APPENDIX: Doing Research in Japan

NOTE: The following are questions submitted by the members of the Bib95 seminar for a session on the problems of doing research in Japan, with quick responses by Henry Smith ("HS") and Kim Brandt ("KB), who had recently returned from two years of research in Japan. These responses should not be taken as particularly authoritative, but simply as some opinions on the basis of personal experiences.




1. After arriving in Japan, what resources that are in Columbia were not in, or difficult to access in Japanese libraries? After beginning research in Japan, what type of preliminary research did you wish you would have done more of while at Columbia? [Mark]

HS: There are virtually no resources at Columbia that you cannot find somewhere in Japan. The big difference is rather ease of access: at Columbia you have at your fingertips books that may take you days to track down in Japan. So the trick is to be sure of what Columbia DOES have in your area, and to read or copy what will be essential to your research BEFORE you leave. Setting aside as much as a month or two before you leave in order to really probe what is available here will save you much time and energy in Japan.

KB: I found it helpful to start a "bibliocard" system during my last month or two at Starr, where I wrote down titles and information on Starr holdings in my field--especially for things in the old [Nippon Decimal] card catalogs. I took this to Japan, where it did come in handy. Also I recommend hooking up with an e-mail system in Japan if you can do it easily--Mrs. Makino and Amy Heinrich were willing to do email reference requests as of last year, and you can also get CLIO and RLIN. Something else you can do, if only to allay anxiety, is preliminary research using some of the library and archive catalogs we have here. That way you feel a little bit better prepared to tackle something like the Oya Bunko, for example, plus it helps to have a sense of the native categories etc. for research both at Starr and later in Japan.

2. What was your strategy when you began researching in Japan? [Mark]

HS: Each person's strategy will be different, but the crucial point is to HAVE a clear strategy, especially if your topic is broad and the potential materials far more than you could ever manage to look at. (Among recent thesis proposals in Japanese history, for example, those of Franziska Seraphim and Ken Ruoff fall into this category.) You should be able to say exactly which people and institutions you must visit first after your arrival, and stick to those priorities before getting side-tracked on the inevitable (and often pleasureable) detours.

KB: My strategy was just to force myself to go to as many different possibly relevant archives and libraries and museums (in my case) as possible. I made a list of names, key categories, key words, and just started in on the card catalogs, computer catalogs, and stacks. I felt like an unintelligent mole for a while, laboriously copying down characters and call numbers etc., but it was very productive and stimulated some immediate, major revisions of my outline. I also tried (and failed) to obey Professor Gluck's rule of calling or writing one new person a week. To the extent I did this, though, it was very helpful and sometimes even fun. Also I started keeping a research journal.

Other useful starting-up activities might include becoming a library member (with borrowing and reference privileges) at International House of Japan (assuming you are in Tokyo). Cost: ¥3000. The librarians there are very helpful. Also the Japan Foundation Library (located at the JF office in Kioi-chô) is another pleasant refuge when you want to feel a little bit in control again. These are both places where you can do remedial Western-language research. The JF library has recent dissertations in Japanese studies on microfiche.


1. I would like to know about "academic etiquette": how do you go about gaining access to libraries, universities, and scholars? What is the proper procedure for obtaining access? Do you write to professors only after receiving an introduction through our professors here? What kind of a letter do I write? (any samples available?) [Beth]

How does one make connections with Japanese scholars, both graduate students and professors? (I know from last year that this is not nearly as easy as I once thought it would be.) [David]

HS: You are virtually required to have the agreement of a professor in Japan in order to complete your grant proposals, and should give the matter some thought well in advance. If you have any chance to travel to Japan, find the names of potential candidates and seek them out. You should assure any possible advisor of what is in fact the truth: that they will not be particularly burdened by acting as your advisor. (The Mombusho grants are something of an exception, since the advisor is actually paid to work with you.) The only way to locate a potential advisor is to be familiar with the leading scholars in your field, and to ask the advise of Columbia faculty and other graduate students. Any letters should be written as you would write to an American scholar, explaining your interests and research project in detail. If you are confident of your written Japanese or have the time to work on it with a native speaker, then fine, it will certainly impress them (although it is well to be sure that your spoken Japanese lives up to the promise); most Japanese scholars, however, read English perfectly well and have no objections to being written in that language.

