Bringing the Mammoth Back to Life : How Japan is Making De-Extinction Cool for Kids

  • SPOT
  • Tokyo
  • Currently showcasing at the Miraikan, Japan’s premiere space for cutting-edge technology, is “The Mammoth.” This special exhibition is bringing never-before-seen remains of mammoths and other extinct animals to the public eye. Previously buried underneath the frozen wastelands of Siberia, paleontologists worldwide are rushing to the region to save these perfectly preserved specimens. With the advancement of genetic research and the discovery of a plethora of fresh DNA samples, Japanese scientists are now posing a huge question: Can we bring mammoths back to life?

    Bringing the Mammoth back to Life

    The platform and lighting give this mammoth skeleton a commanding presence.

    De-extinction is an exciting topic, but it is not without ethical and practical controversy. Where would the animals go? How would they impact the ecosystem around them? Is it right for extinct animals to be brought back to life? These are pressing concerns that Japanese scientists take seriously, but before now it was difficult to convey to the public. Curators of this exhibit believe the best way to get adults on board is through “The Mammoth,” an impressive educational display in Tokyo. Indeed, the comprehensive presentation on the background and process of excavating and studying the preserved mammoths gave me a sense that proper care and thought is going into every step of the process. I was won over, but there was one problem. If you want the adults to come learn about this cutting-edge concept and technology, you need to cater to the kids, too.

    Don’t be tempted to touch this preserved mammoth’s trunk – it sits behind a thick pane of glass in a special room dialed down to -22 degrees Celsius! A few other preserved specimens occupy similar rooms at “The Mammoth” exhibition.

    The biggest challenge for an exhibit like this is keeping kids engaged. Many museums of natural science have colorful exhibits of butterflies, fantastical recreations, and extravagant multimedia presentations to cater to the imaginative minds of youth. However, de-extinction is an advanced and controversial topic. How can you possibly get kids interested in something such as bringing extinct animals to life? In Japan, there could only be one answer to this.

    Make it manga-themed, of course!

    De-extinction Science: Manga Edition

    This crying caricature of a scientist draws in visitors emotionally to the exhibition.

    I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was to turn a corner and see the crying caricature of a scientist. Yet, standing at the entrance of this new section of “The Mammoth,” I thought it both humorous and brilliant that the architects of this exhibition would bring genetic research to a kid’s level through manga. Large panels surrounding a space with a life-sized mammoth model paint scientists as heroes. The illustrations have a clear point to make – these scientists are on the same level as your favorite sports star and their mission is just as exciting as the newest Star Wars installment.

    This scientist illustration and displayed scientific tool have a striking resemblance to Han Solo and a movie prop.

    The English translation may be odd, but to a kid reading this in Japanese the impact is not lost.

    Inspiring a Call to Arms

    At the end of the story, a scientist points directly at you with a hand placed confidently on his hip. “Maybe it’s you who is doing the research to make this a reality?” At that point, I began to think it wasn’t necessarily kids being targeted. The heroic narrative isn’t meant to entertain just children visiting the museum; it’s meant to inspire all generations to support life sciences.

    Author’s Photo

    There is so much more to this exhibition that cannot be expressed in picture or word. Luckily, it will continue to be displayed at the Miraikan until November 4, 2019. For something both kids and adults will enjoy, visit the Special Exhibition “The Mammoth” on your visit to Tokyo this fall!

    Special Exhibition “The Mammoth” Website

    *Featured Image: Author’s Photo