Collections in Fukuoka, Japan


A review of library collections in Fukuoka, Japan

Kyushu Historical Museum
九州歴史資料館  838-0106 福岡県小郡市三沢 5208-3
Tel: +81-94-275-9575 Website
Fukuoka City Library Local Collections
福岡市図書館郷土・文書資料室 814-0001 福岡市早良区百道浜3-7-1
Tel: +81-92-852-0629 Website
Fukuoka Prefectural Library Local Collections
福岡県立図書館郷土資料室 812-8651 福岡市東区箱崎1-41-12
Tel: +81-92-641-1123 Website
Kyushu University Collections
箱崎キャンパス 中央図書館 812-8581 福岡市東区箱崎6-10-1
Tel: +81-92-642-2337 Website

The libraries and collections discussed in this review are all located in or around Fukuoka city, where I am currently based for a year doing research on the region’s modern history. My own research focuses on the region’s links with the expanding Japanese empire in the first half of the twentieth century, but all collections also have a large number of early modern documents, especially ones related to the various daimyo houses of the region, and to the area’s long-standing connections with Asia. Whilst regional archives such as these are, unsurprisingly, most often utilized by historians and researchers with a geographical focus in the area, I would argue there is an increased likelihood of finding materials here that have yet to be used by academics, in order to illuminate a wider national, or even international topic.

The Kyushu Historical Museum’s collections consist of cultural treasures excavated from archaeological sites in the region, as well as materials connected to the history of Fukuoka Prefecture. The Fukuoka Prefecture materials were formerly held by the Western Japan Cultural Society (Nishi Nihon Bunka Kyōkai) and consist of some 100,000 items, including maps, picture postcards and the donated papers of many influential figures and families from the region. The Museum is currently in the process of archiving the papers of Itō Oshirō (1869-1949), editor of the first edition of the prefecture’s history (Fukuoka-ken shi), which should prove to be a valuable addition to the collection.

The local collections (kyōdo shiryō) of both Fukuoka City and Fukuoka Prefectural Library are perhaps aimed at a slightly different audience (read: retired local history enthusiasts) than those of the Kyushu Historical Museum, and feature published works from Meiji, Taisho and Showa eras connected to local government and businesses, as well as maps, postcards and magazines from the region. There are overlaps between the two collections – I’ve found missing editions of pre-war local magazines from one library in the holdings of the other, for example. Both libraries also have substantial reference collections including catalogues for other local libraries, local newspaper archives, and government publications.

The libraries of Kyushu University are spread out over its several campuses, but most of the university’s rare and historical collections are held either in the Hakozaki Campus Central Library or Ito Campus Library. The university is projected to close its Hakozaki campus in the next two years; when exactly the library will move to the new Ito Campus is unclear. The collections of the university of special interest to me include the donated library of former Japanese History professor Higaki Motokichi, as well as documents published by students and professors of Kyushu Imperial University (as it was known before 1947) on their visits to their “sempai” hard at work in the colonies. The historical collections held in the libraries’ open stacks feature many donations from former professors or students of the university. The university also holds many collections connected to the region’s mining industry, and which are held under one roof in the Hakozaki Campus. The rare books collection features a number of important early modern collections, including emaki, maps, the holdings of Kyushu daimyo houses such as the Matsura and Hosokawa, and over 200 Edo-era yomihon. Click below for complete listings of the university’s collections, divided into “Rare Books Collections” and “Library Collections”. For materials connected to the history of the University itself, it may be worth contacting the staff of Kyushu University Museum and Medical School Museum.


Prior to my first visit to the Kyushu Historical Museum, the librarian whom I had been in contact with warned me that it was not in the most convenient location; that the route from the nearest station was an unpaved path in parts, through the ruins of a castle, and that I should definitely bring my own food. On sunny days the 15-minute walk from Mikunigaoka station (around 25 minutes on the express train from Nishitetsu Tenjin station) is very pleasant, but it’s definitely on the remote side. Follow the rather rustic signs from the station, and watch out for hornets.

