• Kyodo

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A research center at Saitama University has opened Japan’s largest archives on the work of grassroots organizations.

The Center for the Study of Cooperative Human Relations has collected more than 150,000 journals, bulletins and newsletters issued by nongovernmental organizations to make them available to students and the public.

It also plans to launch research projects on the development of citizens’ groups in Japan and how they can be further fostered by using these documents in cooperation with NGOs.

“NGOs have played and will continue to play important roles in realizing a cooperative society,” said Yoshihiko Kamii, head of the center. “We hope to promote research with their support.

“We also want to make the center an information-exchange base for NGOs, students, researchers and local residents.”

The documents include some 100,000 publications on civic movements donated by the Citizen Activity Library, a private Tokyo library established by civil campaigners that collected journals by civic organizations for 25 years until it closed at the end of last year.

Grassroots campaigners in labor, consumer and environmental movements voluntarily sent their publications to the library, and they are continuing to do so with the university center.

“The number of documents at the center will continue increasing with the support of NGOs,” said Kamii, also a professor at the university specializing in labor issues. The center receives some 700 publications on a regular basis.

It has a vast quantity of documents from the Japan “Peace for Vietnam!” Committee, known by its Japanese acronym “Beheiren,” which vigorously campaigned against Japanese government involvement in the Vietnam War and helped U.S. military deserters from 1965 to 1974.

A former secretary general of the group in 2000 donated Beheiren materials, including bulletins, pictures of demonstrations and meetings as well as newspaper and magazine clippings.

The center has received some 50,000 journals and bulletins of overseas NGOs via the Pacific Asia Resource Center, a Tokyo-based NGO.

Researchers and students from Saitama University, as well as other universities and institutions, including foreign entities, have visited the center to look through the documents.

Meanwhile, in a bid to function as an archive of civil movements and an information-transmission base for NGOs, the center started a special lecture series in June for students and the public by people involved in NGO activity.

Ayako Sekine, a climate-change activist with the environmental group Greenpeace Japan who gave a lecture here recently, praised the center’s policy, saying: “It was a good opportunity for an NGO and students as well as local residents to get to know each other. I expect the center to continue offering such chances.”

Kamii said he hopes the center will be a kind of “salon” for NGO members and the public as well as students and researchers. It is now working on putting an index of its holdings online.

To reflect outside opinions in operating the center, it will soon set up an advisory committee consisting of NGO members and researchers from outside the university.

“A university seems to be isolated from local communities, but I believe it is necessary for us to share the vigor of people who have been active in the field in order to develop our research operations further,” Kamii said.

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