KB: For letter-writing in Japanese, and models of letters to Japanese professors from foreign graduate students, see Writing Letters in Japanese by the Inter-University Center, published 1992 by the Japan Times and available for ¥1,800 at Kinokuniya etc. See also the materials from the Center [of which a copy will be placed on the reserve shelf] that this book is based on, for what I think is a greater variety of useful model letters.

2. How does one best take advantage of individual time with Japanese professors? How often is this possible to arrange? What forms does it take? [Gus]

HS: In general, it is far more difficult to get private time with individual professors in Japan than in the US, especially senior professors; it will be much easier to find time in groups or while socializing. You should not be disappointed if your senior mentor is willing to see you only occasionally and briefly. The trick is rather to turn to *younger* faculty members and especially graduate students: these are the people, on the whole, that you will be able to spend most time with, and from whom you will learn the most.

KB: Absolutely. However the 20 minutes with the harassed senior professor can be useful if he (it is almost always a he) has graduate students and/or a useful kenkyûkai or zemi to introduce you to, so ask about these. Also you should prepare a lucid way of describing your project. This may do violence to its complexity and sophistication, but that may be just as well. Mostly you want him to think aloud about resources and people.

3. What is the best way to approach a living author? I assume through contacts and introduction--therefore who do I go to first? [Ted]

HS: With living authors or indeed with any Japanese of distinction, it is generally best to do things the way any Japanese would have to do it, by obtaining a proper introduction. You should also be sure that your introduction is a *good* one, from someone who knows the person well; otherwise you may be treated in a fairly summary way. You should also always report back to the introducer on the success of the meeting. But as a foreigner (and this would, for better or worse, apply less to those with Japanese surnames), you also have the special privilege of leapfrogging such native formalities and approaching the person directly by letter. In this case, it should be written in Japanese (*good* Japanese: have someone check it), perhaps with a return reply card. Still, if you can get an good introduction, you certainly should.

4. What are some strategies for getting along with librarians, administrators, and other official people who can help or hinder research? [David]

H.S.: Be patient and 'umble.

KB: And persistent. Some people unbent and became helpful only after they realized that I wasn't going to give up. As someone once said, many relationships in Japan are largely about elapsed time.


1. Gaining access to libraries and archives, and getting borrowing privileges. [Chris] Using libraries other than the one at the university one is affiliated with. What libraries are best to use. What ones can you get check-out privileges at? What procedures does this involve? [Gus] Practical information about the National Diet Library. Say I've just gotten off the subway and walked through the doors for the first time. Now what do I do? Do I need a library card or i.d. of some sort? [Virginia]

HS: Most of the practical information you need is either written out in the guides to libraries we looked at today, or easy to figure out once you get there. The one practical piece of advice is to obtain an official-looking letter declaring that you are a PhD student, and urging assistance in your research. It doesn't necessarily matter who writes it, as long as it looks important; the most effective, however, might be from Amy Heinrich as head of Starr Library, or perhaps the chair of your department. The agencies that grant you fellowships (Japan Foundation, Mombusho, Fulbright office) will also be happy to provide such letters, and may even give you one as a matter of course. For university libraries other than your own affiliation, procedures vary: often you can just walk in and identify yourself as a Columbia student (here a letter helps), and they will let you in. In many other cases, however, you will need an introduction, which you can obtain by going through the library of your own institution: procedures for such cross-introduction are well established. You should also, of course, have a meishi made as soon as you arrive in Japan, proclaiming your affiliation and perhaps source of support; ask your own senpai for examples of their own meishi. The practical details of using the Diet Library would fill a volume of its own. But the only way to master it is to do it yourself. The only rule is not to lose your cool and get mad at the librarians.

KB: A more or less valid CU I.D. card will get you "researcher" status at the Diet Library (which primarily allows you to stay a couple of hours later in the evening). My home library, which was terrific, was at Waseda. They write letters and call other libraries all over the country, if necessary, to get you entrance/copy privileges.

2. How do you find archives that you don't know exist? [Chris]

HS: The guides to libraries that we looked at for today will be the biggest help; perhaps Mrs. Makino can provide other suggestions. In addition, I once had a marvelous little book that I can no longer locate, entitled Bunko no hon, which had detailed descriptions of major archival collections throughout Japan, and a topical index. [Even more complete, but harder to find things topically, is the Rekishi shiryô hozon kikan sôran mentioned below by Kim.]

