The Sainsbury Institute Abroad

Launch of a new online resource project with the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo (Tobunken)

National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo (Tobunken)
National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo (Tobunken)

Many familiar to the work we do at the Sainsbury Institute may associate us with our regular public lectures and events. Behind the walls of 64 The Close, however, there is much more that we do. In fact, as our mission statement highlights, research is at the core of our activities. As part of fulfilling this mission, preparations for a new online English database has been going on steadily for nearly the past two years and is just about to be launched. This database will contain detailed information on Japanese arts related activities such as exhibitions and publications which are taking place outside of Japan. This is our first collaborative project with the esteemed National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo (also known as Tobunken).

To start, on 24 July 2013, an agreement was signed at the Sainsbury Institute in Norwich between our Executive Director, Mizutori Mami and Dr Kamei Nobuo, the Director General of Tobunken. Tobunken was originally founded in 1930 as the Institute of Art Research with an endowment bequeathed by Kuroda Seiki (1866-1924), considered to be the father of Western style painting in Japan. Since then Tobunken has always situated itself at the heart of academic research activities on Japanese arts and cultures.

Interiors of the Tobunken building
Interiors of the Tobunken building

Having undergone several organizational changes over the years, today, Tobunken currently is comprised of four research departments, namely, Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems; Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage; Center for Conservation Science and Restoration Techniques; and Japan Center for International Cooperation in Conservation. Each department complements one another, and together they testify to the breadth of the activities this national institute undertakes.

One of the main objectives of Tobunken is the dissemination of information related to Japanese art and cultural properties. With their commitment to share the information generated and collected by each department with a wider community of researchers and members of the public, in recent years, Tobunken began developing a comprehensive database that brought together pre-existing but independently developed databases under one system. The information can be searched using Kenkyū shiryō sōgō kensaku (research collections single search) system on Tobunken’s website and is continuously added and updated.

Since its launch, the database has been serving as an essential source of information for academics and the public, but the content was limited to information on events that took place in Japan or publications in Japanese. To remedy this limitation, Tobunken started to look for a viable and reliable partner abroad which could contribute in expanding the content of the database and make it truly global.

Mizutori Mami and Dr Kamei Nobuo, the Director General of Tobunken sign a collaborative agreement in Norwich
Mizutori Mami and Dr Kamei Nobuo, the Director General of Tobunken
sign a collaborative agreement in Norwich

The Sainsbury Institute was hence appointed as the collaborative partner, and the signing of the agreement between the two Institutions marked the start of a new phase in developing a single search system of the various research collections.

While this collaboration will allow Tobunken to disseminate fuller information on Japanese arts and culture to the public, the Sainsbury Institute will benefit by including this project as a new and important component to our research profile.

Our task at the Sainsbury Institute is to collect information on Japanese art related publications in English as well as information distributed in English on Japanese art related exhibitions and film festivals that have taken place outside of Japan. We collect our information following the format of Tobunken’s Bijutsu kanren bunken (art related publications) database, which is a digitaised and enhanced version of the most authoritative almanac on Japanese art, Nihon bijutsu nenkan, published by Tobunken since 1936. The database will complement the existing databases of Tobunken, and is expected to act as the first point of reference for those interested in and looking for references on Japanese art in English.

Our Japanese Art Database Officer, Miwako Hayashi Bitmead has so far collected information on approximately 600 exhibitions and film festivals and approximately 1000 publications. At the time of writing, the team at the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems is preparing the English interface pages on their website with the Institute’s language support so that the information that the Sainsbury Institute has collected can be accessed in both English and Japanese. The Sainsbury Institute’s Japanese art database is now available online from Tobunken’s website since 30 April 2015.

We are proud to be a partner of the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo and grateful for their continued support and guidance in establishing this database. We are also grateful to J. Paul Getty Jnr. Charitable Trust for their generous support without which this project would not have been possible. We hope that, together with Tobunken’s existing databases, our database will develop into an indispensable tool for those who study and research Japanese art in and outside of Japan.

Please go to Tobunken Research Collection website and discover the depth and breadth of Japanese art and culture related activities taking place outside of Japan.

Keiko Nishioka
Development and Research Officer

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