Tokyo University Historiographical Institute


A review of the Tokyo University Historiographical Institute (東京大学史料編纂所), Tokyo, Japan.

What is The Tokyo University Historiographical Institute?

I have been conducting research at the Tokyo University Historiographical Institute (hereinafter, HI) on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Russo-Japanese relations since September 2012. I thus wish to introduce fellow scholars to the institute and then focus on its value to scholars of Edo- and Meiji-period Japanese foreign relations. The roots of the institute go back to the Edo period, and it has long served as one of Japan’s most important repositories of historical documents. It houses well over 300,000 items pertaining to all areas of Japanese history from the earliest recorded times to the Meiji period. HI publishes compendia of documents, hosts exhibitions and conferences, and provides opportunities for domestic and foreign scholars to conduct on-site research. The institute is located on the Hongō campus of the University of Tokyo, just inside the famous akamon (red gate). It is accessible by the Tōdaimae and Hongō-sanchōme subway stations.

Affiliation and Settling-in

You do not necessarily have to be officially affiliated with HI in order to view its materials; as HI is a public institution, the staff at the toshoshitsu (library) can pull sources for visitors, who can then view these sources in the attached reading room. However, even visitors have to go through an application and registration procedure. The HI recognizes three levels of visitor: those affiliated with a national Japanese university, those affiliated with any other university, and those unaffiliated with any university. Visitors from other national Japanese universities can view materials simply by presenting their IDs. Visitors affiliated with an international university must fill out an application form (see link below to library usage page) and present a letter of introduction from their university library (if possible in Japanese). Unaffiliated visitors must fill out a different application form (also available from the library usage page) and wait up to a few days for their application to be approved. Visitors must also submit a further application if they wish to view some kichōsho (rare materials). As this application cannot be approved the same day it is received, you may find it best to contact the toshoshitsu beforehand to inform them what sources you are interested in viewing. The toshoshitsu does not use email, so you must communicate with them by phone, fax, or in person. In short, if you wish to fully and freely utilize the resources of the institute and, in particular, to browse the archive stacks yourself, you should try by all means to become officially affiliated.

The process for becoming a gaikokujin kenkyūin (foreign research scholar) at HI is straightforward and free of charge. You must first obtain the sponsorship of a resident scholar. Check the directory on the institute’s homepage to find a scholar whose research interests match your own. If possible, ask a mutual acquaintance (or an established scholar you have worked with) to write an introductory email on your behalf. I cannot stress enough the importance of cultivating a good working relationship with your sponsor; he or she will be an invaluable source of direction regarding your research and the point person for many of your questions or concerns. Having obtained promise of sponsorship, you will have cleared the major hurdle in the affiliation process and will receive an official application form. Fill this out and email it to your future sponsor along with a two-page long research plan (in either English or Japanese). Your candidacy will then be presented to a committee of HI staff, and if approved, you will receive a letter of affiliation you can use to apply for a Japanese visa (if necessary). The application process can take about a month, but to make things easier on your sponsor, try to apply as far in advance as possible. There is no time limit on the maximum length of your affiliation with HI, and if your sponsor agrees, you can later extend your original term of affiliation.

As an affiliate of HI you will be eligible to apply for a space in one of the university’s housing facilities, which I highly recommend, as they are well-maintained and shockingly affordable. Your sponsor will have to nominate you for this, so ask him or her as soon as possible. You will also be able to use the university gym at student rates, use the Tokyo University student clinic and take advantage of other campus services.

Affiliated foreign scholars have a designated office at the institute, with bookshelves, nine desks, a wi-fi connection, and two desktop computers connected to the institute’s LAN. Keep in mind, however that these two computers, while hooked up to the internet, cannot accept USB flash drives. The number of foreign researchers affiliated with the institute usually hovers around 8-10 people, although they are rarely all on-site at the same time. The atmosphere is friendly and open, giving it the feeling of a real community. I regularly eat lunch with my fellow foreign researchers, and have even formed a badminton club with them. The interaction with the wider community can be a bit limited if you do not take steps to cultivate it, which I encourage you to do. Try to participate in the recently established bi-monthly presentations sessions where two foreign researchers volunteer to introduce themselves and their research to assembled HI scholars, followed by a reception. There are also seminars taught by HI and Tokyo University scholars that affiliated foreign researchers are welcome to attend. These are great academic opportunities and networking venues that graduate students especially are encouraged to take advantage of. Still, be careful to balance these with your own research, as sometimes they require a great deal of preparation time. Graduate students may also find it beneficial to join a benkyōkai (study group) made up of Tokyo University students. Ask your sponsor to introduce you to one of these.

Studying Edo and Meiji Foreign Relations at HI

Broadly speaking, the two main research tools for researchers at HI are the toshoshitsu and the institute’s online databases. The toshoshitsu is one unit in the integrated network of the University of Tokyo’s libraries. It is the physical heart of the institute where most original sources and published works are kept. Go up to the front desk of the toshoshitsu on the third floor and ask to create a library card. Upon filling out a short form affiliated scholars will receive a card that will let you borrow books from every Tokyo University library. Visitors will receive a different card, which allows them to request materials only from the HI toshishitsu itself.

