National Museum of Nature and Science Unusual CRAFAN due to Lack of Funds Serious situation without sufficient support from the government, even though the amount exceeded 100 million yen in 9 hours. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

National Museum of Nature and Science Unusual CRAFAN due to Lack of Funds Serious situation without sufficient support from the government, even though the amount exceeded 100 million yen in 9 hours.

The new coronavirus and the war in Ukraine have had a direct impact on the museum.

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Skeleton of a reconstructed Diptera suzukiryu that lived in the Late Cretaceous Period, about 85 million years ago. It is about 7 meters long.

When I look at the opinions about crowdfunding, there are many people who say that they want the government to guarantee the base of operations. The current system has no safety net to protect museums and the research environment, and once an economic crisis occurs, the funds will dry up in no time.

Kenichi Shinoda, director of the National Museum of Nature and Science, says with a grim expression on his face.

On August 7, 2011, the National Museum of Nature and Science, which has its main building in Ueno, Tokyo, launched a crowdfunding campaign with a target amount of 100 million yen, saying, “We are facing a major financial crisis. The fact that Japan’s leading science museum, both in name and reality, had run into operational difficulties shocked many people, and the goal was reached in just 9 hours and 20 minutes from the start. As of the end of October 2011, donations totaled approximately 800 million yen.

With the goal far exceeded, the immediate crisis of the Museum being unable to collect and preserve specimens and materials, which is the raison d’être of the Museum, has passed. Some of the funds will be used to further enhance the collection and preservation system and for collaboration with science museums in Japan.

The current collection of specimens and materials at Expo Kagaku consists of about 5 million items, including specimens of animals, plants, fungi, living plants, minerals, fossils, human remains, and materials on the history of science and technology, about 80% of which are plants and animals.

Of these, less than 1% are on display in the main building at Ueno, and most are stored in a repository in Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture. The specimens and materials in the collection include type specimens on which scientific names are based and important cultural properties, etc. In order to keep the vast number of specimens and materials in perfect condition, it is necessary to create an appropriate storage environment. The vast storage facility requires a large amount of funds for maintenance and management, including air conditioning and specimen arrangement.

In particular, specimens collected 100 years ago or from the Edo period (1603-1868) cannot be restored once they are damaged, nor can they be collected again. Therefore, the temperature and humidity must be controlled as a top priority, but if the operating funds run out, preservation itself will become impossible.

But why did a museum that bears the name of “national” and attracts 2 million visitors a year get pushed to the brink of crowdfunding? Behind this was the global crisis that began in the 1920s, and the problems with the system surrounding the Museum of Natural Science.

First of all, the Museum is an independent administrative institution, which means that it does not depend on the government for all of its operating funds,” Shinoda explains.

Since the transition to an independent administrative institution, our policy has been to increase the ratio of external funding, and to try to cover as much of our expenses as possible with external funds. Now, about 80% of our funds come from the government, and about 20% are external funds such as admission fees,” said the director.

Exhibiting the skulls of the KYUYU people, Ainu people, and other people who existed on the Japanese mainland.

For example, looking at the FY19 budget, of the approximately 3.3 billion yen in revenues, the museum expected to receive approximately 2.7 billion yen in subsidies from the government, and approximately 600 million yen in admission fees and other revenues including outside funds. If the number of visitors exceeds expectations and the admission fee income rises, the museum will be able to use the income to implement new projects, such as large-scale exhibitions and the maintenance of storage facilities.

For 20 years, the Museum had operated under this scheme, but then a pandemic of a new type of coronavirus broke out.

Suddenly, the museum’s admission fee income dropped sharply, while utility costs, which the museum had to spend, rose sharply. We were unable to respond immediately to the combination of these factors, and we ran out of funds.

The museum continued to be closed as a measure against infectious diseases, and admission fee income, which was approximately 750 million yen in the FY19 accounts, dropped to 150 million yen in FY20. Although it recovered to 650 million yen in the FY 2010 financial results, energy prices soared due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February ’22. Utilities expenses, which are the sum of operational and administrative expenses, rose from 180 million yen in the FY19 accounts to 310 million yen in the FY22 accounts. Thus, the Expo faced a situation of declining revenues and rapidly rising utility costs.

The COVID-19 crisis occurred after the budget had been set, so in FY ’20, we cut back on internal funds, and in FY ’21, we got through it with austerity measures. We thought that we would operate with reduced overall operations in FY 2010, but then utility costs started to rise due to the invasion of Ukraine, and when we did the calculations around April, we were told that we would run out of operating funds in November or December. This was a situation in which the entire library was asked to return the unexecuted funds, including research funds, from the reduced budget. This was tantamount to asking researchers to stop their research, a situation that should have been avoided at all costs.

