8 Showpieces You Should See in the Kyoto University Museum

By Michael Mao

One of the highlights of TEDxKyotoUniversity 2016 is the night museum taking place after the talks conclude. On October 30th, the museum will be extended after hours just for TEDxKyotoUniversity attendees; this includes an exclusive tour to the underground archives of the museum.

So what’s in the museum exactly? Many students say that they’ve never been there, even though it’s located right in the middle of campus.

In the museum collections, there are more than 2.5 million objects related to the arts, sciences, and education, which Kyoto University has collected and studied for the past one hundred years.

For a university museum to have such a vast number of objects is already impressive, but the quality of them are also exquisite. Some of the valued artifacts in the museum include national treasures, important cultural assets with treasures corresponding to them, and internationally significant specimens.

There are four sections to the Kyoto University Museum: natural history, cultural history, technological history, and the special exhibition area. We’ll give you a sneak peek – we present to you two items from each section, introducing one and leaving the other for you to find them.

Interesting Showpieces

1.Termite Society (Special Exhibition)


In the special exhibition section, a real, live termite nest is awaiting your visit. By “real, live” we mean the termites are alive, moving, going about their daily business. There are several different types of termites in their society and you may recognize them with help from the instruction board.

2. Historical Maps of Kyoto City (Cultural History)


Museum staff say that some people visit the museum specifically to see this map of Kyoto, which dates back to the 1600s. As many sites and streets have kept the original name and the same geographical layout for several hundred years, you’ll be able to find many familiar places in these old maps. Can you find where Kyoto University stands today?

3.Theodolite (Technological History)


This theodolite was made in France and brought to Japan in 1890. It has two telescopes and can measure angles of two directions. It can be used for geodetic survey and mapping.

4.Chimpanzee Memory Test (Natural History)


Do you think your memory is better than a chimpanzee’s? You’ll find a chimpanzee memory test machine in the natural history section. This is a demo version of the actual test used in the world-famous Chimpanzee Ai project. Don’t be too confident, it’s hard to tell who the winner is till the last minute.

Now it’s quiz time. For answers, come visit the museum!

  1. Useful Smell


Look, he is smelling the capsule. What is the smell, and what does it have to do with bugs?

  1. Cryptic Cross-mark


A mysterious cross-mark engraved in stone. What does it mean, and what is the unfortunate story behind it?

  1. Exotic Birds

    – not from Kyoto, obviously.


These big birds always hide themselves in the gloomy rain forest. Where are they in the museum? “Shower” is an important clue.

  1. Fluid Machine


Can you guess what this twirly machine was used for? It looks like a prop from a science show, but it was actually quite useful back in the day, it seems. Find them, and see if you’re right.