Our mission: to unlock the value in ancient & modern Japanese text for people worldwide.
You can say this about the Japanese: we are obsessive recorders of even the most mundane matters – and we’ve been at it for over 1,400 years since Europe was in the Dark Ages. Over centuries of course much has been lost to fire, flood and the ravages of time. But a huge trove of text survives… and in it lie hidden treasures.
The obvious gems are literary works like The Tale of Genji, often cited as the world’s first novel, written by Lady Murasaki in the early 11th Century. Along with it, hundreds of personal diaries penned by greater and lesser personages over a millennium. Behind all that, a mountain of mundane data: records of temples and tax collectors documenting who lived where, who grew what and who paid how much. By-the-by, they often noted natural events, climatic conditions, illnesses and other matters that can yield golden nuggets to those who sift through them.
For example, the Cascadia quake/tsunami that devasted the northwest coast of North America in 1700. Scientists found alarming evidence of a massive seismic event that was confirmed by indigenous oral histories. But no one could determine the date… until someone thought to check the Japanese record. Sure enough, in the municipal archives of seven towns along Japan’s Pacific coast they found the precise date and time the tsunami struck. Tracing back, they were able to pinpoint the quake: 9 pm Pacific Time on January 26, 1700.
Japan’s historical datasets prove useful in other fields, too. Japanese have cultivated over 300 varieties of soybean, keeping records for 1,300 years. Kikkoman, the famed soy sauce maker, has kept detailed records of how each variety has fared in varying climatic conditions every year since the family business was founded in 1603. That dataset is now a key tool for crop scientists at the University of Wisconsin.
is to work with researchers from around the world in finding similar treasures in Japan’s huge trove of historical text. At the same time, we’re just as eager to help find valuable text in contemporary sources – but we’ll get to that. First, a few more thoughts about the challenge of working with historical sources.
Scrolling through Japan’s text archive
The word “scroll” today makes us think of something to do with a cursor. But working with Japanese historical texts often literally involves scrolls – fragile rolls of ancient paper. Until recently, that made historical research intensely tedious. But Japanese librarians – notably the National Diet Library – have been painstakingly digitizing and cataloguing as much material as they can. Mostly, the results are images (à la microfilm) rather than machine-readable text. That’s made research work much easier… but it’s still a challenge.
Ever try reading Chaucer in the archaic original? Delving into ancient Japanese texts is a bit like that, except that both language and characters are archaic. So, working with non-Japanese researchers effectively requires double-translation: first into modern Japanese, then into English (or other languages).
The upshot: before starting to dig, you must carefully consider where to put your shovel. That takes imagination and extensive consultation with librarians and other experts, like temple priests. That’s where we really add value.
Today, Japan’s historic obsession with compiling and storing information not only continues unabated – it has redoubled now that electronic storage is limitless and almost free. And people outside Japan are often surprised to find what’s available if you know where to look.
Huge troves of corporate and credit information are available from sources like Teikoku Databank. The Houmukyoku (Ministry of Justice office) in each area has tons more info on ownership of companies, land, etc. And, of course, searching Japanese-language terms in Google brings up a wealth of material.
What’s more, there is an organization for just about everything in Japan. Even organized crime is hyper-organized: newspapers routinely publish the number of “soldiers” in each yakuza gang. So, if you want to know about dry cleaning in Japan, start by calling the Dry Cleaners’ Association.
Finally, as any good detective knows, there is no substitute for “shoe leather” – going to interview subjects of interest directly, or hanging out in their stores to estimate how many shoppers visit.
We’re ready and able to assist with all of the above!
Tell us how we can help…
We are available on an hourly or per day basis at the rates below. But we’re also happy to discuss your needs, to consider how we can work within your budget and to suggest sources you can pursue on your own.
Online/phone research & client consultation: ¥7,000/hour
On-site / library research in Tokyo area: ¥7,000/hour
+ travel fee in other areas by quote
Data fees and other expenses: At cost
Translation JP-to-EN: ¥30/word
(or by quote)
Naoko Mikami, Lead Researcher
Japan Text Treasure Finders, a new initiative by C Hub Japan, is led by Naoko Mikami. Fluently bilingual, she holds a BA in Japanese Literature from Nihon University. After 25 years working at International Budo University, Japan’s foremost martial arts school, famed for its collection of ancient scrolls that document the history of martial arts, Naoko is pursuing her lifelong passion for historical research.
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