We had planned to operate with a much reduced budget for FY’2011, but it turned out that the cost of utilities would continue to rise further. Prices for storage containers and preservation liquids such as ethanol continued to rise due to the high cost of living, and the prices of materials and equipment needed to build new storage facilities and labor costs were also soaring, making it obvious that the museum would not be able to continue operations at this rate.

Director Shinoda said, “In the past 20 years, the price of goods in Japan has hardly risen at all. That is why we have been able to operate even with a gradual decrease in subsidies from the government for operating expenses.” Looking back, he added, “Prices and labor costs have risen all at once here, and we can see that utility costs will remain high in the next fiscal year as well. We also asked for external funding from companies, but it did not amount to a large sum. So we concluded that crowdfunding was the only way to get this done now,” he explains.

The question, however, is why the government is leaving the KAKENHI in such dire straits. The subsidy for operating expenses has remained the same, and no measures have been taken to cover the entire portion of the increase in prices and utility costs. The government is apparently taking the stance that it will not take individual measures because it is subsidizing oil wholesalers as part of its drastic change mitigation program to cope with soaring oil prices, but national facilities are actually in a pinch.

I think everyone was surprised to hear that the National Museum of Nature and Science, which is the only one of its kind in Japan, is actually in trouble. I think the biggest reason for the success of this cloud is that many people realized that the management crisis was here to stay and that the National Museum of Nature and Science would not be able to stand on its own feet.

Director Shinoda is increasingly concerned about the environment surrounding science in Japan

Although Japan is said to be a major economic power, the amount of government spending on culture is very low. According to data released by the Agency for Cultural Affairs in 2009, France spent about 460 billion yen and South Korea about 340 billion yen, while Japan spent only 116.6 billion yen. Japan spent about 116.6 billion yen, the smallest amount among the six countries surveyed (Japan, the U.K., the U.S., Germany, France, and Korea). The ratio of cultural spending to the government budget is 0.11%, and the per capita amount is 922 yen, the second lowest level after the United States.

We have 5 million specimens, but the British Museum of Natural History in the U.K. has 80 million and the National Museum of Natural History in the U.S. has over 150 million. In that sense, it is not much at all. It would be wrong to say that Japan is good at this level, but I am proud of the fact that we must act as a museum that represents Asia. In order to do so, we need to acquire more funds and expand our activities, and it is obvious that we will be buried in the ranks of Asian museums.

However, the government’s involvement in museums and research facilities such as the KAKEMAKU continues to decline, and in order to survive, the museum must acquire the necessary funds for its research activities from outside sources, such as competitive funds, on its own. But this has led to competition for a small piece of the domestic pie, and the attempt to promote selection and concentration has resulted in an overall situation where there is little room to spare.

Looking at the reaction to crowdfunding, there is a general consensus that the government should guarantee the base of the operation. Competition to raise money to do something even more positive is good, but it’s pretty tough to talk about things like the current situation, where if you don’t compete, you will die.”

On the other hand, Director Shinoda said, “Some researchers say that since the government should fund the operation of the Science Expo, there is no need for us to do our own crowdfunding. I think that is a reasonable opinion. However, we cannot just sit on our hands and die. We must pass on our specimens into the future. To do so, we need to think about how the world is changing,” he points out.

For example, the National Museum of Nature and Science is collaborating with Pokemon on a project called the “Pokemon Fossil Museum. The exhibition has been traveling to various natural history museums around Japan and has become a very popular special exhibition. Director Shinoda concluded.

Despite some people saying, ‘Is this something a natural history museum would do?’ I think it is very important to first get people to visit the museum and let them know that this place is interesting to many people.

Unfortunately, the era in which researchers only need to do the research they like is over, and we have definitely come to an age in which we need to think about what we can do to ensure that our research in the 21st century will be relevant for the next 100 years.”

◆Profile of Kenichi Shinoda
Born in 1955, graduated from the Faculty of Science, Kyoto University. D. in Medicine. After working as an assistant professor at Saga Medical School, he became the director of the National Museum of Nature and Science in April 2021. Specializes in molecular anthropology. His publications include “DNA de tales of Japanese origins” (Iwanami Shoten) and “Mankind’s origins: Ancient DNA tells us about Homo sapiens’ ‘great journey'” (Chuko Shinsho).

A dog that looks like it is about to start walking. The white dog in the foreground is an amulet of Hachiko.
Chicken that looks like it is about to flap its wings.
Reconstructed skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus that lived in the Late Cretaceous Period.
Moon rock” collected by Apollo 11 when it landed on the moon in 1969.
  • Interview, text, and photos Author: Chikage Fukami

    Maritime writer

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