With “Pre-modern Books in Japanese” as the keyword, the “Project to Build an International Collaborative Research Network for Pre-modern Japanese Texts (NIJL-NW project)” was inaugurated at the National Institute of Japanese Literature in 2014.

Overview of the Project

With the National Institute of Japanese Literature as its linchpin, the objective of “Project to Build an International Collaborative Research Network for Pre-modern Japanese Texts” is to build a network for international collaborative research into “Pre-modern Japanese Books” in coordination with institutions such as domestic and overseas universities. Because “Pre-modern Japanese Books” include writings in every imaginable field and fields of research cover a span ranging from general humanities to natural sciences, it is expected that the project will serve to deepen research into fields concerned and also lead to expansion through transdisciplinary research. Moreover, to organize a firm research foundation for the project, it was decided to convert approximately 300 thousand “Pre-modern Japanese Books” into image data to be amalgamated with the bibliographic data base to produce the “Database of Pre-modern Japanese Books.”
As well as participation in the implementation of the project by a base of twenty domestic universities, plans are also in place for coordination with institutions including overseas universities research facilities with Academic Exchange Partner Organization of the National Institute of Japanese Literature taking the central role.

Implementation Plan (Provisional)

Research Period
10 years (2014 - 2023)
Total Project Cost
8.8 billion yen (requisition)
Coordinating Organizations
(in no particular order)


20 bases : Hokkaido University, Tohoku University, University of Tsukuba, Tokyo University, Ochanomizu University, Nagoya University, Kyoto University, Osaka University,
Kobe University, Nara Women's University, Hiroshima University, Kyushu University,
Keio University, Kokugakuin University, Rikkyo University, Waseda University,
Otani University, Doshisha University, Ritsumeikan University, Kansai University
National Institutes for the Humanities :
National Museum of Japanese History, National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics,
International Research Center for Japanese Stiudies
Research Organization of Information and Systems :
National Institute of Informatics, National Institute of Polar Research


Institute of Advanced Japanese Studies - College de France, Columbia University,
Korea University, University of Florence, Center for Japanese Studies - Beijing Foreign Studies
University, Leiden University, Venice University, University of Naples, Sapienza - Universita
di Roma, Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, University of British Columbia, Cambridge University,
East Asian Library(University of California, Berkley), Berlin State Library

Implementation Structure

With the National Institute of Japanese Literature the leading role, it is planned to implement project by promoting activities through coordination between twenty universities serving as the base in Japan as well as overseas universities and research with the focus on organizations that have signed Academic Exchange Agreements with the national Institute of Japanese Literature.

Expected Results

As well as achievements realized through research including the deepening of research in a wide diversity of fields and evolution through transdisciplinary research, the project is expected to results such as the realization of measures to address risks to cultural assets through the conversion of images into data.

The main expected results arising from the project are listed below.

  • Deepening of academic research across a wide diversity of fields and new developments

    Up to the present time, the main pre-modern books used as research materials have, on the whole, belonged solely to the fields of Japanese literature and historical studies. The reason for this is that both the means of discovering the whereabouts of such materials and the number of persons able to read cursive script (characters written in cursive style) have been limited. Moreover, because pre-modern books are also considered to be valuable and deemed to be cultural assets, even in case where the whereabouts is known, perusal is often not possible because of the risk of degradation. This project aims to resolve these problems by converting images of the original books into data and, furthermore, to make simultaneous use of empirical research of textual renditions to contribute to research is a wide range of fields.
    It is anticipated that the availability for viewing and reading of the originals of materials which it has never been possible to verify will serve to deepen research not only in fields such as Japanese literature and history, but also in other areas of research.

  • the development of transdisciplinary research

    During the process of building the “Pre-modern Japanese Book Database” that will serve as an organized foundation for transdisciplinary research, the opinions and views of research communities in all fields will be taken on board so that materials will be converted into data in order with prioritization on literature likely to be most often used. In addition, it is anticipated that the process of considering what kind of keywords are important and picking out keywords from cursive texts will promote exchanges between previously unrelated fields, leading to the development of transdisciplinary research based on new ideas.