In comparison, the Fukuoka City and Prefectural Libraries are easily accessible via the Fukuoka City Subway. The City Library is located in Momochi, next to the Fukuoka City Museum and the Fukuoka Tower, in what were the grounds of the 1989 Asian Expo. Get off at Nishijin station (on the Kūkō line) and walk for 10-15 mins, or get a bus from the city center headed to Fukuoka Tower Minami-guchi (W1, W2, 302, 306, 312). The Prefectural Library is located in Hakozaki (about a ten minute walk from the university campus), next to the rather lovely Hakozaki Hachiman-gu. Get off at Hakozaki-miya-mae station, and it’s a two-minute walk.

The main Kyushu University campuses are on opposite sides of the city; the Hakozaki campus is accessible via its own subway stop (Hakozaki-kyūdai mae) on the Kaizuka line, but the new Ito campus is located out to the west of the city and requires a long subway or bus ride. There is a free shuttle linking the two campuses together, but it’s infrequent, crowded, and limited to those with university ID. Direct buses depart from Tenjin Kita bus stop, or take the subway out to Kyudai-gakken-toshi station (only Chikuzen Maebaru-bound trains) and then get a bus from the stop outside the station. It takes about 45 minutes from the city center.

Accessing Materials:

The Kyushu Historical Museum Website is (by Japanese library website standards) easy to use, and contains detailed and searchable PDF catalogues of each collection held by the Museum. Be sure to contact the Museum staff via the email address on their website prior to your visit (at least a couple of days in advance) to allow them time to prepare the documents for you, using the numbers listed in the catalogues. Requests cannot be made on the day, so if in doubt, over-order. The museum is closed on Mondays, so take that into account when getting in touch. The staff are incredibly helpful and kind, perhaps to make up for the journey researchers have to make to get to the museum. The document viewing room is on the second floor of the building, and the rest of the building is taken up with exhibitions on archaeological collections, as well as ongoing archival cataloging and conservation activities.

As public libraries, access to the Fukuoka City and Prefectural libraries is open to all. In both libraries’ local collections, there are many books on open shelves, as well as others located in stacks or on microfilm. You can use the library’s computers to search for books and documents, then in the case that they are in the stacks/on microfilm, print and take a “receipt” with the book listing to staff, who will then retrieve the works for you in a few minutes (I never waited longer than about half an hour). In the City Library local collection, there are some works in glass exhibition cabinets that can be viewed on request, but all items should be searchable via the library databases.

It is a rather frustrating feature of both libraries, however, that neither have an overall catalogue of works in their local collections. (I’ve found one catalogue for the Prefectural Library local collections from 1988). There are (hard copy only) catalogues for collections within the local collections, and yearly listings for new additions to the manuscript collections of the City Library, but it’s hard to get an overall sense of what’s available without wandering the aisles, or doing a large number of keyword searches. The staff at both the Prefectural and City Library are helpful and it’s worth asking them first if there’s anything related to your research topic in the library’s collections. That being said, often the best discoveries are made through browsing the shelves. If you’re in Fukuoka for any length of time (long enough to have a residence card or Fukuoka address) you can get a library card that allows you to borrow books from any of the city’s libraries. The card can be processed in a matter of minutes; the same applies for the Prefectural library – but unfortunately you need to get a separate card.

Kyushu University allows non-students to enter and use its libraries; except for the Humanities Department Library (details here), you can turn up on the day, sign in, and get a visitor pass. There are terminals inside the libraries where you can search the collections, and photocopiers take cash as well as university issued cards. For detailed coverage of access to and reproduction requests for the rare books collections (i.e. those collections not available on open shelves) click here.

