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Posts Tagged ‘libraries’

The main tower keep of Fukuyama castle.

Finally, we decided to say goodbye to Tomo, and so long as we were in the area, maybe try to visit the Hiroshima Prefecture History Museum, in Fukuyama City. Sadly, we didn’t get there before they closed for the day; another thing to add to my list to see next time. But, we did get to see Fukuyama Castle, which was quite special. Admittedly, not really all that different from other castles I’ve visited – in fact, the exhibits inside the main tower keep (tenshu) reminded me very much of my visit to Hiroshima castle some 14 years ago. If we were allowed to take photos, or if I had the time and energy to take notes, one could perhaps learn a lot about the Abe clan lords of Fukuyama. But, for me, the key thing about visiting the castle was just simply that it’s another Japanese castle I might never have thought I’d ever visit. I still have never been to Kumamoto, Himeiji, Matsumoto, or some of the other really famous castles, but I have been to castles in a number of major cities that I’ve visited: Edo castle (Tokyo), Nijô and Fushimi castles (Kyoto), Hiroshima, Kanazawa, Fukuoka, Kagoshima, Odawara… To add Fukuyama is just really unexpected, and neat. Plus, they had a statue of Abe Masahiro, who I needed a picture of for the Samurai Archives Wiki.

Finally, on my final day in Hiroshima, we again remained in Kure City proper, and paid a visit to the City Central Library. I was surprised and disappointed to find there was no research section – no open stacks of books about Kure or the broader local region. Sure, they had books in the basement, which I could request, and actually the librarians were quite helpful, in bringing up large piles of books on closely related topics, that they hoped or supposed might be useful. But, still, it would have been nice to just have shelves I could browse. Granted, I suppose this is a city library and not a prefectural library, but, every prefectural library I’ve been to has had a more general public area, and then a researchers’ area, with browseable open stacks. In any case, I did manage to get scans of a few publications I might not have been able to find elsewhere – but nothing too special, actually. What would have been particularly nice would have been if I could have gotten access to modern-typeset transcriptions of the Mitarai monjo (“Documents of Mitarai [Port Town]”). But, since I didn’t have an appointment or anything, I guess I shouldn’t have expected too much. Well, maybe next time I head out to Hiroshima, I’ll make a better effort to contact people ahead of time, and make appointments to look at documents.

And… wow. Well, that’s about it. Thus, my Hiroshima adventures came to an end.

Mmm Okonomiyaki.

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The main entrance to the Tenmonkan shopping arcades.

Weds, Sept 10.

Phew. So, here goes. I arrived in Kagoshima on a Tuesday. It’s always stressful looking for a place to stay, because you just don’t know the neighborhoods well enough, don’t know how nice the place is going to be – how clean is clean? what level is really tolerable? – I’ve had very good experiences with hostels in Japan in the past, have always found the rooms more than clean enough, the arrangements more than good enough. But even so, fingers crossed, you never know. As it turns out, not only is the place I’m staying – the Green Guesthouse – quite nice, but it’s also a lot more walkably close to the center of town than I’d thought. For anyone interested in coming to Kagoshima and paying only around $30 a night for a small but quite doable single room, plenty clean, free A/C and Wifi, I definitely recommend the Green Guesthouse. I got a single room, but from what I’ve seen/heard, it seems like even the mixed dorms don’t have too much of a rowdy backpackers kind of feel – the place is pretty quiet, everyone’s pretty respectful of the shared spaces (e.g. shower)… Incidentally, I found the place through agoda.com, a hotels website I’d never heard of before, but which turns out to be quite nice for looking for places in Japan – including affordable hostels, minshuku and the like – without the site assuming you’re interested in the expensive and gag-inspiringly-standard Western-style business hotels and resorts.

Moving on. I woke up on Wednesday, and started out in search of breakfast. Before long, I’d already found a few historical sites, monuments, statues, right in the central Tenmonkan shopping arcade area – namely, a monument to the monk Gesshô, and a statue of Godai Tomoatsu. I later also found just a few blocks from the hotel a small stone marking the birthplace of the founder of Kawasaki.