The rules for borrowing differ for each library. The HI toshoshitsu will let affiliated scholars borrow as many items as they wish and keep them until early March, when they will either return them, or check them out again. You are not allowed to take any books out of the building. Please refrain from ignoring this rule, as scholars often drop in and ask to quickly take a look at a book you have checked out. The toshoshitsu’s ten floorshouse many reels of microfilm and digitized sources in addition to printed materials. Some of the rarer materials and all reference volumes are not to be taken out of the toshoshitsu and must be viewed in the attached reading room. Affiliated scholars can browse the stacks for all but the top three floors, which hold the most valuable sources. If you want to see a source from one of the top floors, the staff will pull it for you. You can search published works through the integrated Tokyo University Library OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog), which will display results for all Tokyo University libraries (see link below). To find original documents, however, you should use the HI online databases, which I will discuss in detail below.

Among the more useful published materials for students of Edo and Meiji foreign relations, besides the multitudes of secondary works housed in the toshoshitsu, are some of the institute’s flagship primary document compendia. These include the Dai Nihon komonjo bakumatsu gaikoku kankei monjo, Dai Nihon kinsei shiryō, and the Dai Nihon ishin shiryō. Some of the most useful original source collections include the Sō ke monjo, which are records pertaining to the daimyō of Tsushima. This collection contains documents from the daimyō’s Edo residence and copies of crucial documents from Tsushima itself that were taken to Korea after that country’s annexation. The Shimazu ke monjo will be useful for students of Satsuma or the Ryūkyūs. The institute also holds many documents relating to the Hakodate and Nagasaki bugyōsho (magistracies), obtained from the Hokkaidō prefectural archives, the Hakodate and Nagasaki City Libraries, and other sources.

The institute’s truly impressive collection of foreign sources on Japan includes many documents written by Jesuits in Japan, records of the Dutch East India Company, many documents from the British Foreign Office, and others. I have provided a link to a brief overview of some of these below, compiled from the table of contents pages of the multi-volume series “Historical Documents Relating to Japan in Foreign Countries,” published by the institute to document its holdings in the 1960s. As this list is quite dated, it does not reflect the many recent acquisitions, including the RGAVMF (Russian State Naval Archives), RGIA (The Main Russian State Archives) and AVPRI (The Foreign Policy Archives of the Russian Empire) collections I was most interested in.

In fact, many recent acquisitions, especially those from abroad, are not yet in the toshoshitsu or databases at all. For example, those looking for Russian materials will find almost all of them on a bookshelf on the seventh floor. In addition, countless documents exist as digital photos on CDs on scholars’ desks waiting to be printed out and organized. Thus, it is important for affiliated scholars to communicate with their sponsors about the kinds of documents you are looking for. In my case especially my sponsor, Dr. Hoya Tōru, not only had in-depth knowledge of many of the Russian and Hakodate bugyōsho documents I was interested in, but had personally overseen the collection of a great many of them.

All scholars should be aware that the rules governing the reproduction and publication of documents housed in or available through HI often differ greatly. In particular, many documents obtained from other institutions have limitations on their reproduction or use, as is the case with some Nagasaki bugyōsho and RGAVMF documents I looked at. Visitors who wish to obtain photocopies of documents should talk to the toshoshitsu staff and fill out a form if the documents they need can be reproduced. Affiliated scholars should ask their sponsors and/or the toshoshitsu staff if you can copy the documents they are interested in. To use the photocopiers in the copy room you will need to buy a copy card from the first floor main office. One page costs 6 yen. While visitors cannot photograph or scan documents, affiliated scholars can do so, if expressly allowed by the institute’s staff, at their desks.

The institute provides access to a number of online databases (see link below for the main portal). The level of functionality of some of these databases is determined by your mode of access. There are three levels of access to the databases with increasing levels of availability of information: access from an off-site network, access through the HI wireless network or through the toshoshitsu computers, and access through one of the HI office computers with your login ID. Visitors can access the databases from an off-site connection or use one of the computers in the toshoshitsu. If they utilize the toshishitsu computers they will get access to more databases and results then if they accessed the database portal from off-site, but still less access than an affiliated scholar using one of the HI office computers. Hi-CAT Plus, for example, will not show up at all if you connect from off-site. Furthermore, if you wish to view image files of the documents you find through it (many are already digitized), you will only be able to do so through an on-site computer. Even then you will not be able to save or print these documents at all. This is due to usage agreements between HI and other archives.

Once logged in, you will find that the level of detail provided in the database entries that come up as results of searches vary, both from database to database and from entry to entry. Entries for some documents contain detailed information, and some entries for entire collections may contain detailed information on each document in it. Other entries only have the titles of the document or collection itself. Some documents, especially those in the main database of the institute’s own holdings (Shozō shiryō mokuroku deitabeisu) are also saved as image files that you can view and even save. Many documents, especially Japanese ones, have been digitized, while the overwhelming majority of the foreign documents have not. Among the more useful databases for scholars of Edo and Meiji foreign relations are the abovementioned Shozō shiryō mokuroku deitabeisu, along with the Ishin shiryō kōyō deitabeisu, kinsei shiryō hensan shien deitabeisu and Hi-CAT Plus.

In short, I highly recommend a sojourn at the HI to any scholar of Edo and Meiji Japan’s foreign relations. I am also confident that your time there will not only be productive, but pleasant.

Useful Information

HI homepage (
HI databases portal (
HI library usage page (
HI databases portal (
Historical Documents Relating to Japan in Foreign Countries” brief list (
Tokyo University Library Online Public Access Catalog [OPAC] (

Historiographical Institute Address:

Tōkyō-to, Bunkyō-ku
Hongō 7-3-1


03-5841-5997 (Main office)
03-5841-5962 (Library)


Viktor Shmagin
Department of History
University of California, Santa Barbara


Image: Entrance to the Tokyo University Historiographical Institute (photograph by Thorsten Pattberg).

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