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CA2042e – The State of Digital Humanities and Japanese Studies in North America: Developments, Collaborations, and Challenges / Paula R. Curtis

The article translated into Japanese

Current Awareness
No.356 June 20, 2023


The State of Digital Humanities and Japanese Studies in North America: Developments, Collaborations, and Challenges


1. Introduction

Around the world, digital technologies are now more integrated than ever into our teaching and research across all academic disciplines. For specialists in Japanese Studies in North America, both scholars and librarians, the question of if and how to engage the digital humanities (DH) has been a difficult one. Not only do we face a time of great uncertainty due to the devaluation of area studies and language training, but more broadly institutional support for non-Western DH is lacking despite the digital studies field thriving. This article will survey the state of digital humanities and Japanese Studies in North America, considering recent developments, collaborations among Anglophone and Japanese scholars, and the challenges faced by researchers and information specialists in DH and Japanese Studies.


2. DH in North American Academic Institutions

Digital Humanities has thrived in North American academic circles in the last two decades. Over the course of its development as a distinct, if inherently porous, field, academic institutions have formally (and financially) invested in DH through the establishment of many collaborative organizations, academic centers or departments, and instructional programs.

One particularly rich example of this growth is the success of the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI), hosted annually at the University of Victoria in Canada(1). This DH training institute began in 2001 and presently offers roughly sixty short courses in introductory and advanced digital humanities training for two one-week periods in June. Each year DHSI draws approximately 800-900 participants and holds simultaneous DH conferences. DHSI currently has 49 institutional sponsors and partners, 8 project sponsors and partners, and 17 organizational partners and sponsors, making it a go-to site for DH education for graduate students, faculty, and others. The success of DHSI has inspired a network of other educational offerings (known broadly as the DH Training Network) in and beyond North America, such as DHSI-East (in eastern Canada) or DHSI Atlantic (in Ireland)(2).

North American academic institutions offer a variety of degrees and certificates related to digital humanities, though there is no consistent classification as “DH”; rather, programs may be labeled “humanities computing,” “public digital humanities,” “digital arts,” “cultural analytics,” “digital technology,” or other topics that have clear digital humanities implications and can be construed with broad meaning. In the “Digital Humanities Notes” GitHub repository hosted by the University of Columbia’s Group for Experimental Methods in the Humanities, a crowdsourced catalog (last updated in September 2022) of DH degrees and certificates attributes to North American schools: 2 PhD programs; 13 undergraduate majors; 53 undergraduate minors, specializations, or certificates; 11 Master’s degrees; and 44 graduate specializations or certificates(3). This list does not include, however, the DH-related centers or specialists (typically but not always embedded in library systems), which are frequently developed at large research-oriented institutions but are now being found more often at small liberal arts colleges as well.

Needless to say, Digital Humanities as a field continues to grow in North America and it has been embraced enthusiastically at a wide variety of educational institutions that host digital studies-related centers, degrees, certificates, or at least one of the three.


3. Digital Humanities and Japan Studies

As for the intersection of Digital Humanities and Japan Studies, the last several years have seen promising international collaborations among interested colleagues; however, in contrast to DH more generally, institutional support for this specialization has yet to become widespread.

The Digital Humanities Japan initiative has hosted several events and workshops since 2016, two symposia with the theme of “the impact of the digital on Japanese Studies” (2017, 2018) and two workshops on Japanese language text mining (2019, 2021/2022). DHJ workshops are currently being organized by Hoyt Long (University of Chicago), Mark Ravina (University of Texas at Austin), and myself(4).

In 2019, six scholars from Japan served as instructors at DHSI, offering a course aimed at overseas researchers entitled “Digital Humanities for Japanese Culture: Resources & Methods.” The scholars who introduced their institutes and recent projects included Kiyonori Nagasaki (International Institute for Digital Humanities), Taizo Yamada (Historiographical Institute The University of Tokyo), Tatsuki Sekino (International Research Center for Japanese Studies), Asanobu Kitamoto (Joint Support-Center for Data Science Research, Research Organization of Information and Systems, Center for Open Data in the Humanities), Yuta Hashimoto (National Museum of History), and Satoru Nakamura (formerly University of Tokyo Information Technology Center; currently at the Historiographical Institute of the University of Tokyo). This event marked an important networking and information exchange effort among Japanese and North American scholars. There were eleven participants in the course, including graduate students, tenured faculty, and librarians.