  • Measures to cope with risks to cultural assets through the conversion of pre-modern books into image data

    Because a great deal of time has passed since their creation, in many cases, text in pre-modern books has become illegible due, for example, to degradation of the paper itself or damage caused by insects (damage resulting from holes created by insects). It is, therefore, essential to store such books as valuable documents to prevent any further degradation.
    Moreover, it cannot be denied that some such books may be lost due to disasters (e.g. Earthquakes, tsunami, fire).
    To address this issue, if were possible to preserve high-quality images of such books that had the precise appearance of the originals, exposure of the originals to environments that facilitate degradation could be reduced and, moreover, even if the originals were lost due, for example, to disasters, their content would be preserved in a state close to the originals.
    Although images have also been preserved in the past on microfilm, the aim of this project is to create a database that is easier to use by converting originals into digital images.
    Since the database created by this project will be made available to the public on the internet, images of the originals of pre-modern books will be available for perusal by anyone, anywhere at any time. Images of documents that have been available for viewing only by limited groups such as researchers will become viewable by anyone for the first time.

Collaborative Research

Pre-modern books that were written and read up to the beginning of the Meiji era that exist in vast numbers and provide a record of life and culture in Japan before changes triggered by wide-ranging contact with modern times in the west and are, therefore, a valuable cultural source that serves to covey such aspects of Japan to future generations. The “Project to Build an International Collaborative Research Network for Pre-modern Japanese Texts” aims to create a research network with the participation of researchers in a wide range of fields in both Japan and overseas, thereby shedding light on the enormous amount of pre-modern Japanese books through new research and making them available for use as intellectual resources. During the process of achieving the goals of the project, the task of building a database comprising images of 300 thousand pre-modern Japanese books covering all fields will be undertaken hand in hand with universities in Japan and pioneering research open to researchers in a wide diversity of fields will be conducted.

Data Base

The Data Base to Construct this Project

In carrying out this project, we will construct a “Pre-Modern Japanese Book Data Base” as a foundation for research. This will be a data base for the academic research of pre-modern Japanese books and it will be largest data base and the only data base of this size in Japan.
There have been data bases created at places such as universities and reference libraries before, but contents were focused on pre-modern books owned by that place. The data base to be constructed will include about 300 thousand of the 500 thousand items listed in the “Kokusho Somokuroku” (General Catalogue of Japanese Writings published by Iwanami Shoten) and has a system in which information on pre-modern books belonging to multiple institutions can be searched in one setting. It will be an unprecedented scale as a data base which includes images of pre-modern books.

There is a “Union Catalogue of Early Books Database” among the data base open to public at the National Institute of Japanese Literature. This provides information on the bibliography and location of pre-modern books along with reference information on the book and the author, and the data base is known as a basic research tool vital for searching catalogues of pre-modern Japanese books. In times when copies of books were mainly transcribed, the contents of the books changes slightly during the writing process and it was common for the book format to change, so these were called “ihon” (different books) in contrast to the original copies. An “ihon” is treated as a different book from the original (book which was copied), so making a search by title leads to multiple related pieces of information making it impossible to immediately find the intended information. (It is common to not know which material is correct, until going to the multiple existing locations based on search results and viewing the materials directly.)

This project will construct a data base system which integrates scanned data of materials and catalogue information from the “Union Catalogue of Early Books Database”. It is possible to understand the location of materials being searched for more quickly and accurately by being able to confirm image data simultaneously, and enables confirmation of the contents without going to the location of the materials.

Significance of scanning image data

What is the significance of adding image information of the materials to the catalogue information of the “Union Catalogue of Early Books Database” which is already on display?
Adding images of the materials makes the following possible:

  • Understand what types of characters it is written in.
  • Understand the arrangement of characters and writing techniques.
  • See how the illustrations are in the materials.
  • See the pattern and colors of the buildings drawn in the materials.
  • See the structure of the buildings drawn in the materials.

These are some examples of the many things which can be seen from images. It becomes possible to understand the details of the book which could not be understood with only the catalogue information.

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     Center for Collaborative Research on Pre-modern Texts,
     National Institute of Japanese Literature

     Address:10-3 Midori-cho, Tachikawa city, TOKYO 190-0014, Japan
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