Culture, No.8  Oct. 4, 2011


We can find out about music and the history of its culture with the help of a range of resources including records, DVDs and other recordings, or audio-visual materials, musical scores, concert programs and so on. These materials about music are referred to as “music documentation”[1. In this article, music documentation is classified as follows on the basis of its content and format. Instruments are not included.
The music itself: a) Recordings and audio-visual materials (documentation of actual performances of sounds or settings that have been recorded on some kind of medium such as records, CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray etc.), and b) musical scores: Documentation about music, materials relating to themes and activities where music is concerned (including books and magazines on music themes, lyrics, concert pamphlets, posters etc.)] at the library.

Music documentation at various institutions in Japan

In addition to the libraries at music colleges, dozens of institutions in Japan specialize in handling music documentation including reference libraries at theaters and cultural facilities, or corporate resource centers in the music industry. Each of these institutions are building distinctive collections based on the characteristics of their affiliated organizations. There are also archives and museums specializing in a particular genre or period in music. For example, the Archives of Modern Japanese Music at the Meiji Gakuin University Library[2. The forerunner is the documentation center of the Toyama Music Foundation set up by the music critic Toyama Kazuyuki. Reorganized as the Archives of Modern Japanese Music in 1987 during a campaign by the Association to Establish Archives of Modern Music, which was focused on people involved with music. Reorganized as an institution affiliated with Meiji Gakuin University Library in 2010, and reopened in May 2011. Possesses approximately 500,000 items of music documentation.] has a large collection of materials on western music in Japan since the Meiji period (musical scores including the composer’s handwritten annotations, concert programs, related records etc.). The National Showa Memorial Museum[3. Affiliated with the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the institution handles documentation related to the life of the people in the Showa period. The institution opened in 1999. The collection houses more than 30,000 SP discs and it is possible to search approximately 10,000 songs using the online catalog on the website (] has a large collection of prewar and wartime recordings. Groups of performers and broadcasting companies also have their own collections of records or musical documentation.

Each institution catalogs the items in its possession and manages the documentation, but there is still no adequate framework for going beyond institutional walls to search across all location information for what items are held where in Japan. However, aiming to make valuable music documentation available for study and research in the future, the institutions are publishing location information about their music documentation and have started initiatives to prevent the documentation being scattered and lost.

In order to collect, preserve and utilize documentation of historical and cultural value in an appropriate manner, the Agency for Cultural Affairs and the National Diet Library concluded an agreement to secure the next generation’s inheritance of valuable Japanese documentation in May 2011. With respect to music documentation, this agreement includes regulations on collaboration and cooperation to create a database of location information of musical scores etc. published in Japan in the past. In cooperation with the National Diet Library, the Japan Music Documentation Research Committee at the Musicological Society of Japan has already been commissioned by the Agency for Cultural Affairs to undertake a survey of location information.

Audio-Visual Materials Rooms (Tokyo Main Library)

Music documentation at the National Diet Library
The collection and access

The National Diet Library collects music documentation, including recordings and musical scores, based on the legal deposit system. The legal deposit system is based on the National Diet Library Law, which obliges publishers etc. in Japan to deposit a copy of output published in Japan with the National Diet Library. In 1949, musical scores and recordings and, in 2000, electronic materials, such as CDs and DVDs, were added to the legal deposit system. (Some of the materials are purchased and we also receive donations from individuals and groups.)

A major distinction between the National Diet Library and other institutions, we might even say a special feature, is that our collection is not specified by genre etc. since the material is comprehensively collected on the basis of the legal deposit system.

The introduction below outlines four broad categories of music documentation at the National Diet Library.

Recordings and audio-visual material

Since 1949, our collection has taken delivery of approximately 15,000 SP records, 175,000 LP records, 100,000 EP records as well as 304,000 CDs issued in Japan (as of March 2011). In addition, we also have 27 Filmon Sound Belts, a recording medium developed and manufactured in Japan from about 1930 to 1940.[4. However, since we do not have a playback machine, it is not possible to access content that has not been converted to the cassette tape medium.] We also have audio-visual materials (LD, VHS, DVD, Blu-ray etc.) recorded at concerts and other performance settings. These recordings and audio-visual materials are searchable online via the NDL-OPAC by ticking the box for Music recordings and audio-visual material.

Recordings and audio-visual materials can be accessed at the Audio-Visual Materials Room at the main library in Tokyo (some Sonosheets and cassette tapes at the Electronic Resources Room). It is also possible to access record jackets, commentaries, lyric sheets and other accessories.

