The objectives of this long-term project led by the Japan Academy are: to collect microfilm reproductions of unpublished historical documents relating to Japan held in foreign countries in order to investigate these materials, compile inventories, transcribe and translate the selected materials, and to publish these documents with annotations. The collection is by far the largest in Japan, composed mostly of historical documents from the U.S. and European countries, as well as of documents concerning ministries of foreign affairs of various countries and the East India Company.
This project was created in 1922 at the Third General Meeting of the UAI upon a proposal by the Imperial Academy of Japan. During the period 1923-1940, the Academy collected handwritten copies based on 1985 volumes kept in the Netherlands After the Second World War, in 1954, the project was resumed at the request of the Academy, now renamed the Japan Academy. The work was entrusted to the Historiographical Institute of the University of Tokyo, and the Institute continued to collect documents by means of microfilming instead of hand copying. By the time the Historiographical Institute published Historical Documents relating to Japan in Foreign Countries: An Inventory of Microfilm Acquisitions in the Library of the Historiographical Institute (The University of Tokyo, in 14 volumes, Tokyo, 1963-1969), it had established a collection of more than 700.000 exposures from 16 countries. The project was subsidized for a first term between 1954 and 1966 (by the UAI in 1954, by UNESCO and International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences (ICPHS), from 1954 to 1966). On a recommendation from the UAI, UNESCO and ICPHS supported the project for a second term from 1975 to 1985. The Dutch government also sponsored this project in its early stage. As a result, at the end of the term, the collection of microfilms added up to 1,141,088 exposures in 2,052 spools from 61 institutions in nineteen countries.
Although the funding of this project has now ended, the Historiographical Institute continues to collect reproductions of documents by means of microfilm and digital images and is now working on digitizing its microfilm collections including the foreign documents. The Institute has been implementing the publication of important documents from these collections in their original languages with Japanese translations, under the name of “Nihon Kankei Kaigai Shiryo (Historical Documents in Foreign Languages Relating to Japan)”. Steady progress has been made, resulting in the list of publications below. The Historiographical Institute has developed the “Catalogue Database of the Batavia’s Uitgaand Briefboek, 1621-1792 (BUB)”, based on the original volumes from the National Archives of the Netherlands, in the Hague. These activities are supported by the Japanese government and other funding organizations.
The Japan Academy and the Historiographical Institute continue to research various unpublished documents concerning Japan. Recently, they made efforts to collect historical documents held in East Asia and Russia. The Historiographical Institute now develops collaborative partnerships with the Russian State Historical Archives, the Russian State Naval Archives, the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Science and the First Historical Archives of China. They have published three catalogues of Japan-related historical documents preserved in Russia and China. The Japan Academy subsidizes research exchanges with foreign institutes every year to develop future collaborative activities related to this project.