Exhibitions in local archives in Japan

Comma (2014), 2014, (1-2), 185–194.


While the National Archives of Japan was established in 1971, the first local archives in the country was opened much earlier, in 1954. There are now about 60 local archives, which have held exhibitions of their holdings, from the earliest period up to the present. Initially, the exhibitions were designed to raise awareness amongst senior officials within the authorities. The collections of local archives in Japan are characterised by a large portion of ancient manuscripts passed down for generations by established families. Because pre-sixteenth century records are particularly valuable, private historians have shown a strong interest in them. It was not long before the archives’ exhibitions came to provide rare opportunities to get a first-hand look at such ancient documents. These exhibitions were held for a limited time only. Following the enactment of the 1987 the National Archives Act, local archives started to organise permanent exhibitions, focusing on their functions and uses, to publicise their significance to the general public. Article 23 of the Public Records and Archives Management Act (2011), provides that the National Archives of Japan should actively promote the use of archives ‘through exhibitions and other means.’ Exhibitions are now one of the key activities of archives. Importantly, the number of exhibition visitors has increasingly affected the performance of the services. The Saitama Prefectural Archives is used as a case study. Many of its archivists are qualified curators and the Archives initiated the permanent exhibition of archives. The lessons learnt are of interest to archivists around the world.

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Author details

Tetsuya, Shirai

Tetsuya, Shirai