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NCC News: News

Japanese Studies Spotlight: Finding Japan Studies Materials with the Digital Resources and Projects on East Asia Database

by Paula Curtis on 2022-09-14T14:50:00-04:00 | Comments

The NCC is collaborating with institutions and scholars to release a monthly series on our blog entitled Japanese Studies Spotlight. These features showcase exciting online collections available to researchers and students in Japanese Studies, introducing the archive or project, describing their contents, and demonstrating how they can be usefully engaged in research or in the classroom. If you are interested in submitting something to the series, please contact Paula R. Curtis, NCC’s Digital Media Manager, at

Paula R. Curtis, Yanai Initiative Postdoctoral Fellow and Lecturer, Department of Asian Languages & Cultures, UCLA

When I was an undergraduate nearly two decades ago, the digital landscape for researching and studying Japan was very different from today. I struggled to locate materials to work with, was frustrated by the lack of readily available information on where to look and what to look at, and eventually found myself building my own website where I could collect advice and (then newly developing) online resources. Several years later, this became the blog What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies?, or “Shinpai Deshou.”

Today, we seem to have the opposite problem: more institutions and individuals than ever are creating incredible digital materials that enhance how we produce and consume knowledge. Now we face the additional question of how to best organize, curate, and present the resources we have. With this in mind, in 2017 I created the Digital Resources and Projects on East Asia Database, an open-access repository that houses a wide range of online tools, archives, exhibitions, and more in a searchable and filterable platform for ease of use. In what follows, I will introduce the core features and functionality of the database with a focus on Japan Studies.

The main goal of my Digital Resources and Projects on East Asia Database was to provide researchers and educators with a convenient way to locate and explore English-language digital materials related to East Asia. Invariably, there are many more resources out there in non-English languages. However, in the interest of accessibility and inclusion, I chose to focus on English-language materials so that scholars and educators in and beyond East Asian Studies could easily find multimodal materials to enhance their research and teaching. Often we are asked to teach well beyond the scope of our trained expertise–an Americanist may have to teach a world cultures course, or a Europeanist may cover themes like the global history printing and the book. This database provides a way to find transregional and transdisciplinary resources that can be easily incorporated into one’s work regardless of specialization. All content in the database can be exported as a CSV file.

Platform and Database Features

The Digital Resources and Projects on East Asia Database is powered by Airtable, a highly customizable browser-based database management platform. Airtable allows users to create a wide variety of labels, tags, and other forms of content integration, all of which can be filtered, grouped, keyword searched, and cross-linked to other tools and/or internal or external databases. Though the platform has many advanced features and functions (some restricted to paid tiers geared towards businesses), its basic organizational options are more than sufficient to effectively organize the online resources I have collected using the labels and tags created:

Title This label refers to the title of the website or project.
Period This label refers to the approximate time period or periods the site is about. Given the various and often contested means of periodization, these divisions are broadly defined as premodern being prior to 1900 and modern being after 1900.
Area This label refers to the geographic location or locations on which the website or project focuses. These include specific locations (Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, Mongolia, Hong Kong) and broad locations (Asia, East Asia). If the site is more generally about Asia or East Asia at large, those categories are used. The general Asia/East Asia tags are not included alongside location-specific ones (i.e., something marked "Japan" need not also include "Asia").
Home Institution/Author This label refers to the home institution or author responsible for the website or project.
URL This label refers to the URL of the website or project.
Category Categories help indicate the methods used in the project of the site or the general content of the site at large. These categories are necessarily blunt instruments and reflect both specific digital methods as well as broader characterizations of the sites given for ease of grouping functions. Multiple categories may be selected, and they include: text mining, network analysis, OCR, visual tools, maps/mapping, data set/statistics, top modeling, pedagogy, research project, how-to-guide, archive, database, curated collection, bibliography, dictionary, institute/organization, or podcast. More detailed explanations of how I define each of these categories is available on the site. Note that I have also included phrases specific to digital humanities in order to maximize the visibility of projects that use specific techniques researchers and students may be interested in using in their own work.
Access This label refers to the accessibility of the website and its contents as open access, partial open access (e.g. behind a free user registration), or not open access (e.g., limited by institutional ID or paid subscription).
Description This label refers to an explanation of the website and its contents, which can be particularly helpful when keyword searching the entire database outside of the categories provided.

These labels can be at times imperfect. By nature, digital scholarship entails making difficult choices about converting information into data in order to facilitate the end user (more on this in the example provided below).

With these organizing categories at our disposal, Airtable allows us to then filter and organize information with increasing specificity using several core functions, enlarged in this screencap:


Hide fields This hides one or more labels from the view that you are not interested in seeing.
Filter This shows only entries that contain a specific keyword (that you input) with a label, or specific labels or categories you select. As the image above demonstrates, you can choose various inclusive or exclusive search options.
Group This groups entries by one or more categories. It is possible to separate entries into as specific or broad of groupings as you like.
Sort This sorts specific labels by order such as A to Z, Z to A, or First to Last, etc.

