Resource: Digital Archive of Japan’s 2011 Disasters


It’s been almost one year since the March 11, 2011 magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami disaster devastated parts of northeastern Japan. As of February 25th, 2012, the death toll is currently confirmed at 15,853 people while 3,283 remain missing. I encourage you to explore the Digital Archive of Japan’s 2011 Disasters.


The Digital Archive of Japan’s 2011 Disasters project is an initiative of the Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University in collaboration with several partners; The Internet Archive, The National Diet Library, The Library of Congress, metaLAB (at) Harvard, Harvard Center for Geographic Analysis, and Save MLAK. The aim of this project is to collect, preserve, and make accessible as much of the digital record of the disasters as possible, to enable scholarly research and analysis of the events and their effect.


The completed interface will provide searchable access to:

  • Websites- a large archived collection of institutional and individual websites in multiple languages, including but not limited to: NGOs, businesses, trade groups, schools, and government agencies.
  • victims, relief workers, scientists, medical personnel, and policy makers.
  • Personal Testimonies concerning the disasters and aftermath.
  • Photographs and Videos – Photos and videos collected by photo archive partners or in publicly accessible databases such as Flickr, Picasa, Youtube.
  • Audio – Recordings of audio, including radio broadcasts.
  • Maps and Geographic Data – selected geographic data layers prepared by the Center for Geographic Analysis and other partners.
  • Social Media – Twitter, public Facebook pages, and other social media communications.
  • Other Textual Sources – email and listserv communications, PDFs of reports and documents.
  • Article Databases – access to search the databases of our media and document database partners.

Search and Navigation

Currently, users are able to search the web archive which will allow you to search a collection of harvested websites and website information. You’ll also be able to contribute information to the site by submitting a form.  A featured testimonials section is available to read some of the contributions made. Users are able to submit their own story by filling out a form. Finally, users can browse map layers which provides data sets that have been shared with the Japan Sendai Earthquake Data Portal.

The Digital Archive of Japan’s 2011 Disasters is currently building an innovative user interface that will aggregate separate digital archives into one, while respecting the independent integrity of each originating archival project. This will ensure multiple ways of accessibilty for content.

Since a new interface is currently being developed, I won’t go into detail about the current interface. To see what the new interface will be like, I encourage you to check out these two videos developed by metaLAB (at) Harvard:

At this time, there isn’t a help guide on searching. This is probably due to the development of the new interface. A user may simply type a single word and may pull up any number of resources. Boolean searching (the use of AND, OR, or NOT) does not seem to be available; which makes advanced searching quite difficult. Truncated searching does work. Typing Budd* for example will bring up results that include Buddha and Buddhism for example. Phrase searching using quotation marks does appear to work as well. The use of tags may be the easiest way for users to browse a good number of resources to begin with. By identifying the search term “tag: <word>” I was able to improve some searches by at least the groups. However, without the use of Boolean operators, I was unable to advance my search capabilities and refine my search for higher precision.

Users new to the Japanese language will find this site difficult to use. Unless you have a reliable translator on your computer or are fairly fluent in Japanese, users may feel the presentation of resources beyond their capability of understanding. However, if you are somewhat fluent in Japanese, I’m certain that a number of items that will interest you. There are a good number of items in English; which can by easily found by using many of the popular tags already provided.

General Observations

For me, the devastation is deeply ingrained in my memory. I’m certain that once the new interface is complete, browsability will improve allowing users the opportunity to gain more insight into the disaster and its effects. I hope to revisit this site once the new interface is completed and update the searching funtionality. I hope that you will take the time to explore Digital Archive of Japan’s 2011 Disasters.

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2 Responses to Resource: Digital Archive of Japan’s 2011 Disasters

  1. Pingback: Remembering 3/11 | What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies?

  2. Nele says:

    Definitely keeping an eye on this one, thank you for the write-up!

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