Greetings by Director-General of JACAR

Challenges for the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records

May 2024
Dr. Sumio HATANO
Japan Center for Asian Historical Records
1. A “Digital Archive” to Carve Out Japan’s Progress
 The Japan Center for Asian Historical Records (JACAR) was established in 2001 as a “digital archive.” Its objectives are to make widely available to the public in Japan and abroad through digitalized images historical records from the modern and contemporary periods held in Japan, as well as to promote mutual understanding with Japan’s neighboring countries.
 “Historical records from the modern and contemporary periods held in Japan” refers to documents stored at and made available by three principal institutions (the National Archives of Japan, the Diplomatic Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Center for Military History at the Ministry of Defense’s National Institute for Defense Studies (NIDS)). JACAR has received from these three institutions and made available (as of March 2024) approximately 33 million images (roughly 2.2 million entries), which correspond for the most part to an era stretching from the first year of the Meiji period (1868) to the 20th year of the Shōwa period (1945). They include approximately 80 percent of the records in the collection of the Diplomatic Archives and 90 percent of those held by NIDS at the Ministry of Defense.
 When it comes to the size of the database, ease of access, and the reliability of the data provided, JACAR today is one of the leading digital archives even around the world.

2. Satisfying the Need for the Historical Records

(1) “Anytime, Anywhere, By Anyone, and Free of Charge” as Our Motto

 The images of the source materials supplied by the three institutions can be viewed and copied in their existing form.

(2) Work Efficiently toward Getting to the Records Needed

 JACAR itself is not engaged in either collecting records or digitalizing them. Its energies are focused instead on the enrichment of search functions so that the user can more efficiently access the records they need.

 For example, converting the first 300 characters at the start of all records dramatically improves search precision. JACAR has also worked to enhance the archive’s dictionary functions so they can address synonyms, related terms, and the like, and prepared a variety of search tools such as a glossary, a collection of historical terminology, and catalogue information.

(3) Bundled Searching of Records Collections Held at Multiple Institutions

 Cross searches and keyword searching that perform bundled searches of the records held at the three institutions are possible. For example, if the user inputs the name of one particular event, the relevant documents held by the three institutions are bundled together and can then be viewed and printed.

3. Meeting User Expectations

 JACAR celebrated the twentieth anniversary of its founding in 2021, and the tale of the trail that led to that point was put together in a volume titled, “Twenty Years of History.”

 JACAR has won high praise from scholars of Japan in foreign countries for how JACAR makes it easy particularly for users residing in other countries to access the records being held at the three institutions in Japan without actually visiting them.

 It also has created a path for simple access and use to source materials even to history buffs among the general public and individuals from the mass media. There is deep significance to this having taken historical research out of the hands of professionals and opening it up to the average person.

 Meanwhile, JACAR has been moving forward primarily with two initiatives aimed at meeting user expectations: cultivating new users, and expanding the records provided.

(1) Extending the Scope of the Records Provided into Postwar Materials

 Beginning in fiscal 2017, JACAR has been providing post-World War II records with the assistance of the Diplomatic Archives at MOFA and the National Archives of Japan. Currently, the aim is release records up to Okinawa’s reversion and the normalization of Japan-China relations in 1972, when the settling of postwar matters had largely come to an end. Records related to amending the Constitution, Occupation reforms, Japan’s accession to the United Nations, the Peace Treaty, the former U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, and so forth have gradually been made available. In terms of administrative records, documents have been made available from such institutions as the Economic Deliberation Agency and the Economic Planning Agency, which were the driving forces for Japan’s postwar economic growth.

 Beginning in 2024, the plan is to release important diplomatic records from the 1970s and 1980s (on Japan-US and Japan-China relations).

(2) Expanding Records Provided through Link Partnering

 JACAR has created catalogue data for universities, archives, libraries, and the like that have made available historical records as digital images. Using the method of linking to the databases at these institutions, the scope of the images provided has been expanded beyond the domestic arena to overseas.*

* University of the Ryukyus Library; The Institute for Economic and Business Research Shiga University; Hokkaido Prefectural Library; Archives of Hokkaido; Kobe University Library; Faculty of Economics, Oita University; Hoover Institution, Stanford University; Institute of Developing Economies, Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO); The Oriental Library (Toyo Bunko); Japan Press Research Institute; Yamaguchi University Library

4. The Evolution of Digital Archives and the Challenges for JACAR

 Thanks to the rapid evolution of artificial intelligence (AI), it is also becoming more possible to convert historical records one by one to full text files. Furthermore, in the near future converting them to multiple languages (translating to and reproducing them in Chinese and Korean as well as English) will no longer be a dream.

 Still further, the numbers of outstanding digital archives in East Asia, Europe, and the US are rapidly increasing. The building of a “digital archive network” interconnecting these archives with their different language systems is likely to become an issue in the near future. The building of such a network could provide a potent intellectual foundation for sharing historical records internationally and for deepening mutual understanding over interpretations of history. JACAR as a long-established institution will push forward proactively with its work owing to the responsibility we have for connecting other institutions around the world.

5. Initiative for the Future: Vision 2030

 Based on the above-mentioned evolution of digital archives, heading into its next decade, JACAR is reassessing its own role and—in collaboration with our Advisory Committee—has set down its “Vision 2030” initiative.

 Particularly from the aspect of history learning, major changes are taking place such as the launches of Rekishi Sōgō (Modern and Contemporary History) and Tankyū Gakushū (Inquiry-Based Study) in Japan’s middle and senior high schools. In light of such changes in the environment surrounding history learning, there is room for JACAR to make major contributions not only to history researchers but also in the fields of social education and history education. Accordingly, JACAR has been exploring a variety of initiatives such as enhancing the content it offers for the general public and students.

 This year, having marked 30 years since the 1994 Statement from then-Prime Minster MURAYAMA in which investigating the establishment of JACAR was first proposed and 25 years since the 1999 Cabinet Decision that settled JACAR’s opening, everyone here at JACAR is determined to earnestly push forward with the further development of our Center.

 That development has been made by possible precisely through the active assistance of our users. We thank you again for your support.