Since 2020 Yuta Hashimoto has been working with Laura Moretti (Cambridge University) on the Japanese Early Modern Palaeography summer school, leveraging his expertise in handwritten manuscript transcription from the Minna de Honkoku project to integrate digital engagement into kuzushiji training(5). This partnership also led to the virtual conference “The Digital Turn in Early Modern Japanese Studies” in December of 2022, which brought together a wide range of DH specialists from in and beyond Japanese Studies around the world to discuss digital tool development, application, and limitations, including representatives from the National Diet Library, the Historiographical Institute of University of Tokyo, the Art Research Center of Ritsumeikan University, the National Institute of Informatics, the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics, and more(6). In addition to regularly presenting at such events, in recent years Kiyonori Nagasaki has been serving as an advisor to the North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources (NCC)’s Comprehensive Digitization and Discoverability Program (CDDP), which works to ensure that difficult-to-acquire research materials are more readily findable and accessible, particularly through digital means(7).

Despite difficulties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is precisely because more virtual events have been taking place that an increasing number of Japanese researchers have been able to more readily reach North American audiences. The DH 2022 conference, which had a theme of “Responding to Asian Diversity,” encouraged participation from many Japanese DH scholars, and the Association for Asian Studies (AAS)’s shift to online formats has increased the number of Asia-based participants(8). In 2022, for example, two panels were focused on promoting access to Japanese digital resources: “Passions and Realities: Prospects and Challenges for Global Access to Japanese Historical Information” (featuring three speakers from the University of Tokyo) and “Digital Technologies for Co-Creation and Collaboration: Overcoming Barriers in the Use of Asian Studies Resources” (featuring three speakers from the National Museum of Japanese History and one from the University of the Ryukyus)(9). These virtual venues provide important opportunities to raise the visibility of Japan-based projects and researchers. Although the Digital Humanities Japan initiative has been holding well-attended virtual meetings-in-conjunction at AAS for the last three years to strengthen DH Japan networks, it has been sparsely attended by Japanese researchers, perhaps suggesting that communication gaps between Japanese and North American communities continue to be a challenge(10).

In March of 2023, Harvard University hosted a conference “Tools of the Trade: The Way Forward,” which is the first in person large-scale Asian DH conference since the “DH Asia” event series last held at Stanford University in 2018(11). Tools of the Trade featured about 10 Japanese researchers working in Japan and a number of Anglophone researchers. Although in recent years there has been a notable increase in the diversity of methods used to network and share recent digital research and tools can take place as well as in the body of participants, many of these events are one-time-only or happen annually, making it more difficult to form and sustain regular collaborations.

In part, this difficulty is also due to limited institutional support in North America for training and research in digital Japanese Studies. The Harvard University Japan Digital Research Center (JDRC) (established in 2017) was the first to focus explicitly on digital methods and Japanese Studies(12). In addition to managing their two large-scale digital projects (The Constitutional Revision Research Project and The Japan Disasters Digital Archive Project), the JDRC has hosted a Japan Digital Fellow (postdoctoral researcher) twice, though it is not clear if this program will continue. More recently, Mark Ravina, Adam Clulow, and Kirsten Cather at the University of Texas at Austin launched a Japan Foundation-supported pilot program for 2022-2025 called “Japan Lab.” The Japan Lab is focused on digital pedagogy in Japanese Studies through game development and offers two annual postdoctoral fellow positions. Through faculty, postdoc, and undergraduate collaborations, Japan Lab aims to create digitally-engaged teaching resources on Japanese history and culture that can be replicated at other institutions(13). They have several projects completed and in progress, including a video game on everyday life in the world of Chūshingura, a virtual sugoroku game, and a virtual reconstruction of nineteenth century Yokohama. If Japan Lab receives longer-term funding, it will make an important contribution to undergraduate education in Japanese Studies while supporting digital scholarship by early career researchers in the field.