What remains of the main gate of Tsurumaru Castle, with the Reimeikan visible in the background, in what was previously the honmaru, the central portion of the castle compound.

After grabbing some stuff at a local pan’ya (bakery), I made my way in the direction of the castle, which is also the direction of the City Art Museum, and some other similar institutions, with the castle grounds themselves being home today to the Prefectural Library and the Reimeikan cultural and history museum. Nothing much survives of the castle today, except for the impressive stone foundation, and nothing’s been rebuilt like at some other castles. But, the Reimeikan has a great model on display, to help one imagine what it looked like. One distinctive feature of Tsurumaru castle, aka Kagoshima castle, was its lack of a tenshu (keep tower). To be honest, I don’t know that much about the actual military/defensive purpose of such a keep, but it certainly would have looked impressive, and it’s interesting that the Shimazu, the third most powerful samurai clan in the islands, felt no need for such a thing.

But, before I got to the former castle grounds, I stopped at the City Art Museum, which, sadly, was a bit of a disappointment. They have one small room of Impressionists and the like, and another small room of local Kagoshima artists, from Hashiguchi Goyô to Kuroda Seiki. It was cool to see something of the local art history, e.g. which Kagoshima artists were major in the Meiji period, and which Meiji period artists were major in Kagoshima, and they do have up on regular display a painting by Kuroda of Raphael Collin’s studio,

Right: Kuroda Seiki’s “Atelier,” Kagoshima City Museum of Art. Image of this public domain painting hosted on All About Japan, allabout.co.jp

as well as a couple of paintings by major Paris artists with whom Kuroda and other major Japanese painters of the time had contact. But I was really hoping for more historical stuff – for example, I know they have some pretty detailed old Edo period maps of Kagoshima city – and just for more in general. Kagoshima is a prefectural capital, and former seat of the third most wealthy samurai clan in the country. You’d think they could pull off a bit more. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Seattle Art Museum, San Francisco Asian Art Museum, and Honolulu Museum of Arts, are all in (no offense) secondary cities, cities far smaller and in various ways less prominent, less powerful, than New York or Los Angeles, but all of these are huge art museums compared to what Kagoshima’s offering.

That said, the Reimeikan, the city’s (the prefecture’s) museum of local history and culture, was wonderful. I really really wish I could have taken pictures in there, even more so than when I usually say these things, since the exhibits were so extensive, so informative, and so well put together. There are models of cities and castles that span nearly an entire gallery, recreations of Taisho era city scenes, incredible-looking artifacts (e.g. festival costumes from the Amami Islands), and lots of really great diagrams and charts, not to mention paintings and other art objects. The gallery label text, hypothetically, I could stand there for hours and hours and hours, reading every word and taking meticulous notes, but you can’t capture these visuals that way. And their general museum catalog, while it does do a better job than I’d expected, still doesn’t quite live up to what I think I would get out of taking photos (including having photos to include in my PowerPoints when I lecture, for example).

The Kagoshima Prefectural Library, located on the former site of the castle’s Ninomaru, or the second(ary) section of the compound.

The Prefectural Library was a pain in my ass for a variety of reasons, but I don’t want to get off on a rant here. Suffice it to say that for a public institution (which should thus be more open and accessible), one large enough & major enough to be a prefectural level institution (which should therefore have its shit together), and yet small enough (being a provincial one, far from the center) to be more friendly and open, these guys were far more difficult to work with than the National Archives, or the University of Tokyo’s Shiryohensanjo, one of the most elite institutions in the country. I walked right into the latter two, with no appointment or anything, just a letter of introduction, and within, let’s say half an hour, I had documents in hand. Edo period manuscripts, handscroll paintings, whatever I requested, with little trouble. The Okinawa Prefectural Archives last year was quite easy to deal with too, though there admittedly I had had arrangements made for me ahead of time by a professor from the National Museum of Japanese History. In any case, it turns out that at the Kagoshima Prefectural Library, one needs to apply for permission to see the objects, and permission could take as long as a week; furthermore, even the books on the shelves, you can’t just take pictures or photocopy as much as you want – these things are tightly controlled by the librarians. Which, admittedly, is pretty standard policy, actually, at many Japanese libraries, though I’ve never seen it so strictly enforced.

