakujutsu-Jinruikan Pavilion was described as follows:
On the other hand, Taiwan Pavilion, which had a richly-colored romon (two-storied gates) and yokuro (side structures), featured 15 sections such as farming, horticulture, and manners and customs. This was set up to make public the actual condition of Taiwan, which had already been colonized by Japan for nine years. Taiwan Pavilion was constantly set up in the subsequent exhibitions, and became a model for additional 'Colony Pavilions,' including Sakhalin Pavilion, Manchuria Pavilion, Takushoku (Colonizing) Pavilion and Korea Pavilion in accordance with increase of colonies.

Spread of backlash

In Japan many people from southern and northern part visited the exhibition thanks to improved domestic transportation such as railways and ships, in addition, after the Sino-Japanese war more and more people in China and Korea wished to come Japan to study and those foreign students also visited the exhibition. They simply admired what was exhibited and had no choice but to recognize the achievements of the Meiji restoration. However their admiration was turned into a sense of opposition when they visited the Gakujutsu-Jinrui Pavilion and Taiwan Pavilion. This triggered the incident. Because people from the regions where introduced in those pavilions strongly opposed to the exhibition and this became a diplomatic issue.

Okinawa Prefecture

In Okinawa, the people opposed against the display of the prostitutes who were taken from Okinawa as 'Ryukyu Women'. For instance, "Ryukyu Shinpo" dated April 11, launched a fierce campaign against it, claiming it was like 'seeing us equal to the Seiban tribe (Taiwan's indigenous people who were incorporated into the Han people) or the Ainu tribe." In particular, Chofu OTA, a media figure from Okinawa, led the protest movement, raising a chorus of complaints throughout Okinawa Prefecture, which put an end to the display of the Okinawa people.

At that time, the people in Okinawa were increasingly more conscious that those who lived in Okinawa, including Chofu OTA, were citizens of the Empire of Japan and are in the same ethnic group as the people on mainland Japan, so the protest was also meant to complain about being treated equally to the other ethnic groups.


Some fierce protests came from Qing in the same manner. First of all, the students staying in Japan and the Qing consulate officials in Kobe who found out in advance by advertisements that the people of the Han race were to be displayed at Gakujutsu-Jinrui Pavilion protested against it, and the Japanese government cancelled the exhibition in response. This was because it quickly became a diplomatic issue as the Imperial family and high officials had been invited from Qing before the opening of the Exhibition.

A man taking opium and a woman with bound feet were to be displayed at Gakujutsu-Jinrui Pavilion.

The second wave of protest came over the exhibition at Taiwan Pavilion. This was because the students from Qing suspected that the Taiwanese women on display were actually from Hunan, China. The matter was settled when they turned out to be from Taiwan in fact.

Structure of Opposition: between 'Civilization' and 'Barbarism'

It should be natural that opposition was generated in the regions whose people were 'on display'. Those protest movement was directed to Japan in Meiji period that tried to make those regions symbol of 'barbarian'and Japan symbol of'civilization'. It is not to be denied that Japan in Meiji period, which represented itself as being 'civilized', desired to assimilate into the powerful countries of Western Europe, and it has been pointed out that this attitude was discriminatory. However, those who opposed, such as in Okinawa and Qing, were not anti-discriminatory, as a matter of fact.

For instance, Kaoru KINJO points out that while the display of the Okinawa people were successfully cancelled due to protest movement by residents in Okinawa, the exhibition of other ethnic groups continued to the last, and he insists "Even some of the people in Okinawa felt humiliated to have people from Okinawa displayed with other ethnic groups and they were also in a position to discriminate".

Also, the students from Qing lamented, saying, "India and Okinawa have already been lost countries, being slaves of Britain and Japan. Korea used to be our vassal state, and now they are a protected state of Russia and Japan. The Javanese, the Ainu tribe and the Seiban tribe are all lowly races and no better than beasts.
Even if we Chinese are despised, why should we be treated in the same way as them?" (Issue No.2, 1903 of "Sekko-cho" [monthly Chinese magazine])
This suggests that the reason of their opposition was being treated equally to the other "barbarian" ethnic groups. This also reveals their desire to be equal to Japan and Western European countries by sharing a discriminatory view point of the same nature.

These discourse of civilization vs. barbarianism as stated above involved not only Western Europe and Japan, but those regions discriminated by them. Both powerful and non powerful countries shared a mindset to accomplish fortifying their country by measuring the difference between being civilized and barbarian by comparison, and inciting a desire to minimize or expand the difference. It should have been very difficult to think and make statements from outside of the civilization vs. barbarianism logic when social evolutionism swept the world as the latest scientific theory. It can be said that this played the role of reproducing discrimination while moving toward the goals of fortifying the country. Jinruikan Incident showed a side of the discourse of civilization vs. barbarianism.

[Original Japanese]