To express my deep gratitude to those who helped my research in Miyagi this summer, and to encourage more researchers to explore sources in Tohoku when things return to relatively normal, I would like to share some of my experiences in visiting libraries and archives there. I will also give my experience of doing a similar research stay in Okinawa in the next post. Several weeks of research in the local prefectures do not suddenly make me a specialist of the regions of any sort, but my point is that, thanks to the taxes well spent on organizing local histories in Japan, even short stays like mine could lead you to interesting case studies in local contexts.
I am not writing this post only to support the Tohoku region after the earthquake, but mainly because Tohoku is really worth a look for many issues because it offers rich, and often unique, historical contexts. Sendai, the center of the Tohoku dynamics, is a good place to explore for that reason. The three must-visit facilities in Sendai are, Miyagi Prefectural Archives, Miyagi Prefectural Library, and Tohoku University Library. All of them are temporarily closed because of the damage of the earthquake and aftershocks.
Miyagi Prefectural Archives (MPA) have hundreds of thick files, many of which are hand-written, recording administrative conducts of the prefectural and district governments. [My friend just let me know that the archives will be moved to the Prefectural Library around February 2012, and you can download the lists of their holdings here (go to the very bottom of the page)]. You can officially bring in a digital camera to take photos. There is a professional archivist, Kanehira Kenji, who is very helpful in finding out sources and locating the ones even outside the MPA. From what I saw there, their materials on education from Meiji to Showa are impressively thorough. They have lists and resumes of thousands of teachers, for example. Many local researchers often come to the MPA, so it might be a good place to ask about and meet local historians.
Miyagi Prefectural Library is located outside of Sendai City, and it takes about 30-40 minutes on the bus to get there. They have a big local history section, and you find most of the books, including personal memoirs and journals, in open stacks. They keep rare books inside the closed stacks, however. They will let you take digital photos within the limitation of copy rights in the back room. They have the most thorough collection of Kahoku Shimpo and other local newspapers in microfilms as well. Unfortunately the important years (around 1919-1930) of Kahoku Shimpo are completely missing, but some articles related to agricultural business could be found at Kobe University’s digital archive.
Tohoku University’s library is open to the public, but unfortunately most of the books are in the closed stacks. Visitors can make a library card to check out 2 books at a time. Even though this is a little inconvenient, you must check out their online catalogue because some retired scholars have donated tons of rare books to the library. Besides, local academic journals are available in open stacks. They also received and organized the donation of a massive amount of the documents of the Saito Faimily, who used to be the second largest landholder in Japan. I have not tried but you can take a look at the list of Saito documents online by registering.
Many of the city and town offices in Miyagi also compile and revise their local history series regularly. This is partly because many administrative units are going through mergers lately and they try to record a full account of the old city histories. For example, I was doing research on Shida village in Miyagi, which was merged into Furukawa city, which became a part of Osaki city recently. The Osaki city history section have just finished the new Furukawa city history. Because their volume on “sources of modern history” included very relevant materials, I inquired whether I could take a look at other sources they have. They were both very professional and laid-back — they collect as many personally-archived materials from their citizens as possible and digitize everything, and they are willing to share these sources with researchers. They also shared with me an index of Kahoku Shimpo articles written on the region which took three city officials a couple of full months to complete. When I needed to contact individuals in the city, this city history section also helps me by going in-between.
I hope it is clear that Miyagi (I actually imagine that many other prefectures as well) is very historian-friendly, both because they have many interesting materials and because there is personnel who helps you. If you have any possible excuse to include an event, a person, a company, a perspective from Miyagi, I strongly encourage you to devote a few hours searching these catalogues and asking these professionals.
Last Updated: Nov. 10, 2011.