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Top > Publications > NDL Newsletter > Back Numbers 2008 > No. 159, February 2008

National Diet Library Newsletter

No. 159, February 2008

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Material recently designated as national important cultural property

Soke monjo 宗家文書
 (Tsushima Soke Wakan kankei shiryo対馬宗家倭館関係資料)

The National Diet Library holds 1,593 documents of the Soke (So clan) which ruled the Tsushima domain and was in charge of the practical activities in trade and diplomatic relations with Korea during the Edo period. These documents are collectively called "Soke monjo." In June 2007, it was officially announced that this collection was designated as a national important cultural property based on the report of the Cultural Affairs Council. The official designation of the collection as a national important cultural property is "Tsushima Soke Wakan kankei shiryo."


Most of the records and documents of the Soke had been stored in three places: the main office of the Tsushima domain (called "Fuchu," in current Izuhara, Tsushima City, Nagasaki Prefecture), Wakan (Busan, Korea) and the So clan’s residence in Edo (Tokyo). The NDL’s present collection comes in large part from those held in the Wakan, which was transferred in 1894 from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan to the Tokyo Library, one of the NDL’s predecessors. The NDL also holds a part of what had been stored at the clan’s residence in Edo, which was purchased in 1912 from Yogyoku-in, the So clan’s family temple in Edo.


What is Wakan?

The word "wakan(倭館)" literally means "Japanese house or embassy." The Wakan was actually a Japanese settlement in Korea, where emissaries from Japan were accepted, and trade and diplomatic negotiations took place. It was already being mentioned at the beginning of the 15th century. Most of the documents and records in the NDL collection date from about the 200 years between 1678 and 1873, when the Wakan was placed in Choryang, Busan. All the residents in the Wakan were sent by the Tsushima domain and about 500 residents including government officials and merchants are estimated to have been living in the Wakan in Choryang.

Introduction of documents in the NDL collection

Kanshu nikki
front cover of "Kanshu nikki"

"Kanshu nikki"
(diary of chief keepers)
*Part of them is titled
"Mainichiki (毎日記:journal of every day)"
NDL holdings: 863 volumes

Responsible officials of the Wakan, called kanshu, kept business diaries that contain detailed records of day-to-day events such as the weather, incomings and outgoings of ships, visitors, letters sent and received, disputes inside the house and the accidental appearance of a tiger. The diaries included in the collection cover with hardly any gap from 1687 to 1870. In those days people put much faith in past events and precedents when conducting diplomatic negotiations. For this reason, these diaries were referred to so frequently that indexes for them were compiled. "Somokuroku (惣目録:general list)" (54 volumes) consists of lists of dates and main items extracted from the dairies;"Bunrui jiko (分類事考:classification index)" (21 volumes) is a subject index.  

Kanshu nikki
"Kanshu nikki"

Saihan kiroku
front cover of "Saihan kiroku"

"Saihan kiroku"
(business records of diplomats)
NDL holdings: 239 volumes

Diplomats called saihan, who were sent to the Wakan each time diplomatic problems occurred, also kept business diaries. As saihan were also in charge of the reception of emissaries, they took down in the diaries not only the processes of negotiations but also details such as menus at reception parties and gift items. 

Ryokoku ofukusho utsushi
Ryokoku ofukusho utsushi

"Ryokoku ofukusho utsushi"
(copies of letters between two countries)
NDL holdings: 209 volumes

All the diplomatic correspondence sent from and received in the Wakan was recorded by monks at Tokoji temple inside the settlement. While other documents in the collection were written in cursive writing, printed style characters were used in these documents because they were copies of official documents, and the writing in the original documents was reproduced in every detail.

This collection of documents "Soke monjo" is important not merely for the study of Japanese history of diplomatic negotiations and that of trade and commerce, but it also has a great value, passing on to us of the life and cultural exchange in the special environment of the Wakan as the only Japanese quarter overseas during the period when Japan was closed off to the world.


Physical aspects of the documents

Most of the documents are bound with covered binding (four-hole) and some are Korean style (five-hole binding). Some of them are still kept in their original bindings, although most of them were repaired by putting a new cover over the original one while the Imperial Library, one of the NDL’s predecessors, was holding them. Some documents were put together to make one volume and some were divided into several volumes. They range in height from approximately 22cm to 28cm.

Documents of the Soke held by other institutions

It is said that there exist over a hundred thousand documents of the Soke in total. They are held by seven institutions including NDL, Nagasaki Kenritsu Tsushima Rekishi Minzoku Shiryokan (Nagasaki Prefectural Tsushima museum of history and folklore), Kyushu National Museum, the Historiographical Institute of the University of Tokyo, Keio University Library, Tokyo National Museum, and the National Institute of Korean History in the Republic of Korea. The collection held by the Kyushu National Museum, which consists of 14,078 documents, was designated as national important cultural property in 2005.

User information

The NDL’s "Soke monjo" was newly designated as a rare book in NDL in July 2007. In accordance with the designation, NDL call numbers of the documents were changed from 823-1 to -40 into WA1-6 with numbering from 1 to 40 assigned to each group of documents. All the documents are available in microform in the Rare Books and Old Materials Room.

Rare Books and Old Materials Division, Reference and Special Collections Department


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