Given the widespread interest in but periodic support of training and programming on digital humanities and Japanese Studies, its future is somewhat uncertain. Many scholars in North America have expressed a desire to see the (largely informal) Digital Humanities Japan initiative transform into a formalized consortium that supports international exchange and regular workshops and courses in Japanese DH, but it is not clear whether the manpower and multi-institutional support will be sufficient to support this kind of large-scale project.


4. The Role of Librarians in North America

Librarians and information specialists in North America make considerable contributions to the advancement of digital literacy and digital humanities research for scholars and students, including in the field of Japanese Studies. However, the demand for librarians to also become digital humanities specialists is contentious. As support for higher education in North America declines, institutional (and thus financial) support for area studies and languages is often one of the first sacrifices. Simultaneously, many libraries are not provided with the funding necessary to hire East Asian Studies librarians or catalogers or digital scholarship librarians. As a result, Japanese Studies librarians often have to take on additional work in DH that is beyond their original job description in order to support students and faculty. At smaller and more underfunded institutions this is especially true, as a single librarian may have to cover China, Japan, Korea, and other areas of Asia; receive no funding for digital projects; and also be required to train in digital humanities on their own time. I recently co-taught an online introductory DH course “East Asian Studies and Digital Humanities” with 24 participants and half were librarians, archivists, or other information specialists at libraries and archives(14).

In spite of these obstacles, librarians are often at the forefront of digital scholarship in Japanese Studies, particularly in efforts to digitize existing archives and to generate accessible exhibitions of those materials, often in collaboration with faculty and students. Rebecca Corbett of University of Southern California (Director, Special Projects & Japanese Studies Librarian), for example, has created several projects in the digital humanities publishing platform Scalar, such as “Japanese Book History: A View from USC Libraries” and “Unpinning History: Japanese Posters in the Age of Commercialism, Imperialism, and Modernism(15).” Akiko Takesue (Bishop White Committee Associate Curator of Japanese Art & Culture) of the Royal Ontario Museum recently launched “Aftershocks: Japanese Earthquake Prints” in the Google Arts & Culture platform(16). Yukako Tatsumi (former Curator, Gordon W. Prange Collection and East Asian Studies Librarian) at the University of Maryland created a StoryMaps exhibit, “Life of U.S. Military Families in Tokyo(17).” Ann Marie Davis (Japanese Studies Librarian) at The Ohio State University created “Atomic Gameboard. 原子双六” in Scalar(18). Fabiano Takashi Rocha (Japan Studies Librarian) of the University of Toronto has also been developing a database, the “Japanese Canadian Researchers Directory & Bibliography(19).” Needless to say, as both researchers and librarians, many Japanese Studies specialists are working in less visible ways to promote DH scholarship and education as well.

Japanese Studies Librarians at US and Canadian institutions are also active in The North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources, a non-profit organization established in 1991. NCC maintains numerous small committees staffed mainly by Japanese Studies librarians who volunteer their time to help develop North American library resources as well as strengthen ties with Japanese institutions. NCC’s Council includes a “Japan Liaison,” currently Sho Sato (Doshisha University). The Comprehensive Digitization and Discoverability Program has previously collaborated with libraries at Princeton University, Yale University, University of California, Berkeley, and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to digitize rare Japanese archival holdings and make them available in IIIF. Beginning in 2020 they began hosting a video series introducing digital resources at institutions around the world, featuring 20 videos to date that include guides by researchers at Rekihaku, ARC Ritsumeikan, the Center for Open Data in the Humanities, the National Institute of Japanese Literature, the Cultural Japan project, the National Institute of Informatics, the National Diet Library, and more(20). NCC also hosts the “Japanese Digital Image Gateway,” a bilingual database available in both Japanese and English that is intended to introduce digitized images held by various institutions around the world(21). NCC held workshops to train Japanese Studies librarians in digital scholarship in 2015, 2017, 2018.

Despite the obvious demand for DH-related training and resources–including those that are specific to East Asia–it is extremely rare for digital scholarship jobs, if created at all, to specify or prioritize applicants that have an expertise in East Asia or other non-Western areas. Many Japanese Studies librarians thus find it difficult to accommodate the needs of patrons and face an additional burden of pursuing DH learning and projects on top of their regular full-time jobs. Nevertheless, they are actively engaged with digital humanities and working hard to find ways to make DH resources more accessible to academics.


