The Historiographical Institute of the University of Tokyo is a research institution for the study of historical documents that span Japan’s pre-modern history from ancient times through to the Meiji Restoration. Our mission is to collect and analyze various historical documents from holdings both in Japan and overseas and compile and publish these as key collections of Japanese historical documents for the benefit of academia and society.
Our institute has a long history, and its origins stretch back to the Institute for Japanese Studies (Wagaku Kōdansho) in the Edo period. The Meiji Government took over the operation of this institute in the second year of the Meiji period (1869) and embarked on historiographical undertakings. The institute was subsequently transferred to the Imperial University, which adopted the current style of compiling and studying Japanese historical materials. Starting with the first volumes of Dai Nihon Shiryō and Dai Nihon Komonjo published in 1901, we have published a total of more than 1,200 volumes of Japanese historical materials and archives.
Many historical materials related to Japanese history can be found in both Japan and overseas. Investigation and collection of these materials are the first steps to historiographical undertakings. In recording such historical information, we have adopted the most appropriate method available at the time such as calligraphic reproduction, copying, and photography, according to the characteristics of the historical material. With the digitalization of photography of recent years, we have established a new framework to systematically accumulate and publish high-definition photographs of historical materials. In addition to reproduced materials, the Historiographical Institute also has a vast archive of 200,000 precious original source materials including a designated National Treasure, the Shimazu-ke Monjo (Documents of the Shimazu Family). We repair and conserve these materials to pass them down to the next generation and also analyze the unique information only original materials bear, integrating conservation and research together as a consistent endeavor.
The Historiographical Institute has made active efforts to expand our scope of research and to innovate the ways we disseminate information. In 1997, we established the Center for the Study of Visual Sources to engage in full-fledged research of pictorial sources such as picture scrolls, shoen-ezu (ancient and medieval estate maps) and old photographs. The International Center for the Digitization of Premodern Japanese Sources was established in 2006 to expand the Siryohensansho Historical Information Processing System (SHIPS) we have built and evolved since the 1980s and pioneer the new field of historical informatics. We also contribute to the internationalization of Japanese history such as investigations of Japanese historical materials held overseas and international dissemination of Japanese history information. Through these activities, we have deepened collaboration with overseas institutions that hold historical materials or engage in historiography in diverse countries, including those in China, Korea and Russia. Certified as a “research center for converting Japanese historical materials into research resources” since 2009, we have promoted collaborative research with researchers, museums, and regional authorities throughout Japan and the findings from such collaborations are offered as research resources for joint use. In 2019, we were selected as the only humanities institute in the Program for Constructing Data Infrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and have embarked on the construction of data infrastructure on Japanese historical materials, aiming to strengthen the core values of data sharing, internationalization, and connectivity. In AY2020, we received an “S” rating for comprehensive performance in an evaluation conducted by the steering committee of the program.
The Historiographical Institute seeks to deliver various information related to historical materials to everyone interested in history. In addition to historiographical work, our affiliated researchers are working to disseminate their research findings through diverse activities ranging from research by individual researchers or collaborative teams to university education and extension lectures open to the public. Research support departments including the Library responsible for managing and utilizing books and historical materials, the Conservation Laboratory equipped with advanced technologies and expertise, and the Administration Office that oversees the operation of the entire institute cooperate to support the research system.
Due to the spread of COVID-19 since 2020, the activities of the Historiographical Institute have been significantly restricted like everyone else. We have not been able to make much progress in the collection of historical materials, an important pillar of our operations, and we cannot deny that the pandemic has affected research communications both within and outside of the institute. On the other hand, access to our SHIPS database has significantly increased, indicating heightened expectations for the roles of the Historiographical Institute to support research activities under the curfew.
The Historiographical Institute, as the central organization of Japanese historiographical research, not only builds the foundations but also drives research efforts at the forefront of historical and historiographical research, based on tradition and introducing state-of-art technologies. We request your renewed understanding and support for all such efforts.