FUJIFILM Holdings

CSR Activity Report | Other Activities | Social Contribution Activities

Shosoin Shogozo Scrolls Archive

Social and Cultural Contribution Achievable through Photo and Film Technology

Microfilm offers detail, beauty and ensured long-term preservation not seen in other forms of record media. The Fujifilm Group makes use of film’s advantages to support the archiving of valuable cultural properties and works of art.

From left: Miyuki Oyama, FUJIFILM Imagetech Business Marketing Development Division; Shinya Sasai and Tetsuhiko Mizoguchi, Education and Learning Operations Department, Maruzen Co., Ltd. (now: Maruzen-Yushoodo Co. Ltd.) 

From 1999, the Fujifilm Group has been making progress on a joint project with Imperial Household Agency and Maruzen Co., Ltd. (now Maruzen-Yushoodo Co., Ltd.) to copy and store the 4,960 Shogozo scrolls held in safekeeping by the Imperial Household Agency, as well digitize the data to store on color DVD-Rs (CD-Rs). 3,500 scrolls have been photographed as of 2017, but restrictions to time and season due to maintaining proper custody of the historical materials means this long-term project would require another six years to complete.

The Shogozo scrolls are a general term for Buddhist scriptures handed down to the Shogozo, a scripture house of Sonsho-in Temple, one of the sub-temples of Todaiji (Eastern Great Temple). This collection of historical materials are approximately 5,000 scrolls of hand-written and copied sutras from the Sui and Tang dynasties to the Northern and Southern Courts of the Nara period. They were donated in 1893 with the scripture house by the Imperial household, and is currently managed by the Shosoin Treasure House of the Imperial Household Agency. They are desired for use in research into Buddhism, history, language and more, but few researchers are allowed to view them, and only under strict conditions due to their extreme value.

The goal of this project is to make these available to a broader audience, so Fujifilm’s microfilm was chosen as the media used in copying for its detail, color reproducibility and long-term storage capability. The browsing software chosen was EzMaper, a program developed jointly by Micro Service Center (at the time) and FUJIFILM Imagetech Co., Ltd. (now FUJIFILM Imaging Systems Co. Ltd.), and the DVD-Rs have been published sequentially by Maruzen since Volume 1: Sui and Tang Dynasty Sutras in 2000.

Documents placed on photography stand by Shosoin overseer

Examinations and repairs have continued on the Shogozo scrolls since the Meiji period, and subjects for photography have confirmed based on the records from that time. Only official experts are allowed to touch the historical materials. The person in charge transports them to the photography platform and prepares to take said photographs. A ruler is prepared separately on the platform in order to show size.

Photography is completed in order of scroll shape, cover, back cover, and text. When this activity began, a mini copy camera S2 and color microfilm type R was used to take picture, making film the original medium for preservation. Duplicates were created for other uses, and digitized duplicates were scanned for DVD-Rs. They are currently being photographed with digital cameras and saved digitally.

White paper placed beside Shogozo scrolls (circled areas)

Examples of this degree of ancient Buddhist sutras collected in such fine condition are unseen even in China, giving great value to the act of photographic preservation. But going as far as to publish DVD-Rs to contribute to the development of Buddhist and linguistic research gives this project great meaning.

Language is the foundation of Japanese culture, formed while learning from China’s grand culture through deciphering of Buddhist scriptures. The Shogozo scrolls are such live historical materials conveying that process. Using detailed color images and offering an environment where researchers can analyze them freely, new discoveries about hiragana, katakana (Japanese characters) and the structure of grammar are expected to be made from white spots, white paper and erasure marks on the sutra text.

Kazuki Sugimoto, then Director the Office of The Shosoin Treasure House, Imperial Household Agency

Another Decade to Complete the Long-term Project

Photography is done from 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM for two weeks on weekdays in the spring and winter, from the perspective of maintaining custody of the historical materials. One sutra scroll takes 1,520 minutes to photograph, allowing a maximum of 24 scrolls to be completed in a day. Up to now, about 2,100 scrolls have been photographed. Along with recording all of the Shogozo scrolls, the opportunity to organize the information also gives significant meaning to this project.


※Comment received in 2009.

Cooperating on Archiving Work for the National Archives of Japan

The National Archives of Japan have the important duty of transmitting precious archives considered national treasures to future generations. Their goal is to be of use to the public through pertinent preservation of important archives acting as historical documents related to the country’s safekeeping.

They are currently digitizing film with a guaranteed medium lifespan, continuously opening digital galleries to the public and offering data on their website containing a myriad of historical content. In addition to advanced photo technology for photographing archive documents with an eventual shelf life, meticulous caution—cultivated over many years of experience handling archive documents to grasp the condition of said documents before photographing—was necessary to the process.

The National Archives continues this work centered around the confidence they have with FUJIFILM Imagetech Co., Ltd. (now FUJIFILM Imaging Systems Co., Ltd.). They keep the burden inflicted on the precious original documents to a minimum, realizing their role as an institution of use to the people.

Archives of the Japanese constitution’s preamble (left) and original signatures (right)

Members of the National Archives of Japan and FUJIFILM Imagetech Co., Ltd. (now: FUJIFILM Imaging Systems Co., Ltd.)