The Japanese Diaspora in Digital Sources: The Hoji Shinbun Digital Collection

All scholars engaged in the study of the Japanese diaspora can profit from the treasure trove of resources on the internet. From the fields of anthropology, history, linguistics, and others, anyone whose research is linked to Japanese and nikkei migration overseas may find riveting material in the Hoji Shinbun Collection at the Hoover Institution Library and Archives. Linked to the Japanese Diaspora Initiative, this database contains newspapers and photographs, all of them digitized, from institutions in Japan, Brazil, Mexico, and the United States (for a complete list of contributors, check the Acknowledgements page).

With a very user-friendly interface, the website is easy to navigate. A new image appears on the left side (in the spot titled “From this collection”) every time we refresh the page, so we may access the website to search for something and end up finding other gripping materials related to the area of Japanese diaspora studies. On the right side, there is a small menu with shortcuts to browsing by title, date, publication location and, in the case of the Nippu Jiji Photo Archives, by collection. (For those who are unaware, Nippu Jiji, which became the Hawaii Times in 1942, was one of the most read Japanese newspapers in Hawaii, targeted at Japanese migrants).

Let us say we want to know about Japanese newspapers in Hawaii: by clicking on Browse by publication location, a map will appear showing the number of newspapers published in each location. All we have to do is click on the number, and a small window will open with links to each of the newspapers in the group. Hawaii, for example, has 40 entries:

Because my interest is in Japanese immigration to Brazil, I can click on the map and choose one of the six newspapers published here. When we choose the Burajiru Jihō, for example, we are led to a page that contains information about the newspaper, its founders, its period of activity, and other relevant information. Moving to the bottom of the page, we can find the digitized files ordered by year and month, a very convenient way of making them available, particularly if we are looking for an issue whose date we already know. If this is not the case (maybe we are looking for a specific word or name), we can also enter a search word and let the platform’s Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology help us. Let us look for the word imin (“immigration” in Japanese):

The next page shows the results and fields that allow us to refine the search, limiting it by date and decade. We can also see the date of the newspaper and the page where the word was found. A graphic also shows when the searched word appeared in the newspaper on a timeline. In this case, the term appears most frequently in 1920, and now I start wondering why. If I want to search for the same word in all the newspapers, all I have to do is to uncheck the publication by clicking on the yellow rectangle above the timeline graphic.

This step shows that the word imin appeared most frequently in 1920 across multiple newspapers. If we move the mouse to the longest line, it reveals that there are 49 occurrences. If we select that box of 49 occurrences, we will filter the search only to newspapers published that year. The search can also be sorted according to best match or by chronological order (oldest and newest).

The general search can also be done through the main page, and filters can be added afterward. Then we click “Home,” and as noted above we can find another picture displaying — that leads to another newspaper, to another topic on the Japanese diaspora, and to new discoveries.

The OCR seems to work very well in this database, even though there is a disclaimer in the “Help” section warning that it is never 100% accurate (its level of accuracy depends not only on the OCR software, but also on physical conditions of the materials, for example).  To test the OCR and also to check the website’s search engine efficiency in other languages, I tried searching for imin in Japanese (移民). There were 83,552 entries from 1892 to 1963 in the results, 1924 being the apex, with 4824 occurrences. Since most of the newspapers in the database are written in Japanese, this number of entries is no surprise. One helpful feature is that the headlines of the articles on the digitized page appear as a snippet below the images of the materials.

One limitation of the database is that some newspapers are restricted due to copyright issues, so we need to be at the Stanford Campus if we want to access them. Nevertheless, most of them are freely available from any part of the world. As the world’s largest online archive of open-access Nikkei newspapers, the Hoji Shinbun Digital Collection is an essential source for those who study the Japanese diaspora today.

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