Working with Japan


In 2006, Durham University Oriental Museum, in collaboration with Eton College, approached Tokyo Shimbun[i] newspaper to discuss a multi-venue commercial touring exhibition of Egyptology.  It was agreed that the UK museums would lend 300 objects – which would tour to six Japanese venues – and would receive a fee of £120,000 from Tokyo Shimbun.

The project income allowed us to refurbish the main Egyptology gallery at the Oriental Museum.  It also provided research and staff development opportunities and raised the museum’s profile with key internal stakeholders.  Moreover, it provided seedcorn funding to begin a major gallery refurbishment programme, which has allowed us to totally redisplay our collections with the support of Arts Council England, the DCMS/Wolfson Museums & Galleries Improvement Fund, and the Designation Development Fund.  Central to the success of this programme was the development of project links specifically designed to maximise match-fund opportunities.

The tour helped us develop international contacts and was supported by a Japanese-language catalogue, which raised our profile in East Asia. It also fuelled our enthusiasm for Japan.  This provided the impetus for us to successfully pursue Renew funding from the Art Fund to develop a contemporary Japanese collection and DCMS/Wolfson funding to develop a specialist Japanese gallery.

These developments embedded engagement with Japanese scholars and communities, both in the UK and overseas.  Students from Teikyo University of Japan in Durham supported our collections development, while members of the North East Japanese Women’s Association joined our team of volunteers.  They also opened significant doors for us at both business and diplomatic levels and allowed us to develop close institutional links with the National Museum of Japanese History.

Engagement with Japanese communities and curators has had a transformational effect on the Oriental Museum.  Key practical lessons learned include:

  • Remember central importance of personal contact – build up contacts and networks.
  • Business cards are essential!
  • Read up on etiquette.
  • Don’t try to force decisions.
  • Remember that the key to success is to think long-term.

Dr Craig Barclay, Curator of University Museums, Durham University

Download Dr Craig Barclay’s presentation from the WIRP Workshop (North)


[i] Tokyo Shimbun is one of several Japanese media companies who organise international touring exhibitions in Japan.