Picture: Tokyo National Museum /Instagram.
Picture: Tokyo National Museum /Instagram.

Japan plans fee hikes at national museums

By Masafumi Taga Time of article published Feb 27, 2020

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Japan's National Institutes for Cultural Heritage (NICH) recently announced that admission fees for regular exhibitions at the three national museums,Tokyo National Museum (TNM), Kyoto National Museum, and Nara National Museum - will rise from April.

The administrative organisation said that the fee increases are to secure funds for operational costs and facility expansions in response to a sharp rise in visitors. But the marked increases have also created a stir in various circles.

The admission fees for regular exhibitions will be raised to 1,000 yen (R140) at TNM, a hike of ¥380 or 61%, and ¥700(R98) at the Kyoto and Nara national museums, an increase of ¥180 or 35%. Although admission for high school students and younger as well as people over 70 is still free, the entry fee for university students will also be raised by ¥90 (R12.56) at each institution.

The organisation said the planned hikes were aimed at strengthening the financial foundation for handing down precious collections. "With current admission fees, we cannot cover even the running costs, thus putting a strain on our mission, which includes the preservation of cultural properties," said an official of the organisation, calling for public understanding of the planned hikes.

At TNM, about 3,000 out of about 120,000 items held by the museum are displayed in regular exhibitions. In the Japanese Gallery (called the Honkan, or main gallery), paintings and Buddhist statues that trace the direction of Japanese art are shown. In the Japanese archaeology gallery in the Heiseikan, items excavated from ruins dating from the Paleolithic period to early-modern times are shown.

More than 1,000 items designated as national treasures or important cultural properties are in the possession of TNM. They account for about 10% of all of Japan's national treasures and important cultural properties in arts and crafts, making TNM the largest facility of its kind both in quality and quantity. Partly due to an increase in the number of foreign tourists to Japan, the number of visitors to regular exhibitions at the museum soared from about 370,000 in fiscal 2010 to about 990,000 in fiscal 2018.

Although revenue from admission fees has increased, expenses for restoring and utilising cultural properties have been growing, on top of the costs of maintaining the facilities. However, state grants for operational expenses remain at the level of ¥8 billion annually, so the organisation can hardly expect a marked increase in that regard.

David Atkinson, president of Konishi Decorative Arts and Crafts Co. in Tokyo, who is well informed about cultural policies both at home and abroad, said if preservation work stagnates it will lead to the deterioration of cultural properties. He showed his understanding of the planned fee hikes by saying that while revenue sources for the state coffers are also limited, payments through admission fees are necessary for valuable cultural properties to be restored and exhibited to the public.

On the other hand, there has been criticism that the hikes run counter to the Museum Law, which stipulates that entry to public-run museums should be free, in principle.

The admission fees for regular exhibitions at TNM have been raised in stages in the past, in light of the need to put the NICH's fiscal house in order when it was reorganized into an independent administrative organization in 2001, and in line with the consumption tax rate hikes.

The museum offered a further explanation for the increased fees, saying there is a new and heavy financial burden in the form of expenses needed to utilize cultural assets, such as multilingual support and "value-added programs" utilizing high-definition visual images.

Yoshiaki Kanayama, professor at Hosei University and a scholar of museology, said: "If the facilities are thought to be rather expensive even taking improvements into consideration, it would be mistaking the means for the end. As there is also a possibility of other national and public museums following suit, hiking the fees is a grave situation. What is needed is a stance [on the part of the museums] such as actively making public disclosures of the breakdown of relevant costs and business-related results [from the hikes]."

According to Mariko Takibata, professor at Otemon Gakuin University and a scholar of museum studies, in English-speaking countries, making admission free has been prioritised from a viewpoint of equal educational opportunities and reducing economic disparity between different groups of people. Entry is free for regular exhibitions at the British Museum and the National Gallery in London, and in the United States, there are a number of cultural facilities that are free on certain days, thanks to funds collected through donations from companies.

"The upcoming fee hikes have brought to light the concern that those in low-income groups could shy away from going to the museum, causing an educational gap," Takibata said, pointing out the need for museums to take measures such as establishing days for free admission.

The Washington Post 

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