As you select one or more of these filtering options, the Airtable view automatically updates and reverts to the original content once you’ve removed your desired conditions.

The Database in Action

Now that we better understand the technical side of the database, let’s look at some examples of it in action by considering some different scenarios in which researchers, teachers, information specialists, and students of Japan Studies may need to locate materials.

Use Case 1:


I am a research scholar at a large university and I am interested in finding open-access archival materials on Sino-Japanese relations during World War II. I focus on differing perceptions by country and propaganda campaigns.

As the animation above shows, one might start by selecting specific filter conditions that help focus the search. First, they are only interested in open access materials, so the first filter would be “Access → is → open access.” Then, the “Area” category might be set to “has any of” “Japan,” “China,” or “East Asia” to ensure there is a wide breadth of coverage.

For the “Category” selection, the user may also wish to cast a wide net, including archives, curated collections, visual tools, maps, and databases. Note that looking over the filter selections, results included both premodern and modern resources, so we went back and narrowed the filter down to “Period → is exactly → modern” in order to eliminate pre-1900 materials. If we imagine that the researcher may also wish to look at perceptions by country, it’s then useful to go in and group our results by area so we can look at which archives or databases are focused only on Japan, China, or East Asia as a whole.

Finally, the keyword of “propaganda” is searched (via the magnifying class icon on top right-hand of the page) to see if the description or title of any site is directly related to the topic at hand, though it’s easy to imagine many of the other digital resources found contain useful information as well.

Use Case 2:


I am a K-12 educator, and I recently took over an Advanced Placement course on World History. I have no real background on Asia, but we’re doing a unit on mapping, and I want to find reliable information and images that can be used in class to diversify what students are introduced to. I want to show students how Japanese viewed the world around them through cartography.

For this user, it might be helpful to start with the maps/mapping category as a filter. We’ll therefore apply the condition “Category → has any of → maps/mapping.” The teacher can then consider using the “Group” function, using “Group → Area” to see if there are collections specific to Japanese maps or that contain Japanese maps among others. They might then realize that they wish to focus on a specific time period. Perhaps they have a lesson on the global early modern, and will want to see pre-1900 maps made in the Edo period. They can return to the filter options and add yet another condition for the “Period” to see if that makes a difference in the results.

Use Case 3:


I am a librarian specializing in Japanese Studies, but I work at a small school where I cover all topics related to Asia. A student has asked me about resources related to premodern Korea for a paper, but they’re not sure what topic they want to focus on yet.

In this search, it’s helpful that there are two specific fields we can narrow down immediately: Korea and premodern. Because the student does not necessarily know exactly what they want to do, we might keep our conditions open to “has any of” in all cases, just to be sure that they can browse the different possibilities. “Area → has any of → Korea” (this will include entries that have multiple areas selected along with Korea), "Period → has any of → premodern,” and then various types of archives, exhibitions, and other holdings.

If the student is interested in looking first at something visually appealing like paintings or prints, they might group the filters by category to find certain types of materials, where they’ll find that there are many interesting scrolls, maps, and visual resources that also include Japan. This might help them explore new avenues of premodern Korea (e.g. its relationship with neighboring countries like Japan) that they had not previously considered.

Use Case 4:


I am a student majoring in Computer Science with an interest in Japanese culture. I want to create a digital humanities project of some kind but I’m not sure what kinds of digital studies projects have been done on Japan (or maybe even other countries in East Asia).

This student might start with categories, wanting to specifically group them by digital humanities techniques or tools. Starting with a simple "Group" function to separate out the different categories, they could explore all instances of projects that include "text mining" or “network analysis” regardless of what regional area is the focus. The student might also collapse or exclude other categories (like those focused on archives), and even decide to filter just for Japan to see if there is a website or project that particularly strikes their fancy.

Maintenance and the Future of the Database

The Digital Resources and Projects on East Asia Database is an ongoing project. In order to make it as collaborative and user-driven as possible, I use Airtable’s submission form function to allow users to add their own digital resources to the table at any time. After each submission the table will populate automatically. This makes it possible for anyone to contribute at any time (though I recommend they first check whether or not their resource is already in there!).

This database is a labor of love in addition to my regular research and teaching. As such, and with the digital landscape always changing, it is not (and cannot) be comprehensive as-is. To keep it updated regularly and to ensure my time is not absorbed by unpaid projects, I try to add five new items every couple of weeks, which I announce regularly on my social media. I encourage others to explore the database and to participate in keeping it updated by submitting the new and exciting projects and resources they use most or their institution works to make available. Our East Asian Studies community is strengthened by sharing resources and information with one another. As digital tools continue to be integrated into the work we do in and beyond East Asia Studies, I hope the database will continue to grow and be of use to many different kinds of researchers and learners. To learn more about the project or just spend some time finding something new you can visit my site at any time.

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