This is the first time the National Museum of Ethnology, which researches human cultures all over the world, and the National Museum of Nature and Science, which examines natural and scientific history, have collaborated to hold an exhibition. There is a large gap between the so-called “arts” and “science” disciplines, and we had not planned an exhibition which connects these two until now. In Japan, there has been clamor regarding the necessity of integrating art and science. However, much research aiming for integration has ended merely with the citation of knowledge from each specialized field. This exhibition focuses on beads, which are the human race’s oldest articles of adornment. It introduces the relationship between beads, which are made from various materials, and humans. What will come to light when each of the museums considers the concept from the perspective of its own specialist academic field, and combines its knowledge with the other? We hope you will take a close look at the results of this exhibition, which aims for art and science integration in the truest sense.


Title Special Exhibition co-organized by National Museum of Ethnology, and National Museum of Nature and Science
Beads in the World: Connecting People with Nature
Period April 9, 2019 – June 16, 2019
Hours 9:00-17:00
*9:00-20:00 on Fridays, Saturdays and April 28 – May 5
*9:00-18:00 on May 6
*Last entry 30 minutes before closing.
*Opening days, hours etc. are subject to alteration. Please check the website before your visit.
Closed Mondays (Except April 29, May 6 and June 10), May 7
Organizer National Museum of Ethnology, and National Museum of Nature and Science


National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo
Adress 7-20 Ueno Park, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-8718
Map of National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo.

Highlite of the Exhibition

1. What are beads?

Why do we humans make and wear beads? Since they were first made around 100,000 years ago, beads have not merely been decoration for people or things. They have been made to fulfil various roles. They are made from a range of materials, the qualities of which have a great influence on the role of the beads.

2. Plant beads

第2章 植物のビーズPlant beads were made from seeds, fruits, flowers, leaves, and woods of various species. Why did humans use different parts of plants to make beads? By examining the qualities of the materials, such as color, shape, aroma, availability, and the ease in processing them, we can learn about the ideas of the people who made plant beads.

3. Animal beads

3.  Animal beadsVarious parts of animals have been used to make beads, including bones, teeth, tusks, nails, hair, feathers, egg shells, scales, and heads. Beads made from animals have characteristics, including the variety of living creatures, such as insects, birds, fish, reptiles, humans, and other mammals, whether or not the parts are used as-is or are processed, and the difficulty of finding several tens of animal canine teeth and human teeth.

4. Shell beads

第4章 貝のビーズVarious kinds of shells have been used to make shell beads. These kinds of beads can be gathered in largely the same size and shape, and can be brought over long distances through trade, due to the ease of transporting them. From the distribution of shell beads, we can learn about the extent of trade.

5. Stone beads

第5章 石のビーズVarious kinds of materials have been used to make stone beads. The main types are jade, chalcedony, turquoise, and lapis lazuli. The characteristics of stones are their uneven distribution, for example, lapis lazuli is from Afghanistan, and the special techniques required to acquire the stones and make holes in them.

6. Metal beads

6.  Metal beadsMany kinds of metals, including gold, silver, copper, and iron have been used as materials for beads. As with stone, the characteristics of metals are their uneven distribution, and various special techniques are required to produce metal from ore and to process into beads. For this reason, trade developed between makers and users as exemplified by iron beads. Metal beads cannot be easily made by just anyone.

7. Glass beads

第7章 ガラスのビーズVarious kinds of glass have been used in the production of glass beads. These have the same color but differ in luster and shape. Glass was first made in Syria 3,000 years ago. Glass bead-producing areas have been limited to certain locations up until now. In 17th century Europe, glass beads were used as trade goods in the remote regions of Africa and Asia.

8. Beads in the 21st century

As we entered the 21st century, beads made with new materials and through new production methods began to spread. Paper and cotton pearl are used as materials, and wire art and bead weaving became known techniques. What kind of beads will we have in the future? This corner examines the future of beads.