Magazine article Records Management Quarterly

Records Management in Japan

Magazine article Records Management Quarterly

Records Management in Japan

Article excerpt

Japan is one of the great industrialized countries. It is a true economic superpower, has produced some of the most sophisticated information technology, and has literally hundreds of huge business corporations that are as competitive and successful as any in the world.

But what of records management? Do these huge business enterprises have records management? If so, how widespread is records management as an accepted business practice? What are the similarities and differences between records management in Japan as compared with practices here in North America? And what about records management in the Japanese government? We will examine each of these issues in this column.


Japan is a nation of approximately 124 million persons--just under half the size of the population of the United States. In geographic size, however, the four main islands that comprise Japan are only slightly smaller than the State of California. Japan is governed under a parliamentary democracy; its constitution is similar in many respects to the U.S. constitution, as the United States occupied Japan at the close of the Second World War and helped re-establish the country and its governmental and other institutions. (This post-World War II assistance has some significance for records management in Japan, as we shall see.) On a regional level, Japan's government is divided into forty-seven "prefectures," and of course the country has hundreds of cities, including Tokyo, the world's largest.

The Japanese culture is breath-taking in its artistry and sophistication, but when most people in North America think about Japan, they think business. The Japanese are, arguably, the greatest business people in the world today. Indeed, the World Competitiveness Scoreboard, a rating system which ranks countries on their ability to compete in global markets, rates Japan as number one in the world in business competitiveness. The United States occupies second place.(1)

Japan's economy is a little bigger than half the size of the U.S. economy--$3.76 trillion to $5.95 trillion respectively. This wealth is created by hundreds of world-class companies making thousands of outstanding products used in Japan and the world over. Depending on how global businesses are ranked, Japan is home to somewhere between 26% and 39% of the largest business corporations in the world,(2) including many that are familiar to us here in North America, such as Toyota, Honda, Canon, Sony, Fuji, and dozens of others.


The history of records management in Japan needs to be divided into two main phases: pre- and post-World War II. The early history of records management was recounted by Mr. Munehisa Sakuyama, CRM, in a paper presented at the 32nd Annual Conference of ARMA International in 1987.(3) Sakuyama-san cites some early 19th century examples of records management in Japan. He writes that the Kyo (Tokyo) branch of Mitsui Corporation had a records retention program in the early 19th century. The company classified records into two main categories in its retention schedule: "permanent" and "limited." The limited group was further classified into three retention groups: 12 year, six year, and three year retention periods.(4)

The Mitsui records retention program is particularly significant because no parallel development is known to have existed in the United States during the early 19th century. So far as is known, the first formalized efforts at systematic records destruction in the U.S. occurred in 1889, when the U.S. Congress enacted the General Records Disposal Act.

Later in the 19th century--during the "Meiji Period"--the Meiji government ordered its offices and ministries to submit their records to a "Records Editor." Each office and ministry established its own records office. In 1885, the Records Bureau (the "Kiroku Kyoku") was established in the cabinet of the national government, but this office was dissolved in 1893. …

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