Also: as Kim notes ff, used bookstores are not just a place to buy books (which you may not be able to afford anyway), but libraries in their own right--and with open-stack systems and very knowledgeable librarians. Also remember that other than the stores, there are often big one- or two-day sales held by groups of used booksellers, almost weekly at the Kosho Kaikan in Kanda (near Surugadai-shita), and periodically in other parts of Tokyo: keep your eyes open for posters, or ask your favorite bookstore.

KB: Other sources of information are: Japanese secondary material, Japanese scholars, and occasionally the newspaper. Also I want to add here, for lack of a better place, that used bookstores can be a wonderful resource--a kind of archive--and that even if you're not a collector/bookhound type you should get in the habit of visiting Jinbô-chô (Kanda) and also some of the specialized old bookstores in your field all over Tokyo. There was one for me, Ebina shoten, in Kokubunji, that specializes in the Folk-Craft Movement. The owner is a scholar himself, and helped me in many ways.

3. Whether people often get the chance to look at original manuscripts during dissertation research. I would be interested to hear about anyone's experience in gaining access to rare and/or old materials. (Virginia) [Virginia]

HS: In general, it is not too difficult to see rare primary materials, particularly if it is essential to your research--although this will usually be the case only for art historians. Libraries that hold such materials have established procedures for applying and viewing rare materials. In many cases, you may be asked to use copies, typically on microfilm, and may have to offer reasons for seeing the originals. With objects of art, the ease of access differs very widely: some museums are extremely open, and will let you handle art on your own. Others will be much more difficult, requiring complex introductions. National-treasure class art objects, of course, will be shown only for very special reasons, and you should find out if and when they are next scheduled for public display. As with much else in Japan, you will often have a special advantage as a foreign researcher in access to rare materials, particularly with private collectors, who may delight in showing their treasures to non-Japanese.

KB: From my own experience, and that of several colleagues, libraries and archives in the provinces can be especially welcoming and generous, provided you are armed with all your Tokyo/foreign scholarly credentials. In Tokyo I finally gained access to a treasure trove of primary material after almost one year of hanging around the archive in question, making friends, having tea, etc.

4. Are deceased authors' journals, letters, or notes available at the Diet library or at other libraries in Japan? How do we find them if they are? [Ted]

HS: For modern writers, the best place to turn is the Nihon Kindai Bungakkan in Komaba (see Tokyo Book Map for description); they would probably also be able to tell you where to turn for authors whose materials are elsewhere. For literature in general (as Gus has stressed), the place to inquire is the Kokubungaku Kenkyû Shiryôkan at Togoshi Kôen (see also Tokyo Book Map).

5. I would like to hear about research in Japan using government archival resources at the local level, particularly pertaining to the 1900-1927 period. [Darryl]

HS: The first place to turn are to the official histories (kenshi, gunshi, shishi, chôshi, etc) that have been produced by virtually every unit of local government in Japan, often over two or even three generations (for which you must recall that the names change over time with administrative reorganization). The most recent editions will provide you with the offices and names of those people involved in writing the histories, which will inevitably have used archival materials. Many local governments maintain special archives or offices for editing the local histories. Both officials and historians at the local level in Japan are so friendly and delighted to have someone (especially a non-Japanese) studying their area that access to surviving archival materials should not be difficult. The biggest problem is that the archives are often very poorly organized, and you must rely on the knowledge of their caretakers.

KB: A professor at Waseda instructed me one day on how to do research in the chihô. First you consult Rekishi shiryô hozon kikan sôran (Yamakawa shuppansha, 1990: Starr REF Z3306 .R43 1990), the two-volume book (one for East Japan, one for West) listing archives and libraries throughout Japan for the region you will be visiting. Then you write or call the archive or library and say you will be visiting on such-and-such day(s) and explain what you are looking for. You get the name of the person in charge of the relevant section (for me it was always "kyôdo shiryô" or something like this) if you are not already speaking to him or her. Also you ask if there is any local scholar knowledgeable in whatever it is and get that information and perhaps even call or write that person. Often I found the librarian I was dealing with to be amazingly helpful and creative; when I got to the library or archive he or she might have done all kinds of research already, or even made an appointment for me to meet the local scholar, etc. (Then there were the bad experiences, like the library in Hirosaki that wanted to fingerprint me. Or the too-much-of-a-good-thing experiences, which took many forms.) I am digressing here because the rural research was definitely one of the high points of my time in Japan.