Musical scores

Most of the musical scores held in the National Diet Library have been published in book form and approximately 25,000 items are searchable by title or by publisher via the NDL-OPAC. Some of the collection of musical scores is also searchable by name of the musical composition via the RESEARCH NAVI Table of Content database.[5. It is not possible to search the whole collection of musical scores currently held at the NDL. For details, please refer to the instructions on searching the RESEARCH NAVI for musical scores.]

Musical scores published in book form from the Meiji period to the early Showa period are held in the Digital Library from the Meiji Era[6.] and can be accessed in digital image format.

Musical scores published regularly in monthly publications are managed in the same way as journals.

In addition, we also have a collection of mainly pre-Edo koto scores and musical scores for the shakuhachi and other Japanese music, which can be accessed at the Rare Books and Old Materials Room at the main library in Tokyo. Musical scores for children are held at the International Library of Children’s Literature.

When using the library, please confirm where the material is held and the service points via the NDL-OPAC.

Materials on music

In addition to books, magazines, newspapers and other materials relating to music, we also hold the trade catalogs for record companies from the Taisho period to around 2001 (the extent of the holdings vary depending on the company). Through these trade catalogs, it is possible to get a glimpse of the music culture, including songs that were popular in their time, and the development of Japan’s record culture. The material is available at the Audio-Visual Materials Room where it is frequently used by many researchers as valuable source material for learning about the music culture of each age.

The Ashihara Eiryo Collection (Special collection)

Presented by his heirs in 1981, this is the collection of Ashihara Eiryo, a noted researcher and critic of ballet and music. The collection contains Western books on ballet, chanson, theater, circus etc., as well as records and musical scores. Available in the Humanities Room at the main library in Tokyo, a part of the collection is also on display in the Humanities Room.

Initiatives to protect the recordings

Handling precious materials with extreme care

For music documentation, deterioration and damage to recordings is more devastating than damage to paper-based material. Generally speaking, it is more difficult to repair recordings than paper-based materials because the potential for playing back the sound source may be lost. SPs, in particular, are easily broken and prone to deterioration because they are made from natural resins, and there is a risk that they will not be playable. It is not only an issue with analog records like the SPs, LPs and EPs, but CDs, DVDs and other optical disks can also suffer damage to the surface, or they may deteriorate in a short time because of chemical changes to the recording side due to the materials or the storage methods, and as a result of the damage, they may no longer be playable. There are many issues with the storage of recordings.

The National Diet Library carefully stores the material in its possession to facilitate access by future generations. We implement the following measures to prevent deterioration and damage to recordings stored on records.

In order to prevent warps and bends caused by the weight of the disc itself, we store SPs and LPs in special cabinets where we lay them on flat surfaces in piles of 10. If a needle is used to access the record, the potential for damage to the surface of the disc is high because it is not possible to avoid wear through friction with the needle, so we have introduced equipment for picking up the sound with lasers instead of record needles. Also, in order to curb the risk of damages or stains, staff members place the recordings on the playback equipment. With some exceptions, we have converted SPs from 1975 to 1989 to the cassette tape medium, giving access to the cassette tapes instead of the SP discs. We have also started an initiative to give access to “historical sound sources” such as SPs that have been digitized by the Historical Records Archive Promotion Conference (HiRAC). Further, sound recordings such as records, and audio-visual materials are available for research purposes only.

We are also undertaking research on the long-term preservation and use of electronic information, and as part of the research, we are studying the standards, technologies and specifications of old-style recordings (cassette tapes, open reels, analog records etc.) and carrying out trial digitization. As a result of these studies, we have found that not only do the media deteriorate easily in the case of old-style recordings, but the playback environment is also lost when production of playback equipment is stopped, and it is clear that we must urgently work out plans for use and preservation. It has been pointed out that digitization is necessary to protect the original material from deterioration and damage through use, as a method of keeping the material in a usable state, and for preservation. The research reports are posted on the website.[7. For more information, please see the website of the National Diet Library (]

In order for the National Diet Library to continue to preserve and give access to the valuable recordings that transmit the music culture of Japan, we are implementing various initiatives while collaborating and cooperating with the relevant organizations in Japan.

Translated from “Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan no Ongaku Shiryo,” Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan Geppo (National Diet Library Monthly Bulletin), No. 606 (September 2011, pp. 10-15. (Courtesy of the National Diet Library)