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Japanese Studies, a guide for undergraduate research: Primary Sources

Duke's Japanese Studies collection supports scholarly activities across a broad range of disciplines and topics. This provides an introduction to key databases, journals and print sources or specific sources for data, film, images and primary sources.

Japanese Newspapers

The Far East; an illustrated fortnightly newspaper 1870-78
Available electronically through Hathi Trust

Gaikoku shinbun ni miru Nihon 1852-1922
Has articles on Japan from English, French, German, Chinese and Russian newspapers and Japanese translations.

Japan Weekly Mail 1870-1915

Japan Echo 1974-

Japan Focus
Writings about Japan, Japan in Asia and the world, as well as Japanese and international perspectives on contemporary Japanese politics, economics, society, and culture. It offers translations from Japanese, reprints of important English language texts, and Japan Focus originals.

Underground Press Collection (microfilm S178)

  1. Mushiro-bata
  2. Libero International
  3. Namazu
  4. Ampo


Finding Primary Sources

A primary source is a first-hand account of an event. Primary sources may include newspaper articles, letters, diaries, images, interviews, laws, reports of government commissions, and many other types of documents.

Use Subject Headings for your topic and words like "-diaries", "-personal narratives" and "sources" (e.g.Japan--Foreign relations--United States--Sources).  Another useful heading is "Japan--Description and travel" although it will include scholarly analyses as well as primary sources.

Archival Materials

Duke University's Rare Books and Special Collections Library has several collections with material focusing on Japan including  reports from missionaries and early British diplomats to Japan, East India Company papers, and diaries and letters from merchants and seamen, as well as items in such collections as the stereographic card collection, the Hartman advertising collection and the postcard collection.  The finding aid for these collections can be searched at  In addition,of particular note are:

  1. Japan through western eyes [microform] : manuscript records of traders, travellers, missionaries and diplomats, 1853-1941.  The originals are held in Special Collections.  Includes a wide range of English language sources by writers, diplomats, tourists, businessmen, missionaries and others documenting the political, cultural and social history of Japan from 1853 to the present.   Part 1 covers 11 individual collections of papers, including the letters of Sir Harry Parkes, British Minister to Japan between 1865 and 1883. Click here for a detailed description of the contents.
  2. Robert L. Eichelberger Papers, 1728-1998 (bulk 1942-1949). The Eichelberger Papers span the period 1728 to 1998, with the bulk of the collection dating between 1942 and 1949. The papers contain diaries, correspondence, military papers, writings and speeches, pictures, scrapbooks, printed material, clippings, memorabilia, and audiovisual material chiefly relating to Eichelberger's military career. Prominently highlighted is his participation as a member of the American Expeditionary Forces in Siberia (1918-1920); the military campaigns he led in New Guinea and the Philippines during World War II (1942-1945); and the post-war period when he commanded all ground occupation troops in Japan (1945-1948).
  3. Mary McMillan Papers, 1936-1997 and undated (bulk 1952-1991). The papers illuminate the personal life and professional work of McMillan, a United Methodist missionary and teacher at the Hiroshima Jo Gakuin College in Hiroshima, Japan. In addition to her work as a teacher, the collection documents McMillan's service to the Kyodan, a unifying organization for Christian missionaries in Japan, and to the hibakusha, the survivors of the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as her peace activism.
  4. Picture File, 1600s-1979 and undated, bulk 1814-1950.
  5. The Masaki Motoi Collection of Japanese Student Movement Materials, 1959-2003, bulk 1960-1979. The collection consists of Japanese books, periodicals and other printed materials relating to the Japanese student movement of the 1960s and later. The materials derive from the first confrontations of 1960 provoked by the Anpo treaty, through the protest movement's years of crisis and decay in the 1970s. It also includes books, journals and a video which are cataloged separately and housed in the East Asian Collection and Lilly.

Online primary sources

America, Asia and the Pacific
Papers of Edward Sylvester Morse (1838-1925).  Morse went to Japan in 1877 to teach at the Imperial University of Tokyo.  He is known for his documentation of life in Japan before it was transformed by Western modernization.

MIT Visualizing Cultures
Created by John Dower at MIT, Visualizing Cultures uses Japan since the mid-19th century as a case study for gaining new perspectives on "cultures" in the broadest since - the "cultures," for example, of Westernization, modernization, changing modes of technology and mass communication, imperialism, nationalism, militarism, racism, commercialization and consumerism, etc.  It begins with the black ships of Commodore Perry and ends with pictures by A-bomb survivors.  It also includes a series on Shiseido advertisements and images of Tokyo between 1928 and 1940.

Ohara Shakai Mondai Kenkyūjo - Photographs
Pre and postwar photographs related to social and labor movements. 

Ohara Shakai Mondai Kenkyūjo - Posters
Pre and postwar posters related to social and labor movements.

Portraits of Modern Japanese Historical Figures 
Provided by the National Diet Library in English and Japanese.  Includes a photograph and a brief biographical sketch of 350 statesmen, government officials, military officers, businessmen, scholars and artists. 

Scrolls of the Heiji disturbance
The thirteenth century scrolls of the Heiji disturbance (1159) provide a depiction of early Kamakura era fighting (1185-1333).

Scrolls of the Mongol Invasions of Japan
This site features Takezaki Suenaga's Scrolls of the Mongol Invasions of Japan (Moko Shurai ekotoba).

WWII Texts and Images
An annotated list of links to full-text resources.

Image websites
One can sort by format, subject or historical period.  Formats include architecture, calligraphy, ceramics, folk arts, maps, painting, photography, posters, prints, scrolls, sculpture.