Investigating Primary Sources Dealing with Japanese Post-War Diplomatic History
NOBORI Amikoš

When studying diplomatic history a vital question is what kind of primary sources the scholar has been able to use, so whether or not documents are open to the public, and can be accessed, is a matter of great concern. As a result of the growing development of electronic archives in recent years, researchers are able to access materials from within
Japan and abroad even from home, using the Internet, and so it can be said their job has been made somewhat easier.

Here I would like, from the standpoint of a researcher in post-war Japanese diplomatic history with a particular interest in Japan-US relations and Japanese Asian diplomacy, to introduce readers to what materials are publicly available in Japan and the USA and how to use these archives. I write from my own experience, and do not attempt to provide an all-inclusive coverage of the archives. I would be happy if it were of use to scholars from different fields and to students wanting to do archival work.

Historical documents available in the USA
I would first like to mention, based on my own experience, the situation in the USA, which is well-advanced in the provision of open archives. There can be no doubt that the US National Archives is the world-leader in terms of the amount of archives available and their accessibility. As I will refer to later, before the Freedom of Information legislation was enacted in Japan, the majority of researchers into Japanese diplomatic history had to rely almost entirely on American government archives. Even now, when a large number of Japanese government documents have been made available to the public, the fact still remains that the use of American government archives is indispensable to the researcher. This is not only because it is necessary to understand American intentions, but even looking at the minutes of the same summit conference, it is readily apparent that the records of the Japanese Foreign Ministry and those of the US State Department are not necessarily identical. Perhaps items of particular interest to the person in charge of taking the minutes have been given an unconscious priority. Words in parentheses too, indicating what was happening, are a valuable resource
giving us a vivid idea of the atmosphere of the talks. For example, "the Foreign Minister anxiously interrupted the Prime Minister's speech" gives us the inside information that is simply not expressed in the speech sections of the minutes. Also, in the documents of the 1960s and 1970s, the Japanese records are not always word-by-word transcriptions
but sometimes digests or summaries. Because of this fact also, there is much to be said for utilizing American records.

The US National Archives plans to begin using an electronic archive system by 2010 in order to preserve its documents for all time. This is an event eagerly awaited by researchers. Furthermore, the National Security Archive, an independent
non-governmental research facility, was set up in 1966 and has acquired a large number of American diplomatic documents through the Freedom of Information Act and its ongoing revisions. It sells these documents in microfiche, and has also made available a ‚†ree electronic archive. For example, records of talks concerning the rapprochement between the US and China, one of the most important events in post-war East Asian international relations, can be acquired simply by accessing them through the following
Henry Kissinger's Secret Trip to China

Negotiating U.S.-Chinese Rapprochement
Record of Richard Nixon-Zhou Enlai Talks, February 1972

Because at the present stage only a small amount of documents are available to the public through electronic archives, and because researchers like to be able to handle the actual historical documents, I would urge those working in Japanese diplomatic history to pursue archival work at least once in the US National Archives. The following is a simple guide for those intending to visit these collections.

How to use the US National Archives
At present, because many of the documents have been moved to archives in College Park, Maryland, adjacent to Washington DC, most of the work will be done at this location. Before visiting the National Archives, it is a good idea to gain some knowledge about the documents you wish to see. If they are State Department materials, for example, you should generally begin with the General Records of the Department of State (Record Group 59). There is a guide on the Internet to these records (under " Often-requested Records: State Department and Diplomacy"). @@@@@@@

Do not forget to take your passport when you first visit, because you must be issued with a researcher identification card to use the Archives. Having passed the security check, go upstairs to the Research Room, make contact with an archival
assistant, and explain that it is your first visit and tell him or her roughly what kind of research you are undertaking. You will then be told the appropriate archive. Usually the assistants can spend only a very short time with any one individual. You should therefore go with the intention of getting used to using the Archive rather than learning all about it, for after all everything starts when you actually take hold of the document itself.

Finding the document you need from the vast amount of material is like discovering a single diamond in the desert, and so it needs perseverance. However, in the process things will become clearer to you and the framework of your paper will take shape. Unlike the Diplomatic Record Office in the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, you can make your own copies so that it is quite cheap, though time-consuming. You are also allowed to take digital cameras and scanners with you; they are ideal from the point of view of both the safety of the documents and the convenience of their use.

The National Archives also includes Presidential Libraries, in which papers, record and other historical materials of a particular President and his staff are preserved, according to the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955. There are at present
twelve presidential libraries, from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in Iowa to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Arkansas. They combine museums about the life and work of the presidents with
reference libraries for the use of researchers. They are built at the birthplace of the particular president and so are often not easy to get to. Transport and accommodation costs are high, and it is recommended that researchers apply for fellowships. Research proposals are screened but most Japanese scholars seem to be given such fellowships. I
myself was able to receive a fellowship from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in Austin, Texas, and this covered transport, accommodation and copying costs.

Historical material in Japan open to the public
I would next like to talk about the documents belonging to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs that are open to the public. These are a cornerstone for all those engaged in the study of Japanese diplomatic history. The Ministry has made postwar records available, subject to the thirty-year rule and further screening, since 1976, and in the nineteenth release occurred in February 2005. From the previous year they could be read through CD-R. There are some drawbacks to this, but from the point of view of preservation and lower copying costs it remains a landmark event. For materials up to
around 1945, the National Archives of Japan set up the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records in 2001 to make historical documents concerning the relations between Japan and its neighbors in Asia in the modern period available on the Internet. This became much talked about. Postwar documents become available as electronic archives are opened to the public, but a considerable amount of time is still needed before they are freely accessible.

Japan finally passed freedom of information legislation in 2001, allowing any person to request the release of information from government organs. This was a revolutionary event for researchers in Japanese diplomatic history. The law demands
that a decision whether or not to release the material requested has to be made within thirty days of the request being received. In my own experience, this time has been exceeded in virtually every instance that I have made such a request. On the whole the attitude of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is friendly and polite, but it is not unreasonable that it takes a great deal of time for young officials, over and above their normal duties, to search for specific documents amidst the great volume the Ministry holds. Since such requests will only increase in the future, it is to be hoped that a way will be found to appoint full-time officials to deal more speedily with these requests.

Recent years have shown us an enormous overall improvement in the availability of the documents necessary to conduct research into postwar diplomatic history. This is very pleasing, but at the same time it poses a great problem for researchers. First, in order to collect the very large number of materials available, a correspondingly large amount of
time is necessary. Further, these valuable primary materials can be accessed by the public at large, not only by researchers who have received specialized training. This means that there is a growing demand for high-quality research from an academic and analytical point of view which is able to be distinguished from previous research. There
is also the danger that reliance of primary materials alone will narrow research themes, and the larger picture will be lost.

I have recently come to realize that much of the research published at a time when it was virtually impossible to get access to the primary sources, while lacking color from today's standpoint, shows a greater brilliance. This reflects an imaginative power and a broader conceptual framework that have been applied at a time when broader training and more time were available for research. As ever greater numbers of materials become available, scholars must continue to hold to a conceptual framework while at the same time incorporating steady archival work.

(DECEMBER, 16, 2005)


Global Security Institute, Keio University