Digital Resources for the Study of Japanese Archaeology

This post has been contributed by James Loftus. Information about the author is included at the end of the post.

Archaeology at its core is a discipline that relies on access to physical objects, whether that be slivers of pottery sherds, skeletal remains of a feudal lord, or bronze coins found deep beneath the ocean. Before the current internet age that we are fortunate to live in, access to these objects was relegated to looking at a site report or making what could be very costly research trip to far flung destinations. While for many countries, moving towards digitizing collections (whether that be of archaeological site reports, articles, books, or the objects of research themselves) has been an ongoing process for several decades; however, the situation in Japan is still relatively underdeveloped. International researchers looking to study Japanese archaeology often find it difficult to find reliable online resources, and due to language barriers can often be met with a wall of unrecognizable text.

In this short passage I will attempt to outline some of the most useful online databases and general resources related to Japanese archaeology currently available. The resources will be categorized into 4 main sections: 1. Raw Data Collection; 2. Book/Article Searches; 3. Researcher Databases; 4. Miscellaneous.

Raw Data Collection

NengoCalc (Japanese era converter)

Recently in 2019, the start of the new Japanese era was reined in by Emperor Naruhito’s ascension to the imperial throne. The Japanese eras change with the change of a new emperor, and this has been the case for Japan for hundreds of years. In modern Japan both nengō and the western calendar are used in both daily life, and in historical study. With over 200 era names spanning a wide range of lengths, remembering them all would be a feat even for the most trained of historians. Thankfully there are a wide range of converter websites available. I have chosen NengoCalc created by Matthias Schemm, as it includes almost the full range of nengō, while others focus on pre-modern/modern nengō only. Simply choose your desired database and nengō year, and the western date should appear below. However, be aware that some older dates are contested among historians, and should be taken as an estimation.

Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI Maps)

Japan has a long history of detailed map making, and with the introduction of GIS, the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan has created a free online platform with a variety of annually updated high-res GIS maps. This service is widely underutilized by international scholars, many of whom end up resorting to using low quality maps riddled with mistakes from Google. You can pick from a variety of presets such as black and white line maps to detailed topographical maps in both Japanese and English. The User Interface is similar to that of traditional map software with a scale that automatically changes when you zoom. There are options to directly print or to save as an image file, and the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan’s maps would look great in any presentation material.

Comprehensive Database of Archaeological Site Reports in Japan

Probably one of the most important resources available to an Archaeologist is the site report. For those who did not join in an excavation directly, it is the only way to know in detail how and what was uncovered during the dig. However, many institutions outside of Japan have a very limited number of site reports available, and this severely hinders the amount of data a researcher can acquire without taking a costly research trip to Japan. During the global stop on international travel due to COVID19, how can those looking to collect data from site reports do so? Thankfully through its Comprehensive Database of Archaeological Site Reports in Japan, the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties is gradually collecting PDF data of site reports from all across the country.

You can search using either keywords, the site name, or the prefecture in which it is located. This service is provided free of charge regardless of affiliation, and the search function is available in Japanese and English, however all site report data is only available in Japanese. Please note that there is a severe lack of reports available on this database, as it relies heavily on each prefectural/regional body to provide data when they can. However, many larger local cultural property centers have their own dedicated databases where searches for cultural property/asset/archaeological centers will turn up many results even in English.

Books/Article Search

J-Stage

While the general publishing system in Japan still favors the printed word, online access to articles is slowly increasing year by year. J-Stage has been the principal body on online articles, similar to that of JSTOR or Google Scholar. The interface is the same as any other article search engine, and can be changed between Japanese and English. Many recent articles will have an English abstract available for easy skimming without having to read the entire article first.

Junko Habu’s Website

Dr. Junko Habu has worked tirelessly in the field of Japanese archaeology for over 30 years, and has continuously published in both languages on not only detailed site analysis, but also on the difficulties of working within the discipline, and the differences between western and Japanese archaeological practice. Dr. Habu’s website contains many PDFs of her work available for free.

Researcher Databases

Database of Archaeological Instructors

With over 5,000 archaeologist working within Japan, it can be difficult to grasp who is conducting what kind of research. With many archaeologists who work in university settings not publishing in foreign languages it can be even harder to find a suitable match either when it comes to finding an advisor for a degree program, or a domestic collaborator. While not available in English at the moment, the Japanese Archaeological Association publishes a yearly report on archaeologists working in Japanese universities and research institutes who are actively giving lectures related to archaeological study. The list is organized by region and affiliated organization, and can be a stepping off point for those looking for individuals currently working in related fields of academia. I suggest trying keywords related to your field such as “East Asian archaeology” or “Kofun period archaeology” as a start.

Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (Kakenhi) Funded Projects

Kakenhi” is Japan’s most prestigious and competitive research funding scheme provided by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). The acceptance rate of kakenhi funded projects is low each year due to the high number of applications from researchers of all fields. Thus, it can be said that projects funded by kakenhi are of the top in the country, and must show great innovation, interdisciplinary desire, comprehensiveness and international appeal, according to the society. A database of all current and previously funded kakenhi projects is available in Japanese and English, and searches for specific researchers, or general themes (such as archaeology) can be performed. This system allows for transparency is how grant funding is being allocated, and allows for quick searches of Japan’s top scholars.

ResearchMap and J-Global

While the above noted Database of Archaeological Instructors and Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (Kakenhi) Funded Projects Database may yield a large number of researchers, these only account for a small portion of those who have published within Japan. If your search hasn’t yielded the results you were looking for, services such as ResearchMap managaed by the National Institute of Informatics and J-Global managed by the Japan Science and Technology Agency may help to increase your search range to a wider range of scholars and particularly to those working outside of university settings. While not focusing on archaeology alone, combining these search engines with the aforementioned resources should provide you with the largest available pool of scholars.

Miscellaneous

Online Resource for Japanese Archaeology and Cultural Heritage (ORJACH)

Anyone interested in the study of Japanese culture in general (both Archaeology and Anthropology) and working within an English medium should become familiar with the work being done by the team of scholars at the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures (SISJAC) in Norwich. SISJAC provides a plethora of online materials, lectures, and general information on the study of Japan, with a substantial amount dedicated to the study of Japanese archaeology.

SISJAC’s Online Resource for Japanese Archaeology and Cultural Heritage (ORJACH) provides an interactive interface for those looking to study material culture. Coined as a “tool for teachers and students,” I would recommend it as the first stop for anyone who is just starting their journey in Japanese archaeology, or for educators looking to incorporate Japanese archaeology into general lessons on Japanese culture. You can choose from general themes, with clear definitions for new terms or concepts. This tool is one of only a handful of online resources that provide a wholistic introduction to the field of Japanese archaeology, and without a doubt has proved crucial for many early-stage researchers.

Kōkogaku no oyatsu 考古学のおやつ

This is a website dedicated to reporting on the latest news in archaeology, both domestically and internationally. The purpose is to highlight new articles or excavations in Japanese to mainly a Japanese audience. However, it is updated many times a day and as such it is sometimes much faster to find breaking news there rather than searching other websites in English. The organizers also run a Twitter page which you can find at @OyatsuMaster.

The International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken)

The International Research Center for Japanese Studies is one of the only institutions in Japan actively seeking to internationalize the study of Japan (across all areas), and as such often has lectures/seminars on methodological training across many sub-disciplines of humanities and social sciences. While not directly related to archaeology specifically, many of the resources available on their website highlight how to conduct ethical studies on Japan, while fostering an international mindset and cross-cultural collaboration.

Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties Databases

The Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, which is also in charge of the aforementioned national site report database, has a wide variety of databases available, not only related to archaeology but may also be useful in the study of history or general anthropology. These include imperial records, wooden tablets, and temple archives. These databases are also updated regularly, so checking back from time to time may yield new resources.

Conclusions

While the world of Japanese archaeology may still be rather unknown on the international stage, this situation seems to be on the brink of change. This would not be the case without the hard work from not only government bodies, but also individuals working tirelessly in the field to digitize records and data for international scholars to use. This author hopes that this small list of online resources may help to demystify where to find information on Japanese archaeology, and in turn, may help to foster the direct collaborations between domestic and international scholars.

About the Author

James Loftus is a PhD candidate at Kyushu University, and a Research Fellow for the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. His current project focuses on the evolution of social learning methods and human cognition during the agricultural transitional period (late Jomon – early Yayoi) throughout the Japanese Archipelago. This is done by utilizing geometric morphometric analysis on a variety of earthenwares. You can find his current work on ResearchGate (JamesFLoftusIII), or daily updates regarding archaeology, life in Japan, and being Hafu in Japan on his Twitter (@JamesFLoftusIII).

Cover Image: A Jomon period “Kaen doki”, flame-rimmed pot (taken at the Tokyo National Museum).

One thought on “Digital Resources for the Study of Japanese Archaeology

  1. I would like to thank you for this very useful list of ressources (many of them unknown to me until now). As a recently graduated student of archaeology and Japanese Studies wishing to specialise in Japanese archaeology, I am sure this article will prove to be a precious help.

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