What really annoyed me, though, which is of course not the library’s fault, but even so, is that when I got fed up and said “Screw it. I don’t want to spend all this time and/or money photographing or photocopying museum catalogs and putting up with all your applications and permission slips when I can just go next door and buy the catalogs myself!”, it turns out that not only is the Reimeikan museum sold out of these particular catalogs, but as far as I can tell, they are owned by only a very very few university lending libraries outside of Japan, and are totally unavailable on Amazon.jp or kosho.or.jp (a great site that links & searches used bookstores across Japan). So, all in all, a public prefectural library that happens to be one of the only places that actually owns these books, a library that exists in order to make information available to the public, is making me jump through so many hoops to get at these books. I’m going home in about a week; I don’t know when I’ll be back in Kagoshima, and while I appreciate that having it on the shelf here does make it pretty readily accessible to Kagoshima city residents, the library’s chief constituents, that still really doesn’t help me out any. And isn’t the purpose of a research library to be there to provide access to resources for researchers?

In any case, moving on, I visited a number of other small sites around town. I had been worried that for a relatively small and rather out of the way city, Kagoshima would not have much in the way of tourist signs, let alone ones in English. After all, how many tourists on the standard Tokyo-Kyoto-maybe Hiroshima circuit make it to Kagoshima? But, actually, the signage is excellent, with nice clear signage pointing out sites, and good clear maps spread throughout town to point you to the next one. I wonder how many foreign tourists they really do get? I’ve actually seen quite a few Westerners in my time here, though whether they’re tourists, or what, I of course can’t be sure.

Among the smaller sites I saw that day were the surviving stone walls of the Shigakkô, a private academy started by (guess who?) Saigô Takamori, just outside the castle walls. The former site of the school is today home to a medical center, but, here’s something, a series of marks in the walls are said to be damage from bullets (did they have “bullets” in the 1870s? Too late for musket balls, but…) from the Satsuma Rebellion, the event fictionalized in “The Last Samurai” (the Tom Cruise movie). By the late 1870s, the samurai class had officially been abolished, and a great many things about the country were changing quite rapidly – culturally, socially. The Rebellion has often been portrayed as having to do with samurai honor, a last stand for the old ways, something like that. Now, I am absolutely no expert on this topic, so, I don’t know, but some things I’ve read recently indicate that, really, it was more about the samurai’s government stipends being taken away. Throughout the Edo period, loyal retainers and vassals were paid by their lords, out of tax revenues exacted from the peasants/commoners. This put a tremendous economic strain on the finances of nearly every daimyô domain, and would continue to put a tremendous economic strain on the finances of the new Meiji government, the new “modern” Japanese nation-state that was still in the process of being born. So, the stipends were eliminated, and as in most other societies, everyone now had to /earn/ their living themselves (or, you know, live off inherited wealth). This, I am told, is much more so what the Satsuma Rebellion was about. I’m sure it’s more complicated, and I may be wrong entirely – let me know in the comments. I’d be interested to learn more about it.


