井の中の蛙

4/17/2011

Collecting Local Materials in Miyagi

Filed under: — sayaka @ 11:29 am Print

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.

4/3/2011

History as it happens

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:13 am Print

Though I’m usually not shy about speaking historically when big events happen, I’ve been very reticent on the Tohoku disasters. As others have pointed out, this is such a multi-faceted disaster — Any movie pitch that included a massive earthquake, historic tsunami, and a nuclear power plant meltdown would be rejected as implausible (except by the SyFy channel, maybe) — that historical analogies seem to have very little utility. Still, there’s some value in having people who know what they’re talking about contributing to the general discussion.1

There’ve been some of the inevitable discussions comparing these events to the 1995 Kobe/Hanshin disaster, to the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, to the 1755 Lisbon catastrophes. More obvious comparisons, like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the recent flooding in Pakistan, don’t seem to be coming into play. Maybe because Western journalists just don’t know enough about these societies to draw conclusions about them? Maybe because Japan’s status as an industrialized society makes it conceptually different to them? The Katrina/New Orleans levee disaster would also seem like an obvious comparison that I haven’t seen yet.2 Once the problem with the Fukushima nuclear power plants manifested, the discussion has ranged from Three Mile Island to Chernobyl to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since nuclear power accidents have been rare, there is a very rough continuum of events for comparison, and it is still not clear at all what the situation is going to be. The combination of widespread tsunami destruction and nuclear dislocation which could be both widespread and nearly permanent, plus the potential economic effects of long-term power problems in Tokyo and Eastern Japan, really does constitute a nearly unique moment in human history.

In the absence of clarity, there’s been an immense stream of cultural commentary.
(more…)

  1. Presumptuous? There’s real social science to prove it! []
  2. There have also been comparisons to Godzilla and Akira, which is something that only an eminence like Bill Tsutsui could get away with. Don’t try this at home! []

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