The Namio Egami Collection - Part 1: Inner Mongolia

Yoshihiro Nishiaki
The University Museum
The University of Tokyo

Professor emeritus Namio Egami (1906-2002), former director of the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Oriental Culture has led an eventful life, and has made important contributions to the study of both Near- and Far Eastern history and archaeology. As a young man, in the period from 1930 to 1944, he organized a series of scientific expeditions to Inner Mongolia, a then little explored region. The purpose of the fieldwork was foremost to document the lives of traditional people, but archaeology and natural history of the area received ample attention as well. The surveys and excavations of Olon Sum, the capital of the Önggüt Nestorians in the Yuan period, in 1935, 1939 and 1941, are the particularly noteworthy ones among others.

These early explorations were the basis for at least two of Egami’s main professional accomplishments. First, on the basis of what he saw and learned in Mongolia, he proposed a to-become influential theory regarding Japanese state formation in the so-called Kofun period (ca. 300-700 A.D.). According to the theory, the first “king” derived from the nomadic horsemen from the Eurasian continent, who would have invaded Japan via the Korean peninsula. Second, through his Mongolian adventures he acquired the skills for managing expeditions in isolated and desolate areas. Moreover, he got interested in relations between the east and the west of Eurasia. After the Second World War, his expertise and new research objectives resulted in the first Japanese archaeological expeditions to the Near East from 1956 onwards.

The present catalogue lists a selection of photographs and objects related to Inner Mongolia, which stems from a recently acquired donation of Egami’s private collection. While the major portions of the collection from his research in Inner Mongolia had already been donated in the earlier years to the University of Tokyo along with to other institutions and museums in Japan, this private collection reflects the heartland of Egami’s interest in this fascinating region, perfectly supplementing those extant materials. The collection consists of 1678 specimens of ethnographic, archaeological and historic materials, including sculpture, human figurines, a Chinese historical map, religious paintings, ancient Mongolian texts, Syriac inscriptions, dried plants, weaponry, and an enigmatic mask of a Buddhist deity. A series of unique photographs depicting the life, work and surrounding landscape of Mongolian nomads is also included.