National Institute for Defense Studies, Tokyo


A review of the National Institute for Defense Studies, Ministry of Defense (Tokyo, Japan).

The National Institute for Defense Studies (NIDS) in Tokyo houses a sizeable repository of archival materials essential to scholars who do not necessarily focus on the military history of Japan. Those interested in the expansion of the Japanese empire from the late nineteenth century to the early 1940s may also find this collection of immeasurable value. I visited the military archives throughout the fall of 2012 in search of documents on the Japanese occupation of Inner Mongolia, and came across a range of files in varying degrees of significance, including tantalizing details on how often workers cut the grass at the Baotou Airport in 1941 (twice a week).

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Understanding limitations of the military archives, however, requires a brief history of the collection itself and how it came about. In the two weeks following Japan’s surrender in 1945, domestic authorities systematically destroyed evidence to the extent that only an estimated 30% of the army’s wartime records remain today; documents from 1942 to 1945, in particular, are rare. The Allied Occupation Forces seized the surviving papers and transferred them to the National Archives in College Park, MD before repatriation to Japan in 1958, though some material on Japanese war crimes remains in the United States. Still, the NIDS collection contains 58,000 volumes on the Imperial Army and 36,000 volumes on the Imperial Navy. It keeps another 2000 items on a restricted list for privacy reasons.

For the last few years, researchers could access only the Document Files of the Military of the Army 陸軍省大日記 and the Document Files of the Ministry of the Navy 海軍省公文備考 offsite via the database JACAR アジア歴史資料センター, but more of the general collection has become digitized and available online since 2012. At the computer terminals in the archives reading room, you can conduct keyword searches of all document descriptions, including a significant amount of material not yet uploaded to JACAR. These include personal papers and photo albums for which the archives do not have permission to post online for all to see.

Access. NIDS welcomes the public, including foreign visitors, without advanced notice. Present some form of identification (such as a passport or university affiliation), and staff members will assign you a number for the day, which they will call out when your documents are ready for viewing.

Hours. The military archives open at 9AM and close at 4:30PM (last call at 4PM) every weekday, save for national holidays, winter break from December 28 to January 4, and whenever they need to fumigate the depository. The circulation desk does not take requests from about 11:30AM to 1PM, but the reading room itself does not shut down for lunch.

Location. To reach the archives, take the Hibiya line to Ebisu Subway Station and exit at Gate No. 5, or take the Yamanote or Saikyō line and exit at the West Gate. From there, walk west along Komazawa Street and take the second left after Subway Gate 5. Follow the street until you reach the gates of NIDS. The walk from the station should take about ten minutes. (Consult the map here.) The Self Defense Ministry requires all visitors to sign in at the guard’s office by the front gate. They will issue you a nametag and give you a slip of paper that must be stamped by the archives and returned to the guard’s office when leaving the premises (even for lunch). Take the right-hand fork up the hill and the research center is on the right. Sign in again at the archives’ front desk.

Collections Search. You can search the item descriptions of the entire collection via keywords on computer terminals in the reading room. To use these terminals, fill out the necessary form at the front desk in exchange for a laminated red card 索引カード to place on top of the computer. You can either handwrite call numbers and titles, or print out this information onto a sticker at the terminal and paste onto your request form 閲覧申込書, also available at the front desk. You can check out up to five items at once, all completely free of charge. The front desk is actually divided into two parts: the reference desk on the left and the circulation desk on the right. At the reference desk, I found the ever-friendly Kannō-san so gracious in helping me discern the odd squiggle in handwritten manuscripts.

Photocopies. The archives expressly forbid photography of any kind. NIDS outsources photo-duplication to an offsite company which can make unlimited copies—in black and white, color, microfilm, digital, and so on, at increasingly exorbitant prices. Expect to pay 30 to 100 yen per sheet. Fill out photocopying forms 複写申込書 at the front desk and bookmark appropriate sections of your document using blue (start), pink (stop), and yellow (this page only) strips. The circulation desk will confirm your order and help you decide what kind of photocopying to request based on the physical condition or the privacy restrictions of the original document. The photo-duplication center will ship your order to your Japanese address within two weeks of the original request; pay the photocopying fees via bank deposit (receipt and directions included in the package).

Miscellaneous. Coin-operated lockers (100-yen only) are located in the lobby of the archives while bathrooms are down the hall to the right from the reading room. Lunch options consist of several fast food joints on Komazawa Street, as well as restaurant fare in the Atre department store above the train station. For some mid-Showa nostalgia, head to the savory food stalls of Ebisu Yokochō across from the east exit of Ebisu Station for dinner and drinks.

Sakura Christmas
History Department
Harvard University

Image: Aerial Photography Manual Scrapbook, c. 1930, from the National Institute of Defense Studies Archives.

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