5. Future Directions

For digital humanities in Japanese Studies to thrive, it is crucial that more individuals and institutions make conscious efforts to build international and interdisciplinary opportunities for training and collaboration that are sustainable. DH is a field that creates productive spaces for faculty, librarians, students, and other researchers to network and engage in creating accessible digital tools and projects. However, in North American digital Japanese Studies, there is no centralized, formalized, and funded organization behind organizing annual events, workshops, or collaborative projects that extend beyond individual institutions or the projects of individual researchers. In Japan, the Japanese Association for Digital Humanities and its journal effectively serve this function. What collaborations might be possible if institutions communally invested in Japanese DH in North America? What might Japan-related DH look like if we could regularly bring a more diverse body of scholars to run workshops or hold events? What if we could do scholar and student exchanges specifically for digital projects?

Now more than ever, because of the crises in area studies and higher education, it is critical for institutions to think beyond the boundaries of their own communities and consider investing in the robustness of the field as a whole. This would assure the greater development of DH skills in a new generation of Japanese Studies specialists, improved accessibility of research materials, and greater interaction among a greater number of digital Japan specialists. Despite ample venues to interact, such as the JADH Facebook page, the Digital Humanities Japan mailing list, and the Digital Humanities Japan Discord server, a communication gap can still be felt(22). For Japan-related information resources to continue to grow and improve in Japan and North America, we must continue to proactively take part in the digital humanities and Japanese Studies community and consciously develop its systems of support.


Paula R. Curtis, Department of Asian Languages & Cultures, University of California, Los Angeles


(1)Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI)., (accessed 2023-03-01).

(2)“DH Training Network”. DHSI., (accessed 2023-03-01).

(3)Digital Humanities Notes. “Advanced Degrees in Digital Humanities”. GitHub., (accessed 2023-03-01).

(4)Digital Humanities Japan., (accessed 2023-03-01).

(5)Japanese Early Modern Palaeography., (accessed 2023-03-01).

(6)The Digital Turn in Early Modern Japanese Studies: A Conference., (accessed 2023-03-01).

(7)“Comprehensive Digitization and Discoverability Program”. NCC., (accessed 2023-03-01).

(8)Digital Humanities 2022., (accessed 2023-03-01).

(9)Association for Asian Studies Conference Program. Honolulu, 2022-03-24/27, Association for Asian Studies., (accessed 2023-03-01).

(10)For more on these communication gaps, see:
Curtis, Paula R. The “Digital Shift” and the Future of Digital Japanese Studies. Digital Humanities Monthly. 2021, no. 115-1., (accessed 2023-03-01).

(11)“Tools of the Trade: The Way Forward”. Harvard University., (accessed 2023-03-01).

(12)“Japan Digital Research Center”. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies., (accessed 2023-03-01).

(13)Japan Lab., (accessed 2023-03-01).

(14)“Dream Lab Plus”. Dream Lab., (accessed 2023-03-01).

(15)Corbett, Rebecca. “Japanese Book History: A View from USC Libraries”. USC Libraries., (accessed 2023-03-01).
“Unpinning History: Japanese Posters in the Age of Commercialism, Imperialism, and Modernism”. USC Libraries., (accessed 2023-03-01).

(16)“Aftershocks: Japanese Earthquake Prints”. ROM., (accessed 2023-03-01).

(17)“Life of U.S. Military Families in Tokyo”. University of Maryland Libraries., (accessed 2023-03-01).

(18)Davis, Ann Marie L.; Embree, Jordan. Atomic Gameboard 原子双六., (accessed 2023-03-01).

(19)Japanese Canadian Researchers Directory & Bibliography., (accessed 2023-03-01).

(20)“Comprehensive Digitization and Discoverability Program: CDDP Video Series”. NCC., (accessed 2023-03-01).

(21)“NCC Japanese Digital Image Gateway”. NCC., (accessed 2023-03-01).

(22)“JADH (Japanese Association for Digital Humanities)”. Facebook., (accessed 2023-03-01).
“Mailing List”. Digital Humanities Japan., (accessed 2023-03-01).