After the Shigakkô, I made my way to the nearby Nagata Middle School, which today sits on the former site of the Ryûkyû-kan, a residence and administrative office for visiting officials and scholars from the Ryûkyû Kingdom. As you know if you’ve been reading my blog, the Ryûkyû Kingdom, which ruled over Okinawa and the associated islands to the south, was somewhat independent at this time, with its own king and royal court administration, and its own scholar-bureaucrat class based on the Chinese model; but the kingdom was also a vassal (or something – I’m still trying to figure out the right terms) to Satsuma domain, that is, to the Shimazu clan lords of Kagoshima. Most of what I have read focuses on the Ryukyuans’ activity in Edo, on those occasions when they were received in audience by the shogun. But, during this time they were far more regularly traveling to and from Kagoshima, and engaging in various activities within the castle town – this Ryûkyû-kan is where they stayed, and where they did most of their business. There’s basically nothing to see of it today except a stone marker, but even so, what a shame it’s on the grounds of a middle school! I’m not going to just walk into a middle school – in the US, people might think you’re a pedophile or something. I don’t know the precise ins-and-outs of the legalities or the security measures schools might have regarding these things here in Japan, or in the US, but, I’m definitely not going to just let myself in through the gates of a school. … Fortunately, though, after checking with the tourist information desk, who graciously called the school for me, it turns out it’s not the most unusual of requests, and they have a system for it. So, I went back another day, found the principal’s office, and while feeling extremely awkward about being this strange adult foreigner man who has suddenly appeared at the door to your office, explained myself, and the principal was actually really kind and sweet about it. I got a little lanyard badge to wear saying I was an authorized guest on the grounds, and then I made my way across the practice field, attempting best as I could not to disturb the kids practicing – though they really didn’t seem to mind – got my photos, and got out. What I’ve really gained or learned by taking photos of this monument, since there’s basically nothing else to see of the site, I don’t know. But I’m glad I went that extra step and did it.

It was a busy day… and it wasn’t over quite yet. I made my way back to the castle grounds, only a few blocks away, and climbed up the little mountain hiking course behind the castle, to the lookout point on Shiroyama (“castle mountain”), from which Sakurajima is well visible, or would be if not for the fog and such. Sakurajima is a massive volcano, one of the most active in the world today, which is just a tad too far away to really be said to “loom over the city,” but which is certainly quite large in the vista when you’re up above the city and can actually see it at all. The trail then led down to Terukuni Shrine, with its massive bronze statues which I mentioned in the previous post.

Having now hit all the major sites in this section of the city, I planned for the following day to go out to the Shôkoshûseikan, in the hopes I might have better luck there than at the Reimeikan in terms of seeing documents or getting catalogs. That didn’t end up quite happening… though I made it there eventually.

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Somehow, despite going to the Metropolitan Museum basically all my life, I never realized before that they have a research library. Walk in through the main entrance, make like you’re going to go up the big main staircase, and then instead go left, and boom, there it is, the Thomas J. Watson Library. It’s a non-browsing library, meaning you have to request the books you want through a request system; there are minimal shelves to walk along and browse to just sort of see what you find. Though, if you’d like to do that, there’s the Nolen Library, on the ground level, accessible via the Education Entrance (over on the left side of the building, not up the big steps on the outside).

The entrance to the Watson Library, in the Spanish courtyard/patio room to the left of the main staircase. Photo from Art Library Crawl.

Most museums, you might be surprised to learn, do in fact maintain libraries. Some are more accessible to the public than others, and some are distributed throughout the museum’s curatorial departments rather than stored in a single place. The Freer-Sackler’s library is collected in one place, for example, but I know the Asian Art library books at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston are held within the offices of the Asian Art department, and there’s no librarian or reference desk or anything like that within those offices – just the shelves, directly accessible by the staff. If there is a single central library of the MFA, I’m not sure where it is (turns out it’s down the street, at a completely separate building). I gather the Met has departmental libraries like this as well, but, in any case, the Watson Library is a nice, centralized place where researchers – not just museum staff, but anyone above college-age who registers and is there to do serious research – can make use of books from any of the Met’s libraries.

And what a library it is.

Some of the new sections of the American Wing have computer terminals where visitors can search through the collections, and the libraries. Poking around in there one day, I discovered that the Metropolitan’s libraries have a surprising number of relatively obscure books that I thought I should like to take a look at – mainly stuff about Okinawan painting, which kind of surprised me given how limited the Met’s own collection of Okinawan works, and how limited their history of doing exhibitions about Okinawa. And, I discovered at that time how easy it is to register to use the library, and to make requests for books. I went home and browsed more seriously, went through the online registration process, and electronically requested several books. Within a few days, I had emails telling me my books were ready.

I walked into the library, and spoke first with a librarian at the entrance, who helped me finish the registration process and get oriented with the library. She could not have been kinder, more friendly, more welcoming. Not that there’s anything wrong with the rest of the museum, at all, but as soon as I stepped into the library, it was like a whole different world, where suddenly I was no longer just one of a gazillion faceless visitors, but was now a respected, valued, researcher. All of the staff I spoke to were just unbelievably kind and friendly, beyond any other library, even, that I’ve ever used.