Digital collections:
The maps and postcard collections of the Kyushu Historical Museum, numbering some 2000 items in total, have been digitized, but only for viewing within the museum itself. After requesting items from these collections, visitors can view the digital images, and then get print-outs (10 yen per page, black and white) or request to see the originals, if they want to take color photographs (free). The Fukuoka Prefectural Library has digitized its maps, postcards, and illustrated books collections, viewable here, via some rather retro software. For information on reproduction of these images, or to see the originals, contact the library directly.

Fukuoka City Library seems firmly stuck in the pre-digital era – there are not even online versions of the manuscript collection (komonjo) catalogues. For an overview of komonjo collections, including information on which hard-copy catalogue they are listed in, click here. Be warned that the library’s anti-technology bias goes as far as banning use of laptops in the reading rooms! Kyushu University Museum hosts an extensive digital database of rare books, documents and maps from its own collection, as well as Prefectural collections, but unfortunately as of October 2015, the database is under construction. Some digitized materials are still accessible via the Rare Books catalogue, however.

Both Kyushu Historical Museum and the City and Prefectural Libraries are, as a rule, closed on Mondays, except when Monday is a national holiday. For researchers visiting in university vacation periods, be sure to take into account closures during the Obon holiday in August, and the New Year. The Kyushu Historical Museum is open from 10am until 4:30pm, the City Library from 10am – 7pm (6pm on Sundays and holidays) and the Prefectural Library from 9am – 7pm (5pm on Sundays). During term-time, Kyushu University Libraries are generally open from 8am until 9pm. For detailed information click here.

Reproduction of materials:
As mentioned above, Kyushu Historical Museum charges 10 yen per page for photocopies of its digitized materials, however for non-digitized material photocopying is not allowed, but photography is. You need to fill out a form listing what items you’ve photographed, and for what purpose, but aside from that it is a straightforward procedure. There’s a copy stand available as well as weights for holding things in place. At the City and Prefectural Libraries there are copiers for use by visitors (10 yen per page), but depending on the condition of the materials, there are some items that staff won’t allow to be photocopied. The staff allow photography of old or oversize materials at the Prefectural Library, but the City Library has a no photography policy. In the case that the document you want to photocopy is deemed too old or fragile, there are reproductions (either microfilm or photocopy) that you can make use of to copy from. Microfilm readers are available in both libraries’ Local Collections rooms. Books on the Kyushu Libraries shelves are all photocopiable – although some of them probably shouldn’t be. I’ve never had a problem taking photos of materials that I thought might disintegrate if I tried copying them. For details on accessing and ordering reproductions of the rare books collections or items from the closed stacks, see the link above.

General Information:

Of the four libraries, only the Fukuoka City Library offers free wifi, but ironically doesn’t allow laptops in its reading rooms (you have to reserve space in the pasokon room on the second floor). If you have an eduroam account, you may be able to access internet within Kyushu University Libraries. Otherwise (and generally for short-term research trips in Japan) I would invest in a mobile wifi router.

Aside from the ever-present vending machines, Kyushu Historical Museum really is a food desert. Bring your own bento, and enjoy eating it in the rest corner on the first floor, whilst accompanied by the new-age soundtrack to the video in the adjoining exhibition room. There are lots of lunch options near the subway station in Nishijin, but fewer by the City Library itself, aside from the rather old-fashioned restaurant on the first floor. If you want a break from the books, I recommend bringing your own lunch and heading to Momochi beach, though you might not want to come back. There are some fast food options (Subway, convenience stores) by Fukuoka Tower too. The Hakozaki area has lots of options for lunch, most closer to the Prefectural Library than the University Campus. I recommend Nagata Pan, just opposite Hakozaki Shrine, for their freshly baked breads and Showa nostalgia, and Kudara, a Korean restaurant with great sundubu lunch sets. On either the Hakozaki or Ito Campus, the best deal around is the student cafeteria, where you can get lunch sets for around 300 yen. You don’t need to show any student ID, and for cafeteria food, it’s really pretty good.

Hannah Shepherd
Department of History
Harvard University

File: Higashi Koen (East Park) Fukuoka City

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