National Diet Library & Waseda University Library, Tokyo


A review of Modern Japanese Political History Materials, National Diet Library, Tokyo and Special Collections Room, Waseda University Library, Tokyo.

The research I have been conducting in Tokyo for the past 2.5 years kept me busy in primarily two locations: the Modern Japanese Political History Materials Room in the National Diet Library at Tokyo (NDL) and the Special Collections Room in the Waseda University Library.

Ed. Note: Please also see Kelly Hammond’s “Reflections on 5 collections in Japan essential for China scholars” for discussions on the National Diet Library and the Waseda University Library.

Since I am affiliated with Waseda, I almost never encounter any difficulties or hurdles when trying to have access to or borrow any books. However, that is not the case in the National Diet Library. When you visit the NDL for the first time, prepare to be patient with all the bureaucracy that you have to get through. A young lady and a security guard practically pounce on all visitors and enquire if you have a library card. If the answer is not in the affirmative, they refer you to a neighbouring building where you need to register. Prepare to wait at least 20-30 minutes on busy days.

Once you have your NDL card, you still need to make sure to store most of your belongings in the lockers provided at the entrance. Be sure that you do not haul a lot of luggage with you as the lockers cannot fit anything bigger than a medium-size handbag. Also, the lockers are operated with 100 yen coins which are not available on site. (Although there are a very limited number of bigger lockers, those are operated with “medals” and the security guards seem irked when you ask them for one.)There are, however, transparent plastic bags for the items you wish to take with you. The list of prohibited articles is displayed in the locker area and they include cameras too. Thus, taking digital photographs of materials is not an option anywhere in the library.

I have mostly used the Modern Japanese Political History Materials Room on the 4th floor. Regardless of the fact that one has just received a library card, the attendant in the room will still ask for your card, read it digitally and ask you to fill out a paper form with your details to apply for another (paper) card that you need for that section of the NDL. On the form, they require a rather detailed description of what you are researching, so practice your kanji handwriting before you go. When you are done, you will again have to write your personal data, address and so forth on the paper library card handed to you. (“Issued” would not be a proper word here as you are practically issuing it to yourself, minus the official stamp.)

The list of materials in that room is not available online. You can look into the files on the shelf next to the counter and when you find something of interest, you have to file a written application form at the counter for permission to see them. You will need both your plastic and your paper library cards for the process. The materials will arrive from the archives in about 10-15 minutes and you can sit down in the room – no bigger than 20 square meters altogether – to read them. Beware of using your own pens or even pencils, you can only write with the sharp pencils provided by the Library. Should you need a copy of the list of materials, you can again file an application at the counter, upon which they will then direct you to a computer where you need to sign in with your plastic card, then rush with the same card to the nearby printer and place it in its reader. It will then print the application form which – yet again – you need to fill out by hand with more information on exactly what you want copied. (I wondered what was all the fuss with both the electronic application and the handwriting but in Japan the two tend to go hand-in-hand – deliciously impractical!) Then you take the entire package to the Copy Counter on the 2nd floor; the copying process usually takes 15-20 minutes for a 10-page request (15 yen per A4 page).

Please note that if you forgot your money in the entrance lockers, you cannot leave the library by touching your plastic card at the exit as the system will have you blocked. You need to leave all your belongings at the reception desk, get a “green number” which you can then again present upon re-entry. In this way they make sure that you do not run away with any materials that were meant for copying (and which do not have security strips or tags).

If you require a copy of the actual materials, the procedure is even more complicated. The pages are counted by “frame” which roughly refers to an A4 page. Anything beyond this is not doable (or so I have been told.) However, within this size limit all documents count as A4 even if they are not bigger than a tiny spec. Most pre-WWII materials can only be put on microfilm, but if you need paper prints from the microfilm, each page will set you back by 189 yen.

When you are done with your research in the room, you will have to voice your intention to leave the premises to the person at the desk. The staff will then return your paper library card and “release” you from the library lock-up by inserting the plastic card into the computer slot again. Without this procedure you might as well not make the trip to the exit as the system – yet again – will have you blocked.

With reference to the Waseda library I find that the ladies in the Special Collections Room section are really helpful, but they generally have no idea what materials there may be available in electronic format at various other portals. For example, several pre-WWII documents are accessible via the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records (JACAR) website so you do not need to spend a hefty fee on the library copy service or even sit in the room to read the materials. Please note that the documents in the Special Collections Room can only be copied by library personnel and as such, cost much more than usual (40 yen per page).

The materials are searchable in the electronic database which is really convenient. However, sometimes the number of certain magazines and newspapers will be mixed up as I have found out during my research, so you will always have to double-check almost all the dates.

The opening hours for both library rooms are shorter compared to the rest of the establishment so check carefully before you visit.

Judit Erika Magyar
Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies
Waseda University


Image: National Diet Library in Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan. Photograph by 663highland, Wikimedia Commons.

  1. This essay is very useful to first time NDL visitors. I use the NDL once or twice a year and sometimes the Modern Japanese Political History Materials Room therein. The entrance for first time visitors is indicated on maps and signs. They used to let you register for a day pass and then register (or not) for a user card inside. Now they are requiring the card for all entrants. My impression of the pounce, (a very good description!) is an attempt to be helpful. But beware of cameras. I once tried to take a picture of my seminar students by a sign outside the entrance wicket but inside the foyer by the locker room. (It was raining outside but we wanted a photo of our field trip.) A security guard became agitated and urged me to desist. It is baffling that they require separate registration for the Modern Japanese Political History Materials Room. I found the librarians in that room and everywhere very helpful. At the main search lobby a wayward glance might bring an attendant scurrying your way. (But then I did research in Eastern Europe in the mid 1980s, when I filled out a request one week and came back the next to see if they’d found and would let me see what I wanted.) I just want to add that the デジタル資料 button of the NDL search page has an increasing number of fully scanned prewar and wartime materials that can be opened and printed for free anywhere. Also, in my experience you usually need a letter of introduction (from the library at your host school, but perhaps from your faculty host or adviser) to gain admission to academic libraries at institutions to which you are not formally affiliated. It’s a good idea to call ahead and check. Thanks for an interesting essay.

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