At many libraries, you have to go up to a desk and give them your name and they’ll provide you with the books you requested. Nothing wrong with that. But here, there are a series of shelves, organized alphabetically, and you just pick up your own books. There’s an openness to this approach that implies, I feel, a degree of respect, and of belonging, and of access, that you’re not someone we need to protect the books from, or protect the library from, but rather that you’re someone we trust, and welcome. Just as if I were a regular, or as if I were staff or something. Walk in as if I know what I’m doing, find my name, take down my books, as if I’ve done this a hundred times. There were a number of small side-rooms, and I’m not sure what all of them contain, but one seemed to be the main reading room, with maybe 16 or so nice big wooden tables for you to sit and do your work. There are outlets, free wifi, and access to a wide range of electronic resources, such as JSTOR. This last bit is especially wonderful, as I know that many other museums do not spring for JSTOR or other such resources for their staff, let alone for visitors. It can be very expensive, of course, to maintain subscriptions to such services, and with such a relatively small staff (tens of curators, maybe, at a large museum? Far less, of course, at a much smaller institution), there is a compelling argument to be made that it’s not really worth it, especially when each department, or each staff member, requests or requires various additional databases or resources for their specialty area… There is a certain logic to it, especially when it comes to the financial bottom line, but at the same time, I cannot help but think it bordering on the absurd that museum directors, department chairs, and curators prominent in their field, who need to do research in order to write catalog entries, gallery labels, etc., need to ask their interns & volunteers – college kids with access to JSTOR, etc., through their schools – to get articles and such for them. So, it’s really great that the Met provides this resource not only to its own staff, but to visiting researchers. Anyone who works at any museum in the city that doesn’t provide such resources for its own staff can come to the Met and get access.

Finally, the scanners at the Watson Library are incredible. For me, personally, scanners are so crucial. I do not know yet what I’ll have access to at the UCSB libraries when I start my PhD there next month, but especially when it comes to journals and other non-circulating materials, I love to skip out on paying for photocopies, and scan (for free, and in color) anything and everything I want or need, to be used later. The Univ. of Hawaii Hamilton Library has some pretty nice flatbed scanners over in the Science Wing (aka the Hamilton Addition), which have easy-to-use software that allows you to scan to PDF and create whole PDF documents instead of folders full of JPEGs. But, the scanners at the Watson Library are easily the best, most incredible scanners I’ve ever seen. They use some kind of overhead camera or scanner, so that you place the book open, facing up, which puts a lot less stress on the spine and the pages than squashing it face-down against a sheet of glass. The camera uses a laser-finder to determine the focus, and scans it very quickly, digitally determining how to divide the scanned image into left and right page, and arranging them into a PDF. The system sometimes has difficulty, when the book isn’t centered properly, when it’s too big, or when you’re not holding the pages down flat enough, but otherwise I have never seen an easier-to-use system. One giant button that says Scan, and another giant button that says “Save to USB or Email”, with smaller buttons nearby with an array of easy-to-understand and easy-to-use settings options.

When I had some difficulties with the machines, I asked one of the librarians, “oh, excuse me, I’m so sorry to bother you, but..” and she could not have been more friendly and polite about it. There was not the slightest indication that I was in fact interrupting or bothering her – she was so helpful, so accommodating.

All in all, I was blown away by my brief experience with the Watson Library. It is such a wonderful, welcoming, friendly place to work. If only I were more permanently/regularly based in New York, now that I know about it, I would make use of this library all the time. For any of you looking to do any kind of art history research, I very much recommend that if you find yourself in New York, you take some time to check out not just the NYPL or Columbia or whatever other resources you might normally think of first, but to also give the Metropolitan a try. Given how difficult it can be to get into Columbia’s libraries, to request things from off-site at NYPL, or to wait and wait to get things from ILL at your own home institution, the Watson Library can be a beautiful, wonderful resource. And such a nice, relaxing space, too, to feel welcomed and to get your work done.

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