FEATURE: Japan's 1st graduate course for archival science launched
     Gakushuin University in Tokyo has launched Japan's first graduate course for archival studies this academic year from April, with an aim to train experts to maintain past as well as contemporary documents and hand them down through the generations.
     The 12 students in the inaugural class -- eight candidates for the master's degree and four for the doctoral degree -- are expected to contribute to developments of archival systems, whose formulation in Japan is said to be behind internationally.
     ''It's the mission of archivists to create a truly democratic society through protecting records on social, economic or cultural activities, and relaying them for posterity,'' Masahito Ando, director of the Graduate Course in Archival Science, said. ''I hope we can educate those who will assume this significant role.''
     Preservation of those records was considered merely ''just putting old documents in storehouses'' in postwar Japan, according to Ando, who was a professor in the Department of Archival Studies at the National Institute of Japanese Literature before becoming a professor at Gakushuin.
     However, there have been increasing calls since around the 1980s to nurture archivists as a profession to keep the records and pass the memory of overall human activities to later generations ''as part of efforts to achieve democratic society,'' he said.
     Archivists are expected, for example, to work with state and local government officials to decide which administrative documents should be maintained and how they should be organized for the convenience of public access.
     The importance of the duties of archivists is rising at a time when there is public focus on the mishandlings of a massive number of pension records and data on hepatitis C infections via tainted blood products by state organizations.
     Looking back at the past, meanwhile, failure to keep administrative documents during and before World War II has affected people's fates, with some war-displaced Japanese forced to remain in China as they cannot be recognized as Japanese due to lack of such documents as family registrations, Ando said.
     Reflecting the circumstances, a group of lawmakers compiled an ''urgent proposal'' last November to urge the government to beef up the management system of public documents ''in order to enhance transparency of administration and achieve accountability.''
     With an eye on the enactment of a law to set up comprehensive rules to handle official documents, the group also called for establishing archival facilities in each prefecture and major cities while educating archivists who will lead the envisaged system.
     The lawmakers include former education minister Takeo Kawamura, former post minister Seiko Noda and former Justice Minister Mayumi Moriyama.
     Ando said he also expects companies to employ archivists ''just as hiring corporate lawyers'' and entrust them to manage in-house documents, in a period when businesses have been hit by a series of scandals such as falsification of expiration dates on food products.
     Companies are likely to hide or eliminate unfavorable records, but they could retain public trust if they maintain such records with the support of archivists and make use of them to improve their business activities, he suggested.
     Formulating archives at educational facilities, including colleges, or in communities is another field in which archivists could take part.
     Sachiko Ikenaga, a master's student with experience working in museums, said, ''I hope I can establish a methodology to archive museums' actual operations and hand them down through the generations.''
     ''If we can keep the 'archival heritage' of a community at a local archive, it would be a new educational base for local history, at which children could follow the steps of their seniors and share their wisdom for the future life,'' Ando said.
     Yuichi Aoki, a doctoral student in the graduate school, studied Japanese history through reading paleography in the Edo period, ''but now I'm interested in the documents themselves.''
     He plans to research theoretically on why and how the old documents should be preserved and handed down in the future. ''I also want to learn, for example, about how to scientifically maintain old worm-eaten papers,'' he said.
     One of the issues that experts need to address is the introduction of qualification system for archivists.
     An envisaged system is to allow a private organization to recognize a person as a certified archivist and the state authorizes it, according to Ando. ''I think a master's degree should be required to become a qualified archivist as it's the international standard,'' he said.
     Of the many challenges present and future archivists face is to collect documents on Japan's past colonial policies and share them with other Asian countries, as some wartime history remains blank, Ando said.
     ''It's an urgent task to share archival sources with Asian countries, and this will lead to fill the gap in historical perceptions between Japan and our neighbors,'' he said.

Masahito Ando, professor at the Graduate Course in Archival Science of Gakushuin University, (C) lectures on the significance of archival research at a seminar room of the university in Tokyo. (Kyodo)

May 12, 2008 12:10:35