The Future of Digital Resources for Shōsōin Studies

I recently received a volume about the Shōsōin collection that contains valuable historiographical and methodological pieces by eminent Shōsōin scholars such as Sakaehara Towao, Yamashita Yumi, Iida Takehiko, Yamaguchi Hideo, and others. The volume is a must read for anyone interested in Shōsōin documents. For me, the most exciting aspect of the volume was the information about current digital projects related to Shōsōin documents. These resources strike me as potentially field-changing ones that will make Shōsōin studies more accessible and also allow for innovative new research.

One of these resources is being designed by a team of researchers including Gotō Makoto, who recently accepted a position at the National Museum of Japanese History, and authored an article in the volume about the project. Gotō had previously helped design the Somoda database. This was an ambitious project that focused on text data to enable restoration (fukugen) of fragments (dankan). Unfortunately, the database has not been updated since 2007, was never fully functional as far as I can tell, and encountered some problems outlined by Gotō in his article. But the future looks bright for this project. Gotō is currently revising it to be based on topic maps. While the technical aspects are beyond my comfort zone, it essentially enables users to visualize the relationship between and number of occurrences of various topics. A more concrete example would be as follows: a researcher could search for a particular text, such as a sutra commentary, and see where it was held and what monks had requested it. This type of complex search would allow researchers to understand textual circulation to write a biography of a sutra in early Japan or to better understand the curriculum for monks and nuns. Similarly, a scholar could find all the times a scribe appeared in documents in a given year. In the future, the project could also link to other resources on the web, such as the text of a given sutra in SAT or to other sources for early Japan such as the Shoku Nihongi.

A second exciting project described in an article in this volume by Adachi Fumio, Suzuki Takuji, and Nitō Atsushi makes super high definition color images of Shōsōin documents available (or more accurately, images of the collotype replicas that the National Museum of Japanese History is producing). Moreover, the software allows some really useful functions. For one, users will be able to put the recto and verso side by side or on top of one another for comparison. Second, users will be able to put documents in order sequentially, thus allowing images that provide restoration (fukugen) of fragments (dankan) in their eighth-century configurations. Third, users can zoom. Unfortunately, as outlined here, the database is only available in the National Museum of Japanese History and printing images is not allowed. More detailed information on the system, including some screen shots can be found here.

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