1. Finding and forming research and study groups, and becoming part of the scholarly community. [Chris] How useful have people found the various foreign graduate student benkyôkai and kenkyûkai? [Gus]

HS: You will almost automatically be put in touch with the foreign graduate student benkyôkai, including the thesis-writing group at International House; Kim Brandt can tell you how useful these are. Potentially much more valuable are the countless kenkyûkai, ranging from informal reading groups of graduate students to large academic associations that hold large formal meetings. Generally foreign researchers are welcomed into these groups, and they should become one of the primary forms of academic socialization for many of you. Once you have established yourself in a group, particularly of the local or informal sort, you will inevitably be asked for your own happyô. This is an extremely useful, if trying, exercise, since it forces you to pull together your ideas and present them in Japanese. Difficult as it may be, you should welcome and seek out opportunities like this. One final warning: don't become over-committed, and don't consent to do happyô if you really don't want to, unless the burden of on towards either an individual or group is too great to permit you to refuse.

KB: The Ph.D. kenkyukai at I-House is big and rather general. It's good to get on their mailing list, so that you get announcements of presentations every month and can participate in the yearly conference if you want. The quality is uneven, though, and much depends on the person(s) organizing it on a given year. It often gets oriented to political science, for some reason. The littler Japanese history benkyôkai (for foreign graduate students) that was running as of last year can be good, depending on the morale and the members, etc. I found it useful and important.

2. Pros and cons of taking classes at a Japanese university as opposed to simply doing research. [Gus]

HS: Few of you will want or need to "take" a course at a Japanese university, in the sense of writing papers, taking exams, or getting credit. But you should by all means take advantage of the possibility of auditing (chôkô) classes, particularly graduate seminars conducted by your academic advisor. The classes may often prove boring and/or disorganized, and the discussion tepid, but that in itself is a lesson in how Japanese universities operate. The greatest advantage of auditing classes is that they provide a very useful way to meet students in the same area of interest.

KB: I was very glad I sat in on a couple of classes during the first half of my research period. It was good for my Japanese, crucial to my understanding of the shape of the field in Japan (and academic culture, as Prof. Smith notes), and gave me a loose community of Japanese peers. Note, however, that "audit" does not necessarily mean exemption from class responsibilities, like happyô or onerous group projects, etc. In this sense big lecture courses can be a good choice too.


1. I am curious about concrete things such as student visas and finding apartments. [Beth]

HS: There are now guidebooks on this sort of thing that should be available at Kinokuniya and elsewhere. But the best guides will be friends and senpai. The best apartments are ones that are handed down from others. Visa procedures will be easy provided that you have a sources of support and formal affiliation in Japan.

2. How to avoid descending into the archives and never coming out, i.e., keeping in touch. [Chris]

HS: This has rarely proved a problem; or at least, the opposite problem is probably more serious, that of becoming overly distracted by all the wonderful things to do in Japan that have nothing to do with your research, or by being constantly called upon by Japanese academic friends to perform for them. A more practical matter of "staying in touch" is your communications system in Japan. As Kim has mentioned, you should try to get an e-mail hook up through your university (which is currently difficult with most universities, it seems, but things should be improving). Second, you should always be sure to get your own phone in your apartment, and to get an answering machine ("rusuban denwa"). If you can afford it, a fax is also very useful, particularly in Japan, where almost everyone seems to have them nowadays.

KB: Depends on what you mean by "in touch." It's hard not to lose touch to some extent, for example, with Western mondai-ishiki, theory, historiography. I think you have to be a little bit willing to let go, and let the archives take over for a while. It does feel overwhelming, even deadening at times. People deal with this differently. I think it's good to come back here to write up, for example, but some people prefer to stay . . .


1. What are the most frustrating and rewarding aspects of researching in Japan? [Mark]

HS: The most frustrating thing is that access to resources is in general much more time-consuming and complicated than in the US: inter-library loans are unknown, copying can be very expensive, libraries may require introductions, and so forth. The most rewarding aspect is that solving these problems can actually be interesting and satisfying, and that many (not all) of the Japanese you encounter along the way will be very helpful and friendly.

KB: I would add only that frustrations can include a sense of entrapment by social obligations. This ranges from forced attendance (and performance) at functions/meetings/konpa etc, to unpaid translation and editorial favors, to English lessons. It's difficult but important to find the right balance here. By the same token, the rewards can also be social. Almost every topic has its subculture, and once you get deep enough into something you often stumble across fascinating little circles of people who find you fascinating too.

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