'A unique gift': National Archives hands back priceless Japanese records
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'A unique gift': National Archives hands back priceless Japanese records

Thousands of historic Japanese commercial records seized during World War II have been returned to Tokyo as part of a significant cultural milestone from the National Archives of Australia.

The largest move of its kind from Australia, the gift will see more than 3300 archival boxes of business documents, journals, posters, catalogues, meeting minutes, shipping records and even some personal photographs returned to Japan.

The gift is described as a first for the National Archives.

The gift is described as a first for the National Archives.

Photo: Supplied

The items were seized by authorities under laws preventing trade with Australia's enemies and have been held by federal government authorities since the 1950s.

National Archives of Australia director-general David Fricker said the gift of more than 800 metres length of items had been considered for some years, as the records provide a unique insight into the personal and business lives of Japanese people living in Australia.

Conservation of the records being gifted by the National Archives.

Conservation of the records being gifted by the National Archives.

Photo: Supplied
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Japan has already given Australia some records of Australian prisoners of war who died in the sinking of the Japanese auxiliary ship the Montevideo Maru during the conflict.

"Clearly these items reflect much more about Japan and the Japanese people and businesses who were operating in Australia at the time than they do about Australia," he said.

"This was a great opportunity to make this quite considerable volume of records a gift from Australia to Japan as a sign of enduring friendship and a way of using these records as a cultural expression of cooperation.

A memorandum of understand has been signed to facilitate the gift, which Mr Fricker said included items not central to the mission of the National Archives of Australia.

National Archives Director-General David Fricker and Assistant Director-General Teressa Ward.

National Archives Director-General David Fricker and Assistant Director-General Teressa Ward.

Photo: Supplied

"As is the case with many archival collections, a single document by itself may not be that outstanding but the value of this is in the aggregate.

"These items present quite a rich picture of the Japanese men and women, the transactions, commercial decisions, the posters, the catalogues and the journals. They present a rich view of the commercial activity up to the early 1940s.

"It's unusual but it's not without precedent. It's a first for us and the circumstances of this are quite unique," he said.

"Often we have records which are the documentary records of one community or nation, but are also shared documentary of another."

Mr Fricker said the National Archives had long been an active and respected member of the international archival community, and had provided leadership and advice in digital information management and access to key records.

Tom McIlroy

Tom McIlroy is a political reporter for the Financial Review in the federal press gallery at Parliament House.

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