Preserving the ephemeral: reflections on archiving Japanese websites

August 1, 2017
Dr Regan Murphy Kao
photo of Mao Kobayashi


In 2015 when I applied for a grant from the Freeman Spogli Institute (FSI) to initiate a web archiving program, I viewed our project from a theoretical perspective.  While in the past we might collect ephemera, such as letters, small-run newsprints, or underground comics, these type of critical sources of information are now produced in the format of online websites, which are created, updated, deleted with a previously unknown speed.  In order for future scholars to have access to this kind of primary resource, I thought that it was academically important to preserve online conversations that were distinctive of the current moment.  With the generous support of FSI and Stanford Libraries, I initiated a web archiving program called “Snapshot of Japan, 2016-2017,” which aimed to build a curated collection of archived websites that would capture the major issues as they developed in contemporary society.

The project took on new meaning for me recently as we sought to archive a limited number of blogs of ground-breaking, influential figures – people whose writings were widely read and represented a new way of approaching a topic.  One of the people we choose was Mao Kobayashi.  Selected by BBC as one of the 100 influential women of 2016, Mao broke with tradition and openly described her experience with cancer in a blog that gripped Japan. She harnessed this new medium to define her life rather than allow cancer to define it.  The BBC article on her selection into this prestigious group cites Mao’s motivation for writing as follows:  

If I died now, what would people think? ‘Poor thing, she was only 34’? ‘What a pity, leaving two young children’? I don’t want people to think of me like that, because my illness isn’t what defines my life.  My life has been rich and colourful – I have achieved dreams, sometimes clawed my way through, and I met the love of my life.  I’ve been blessed with two precious children.  My family has loved me and I’ve loved them.  So I’ve decided not to allow the time I’ve been given to be overshadowed entirely by disease.  I will be who I want to be.[i]

About a week after we sent out the notification letter describing our web archiving program and our desire to preserve her blog, the news broke.  I woke up to an email saying that Mao Kobayashi had passed away.  Her brave posts came to an end that day, but we did not want them to go away forever.  The whole Japanese collection team at Stanford’s East Asia Library was affected by the news.  We spent each day thinking of her family and her young children.  And then the response came from her agent.  The family agreed to our request; we could move forward with preserving her blog.  Her words would be preserved in the Stanford Digital Repository and backed up in servers across America.  Her inspiring, ground-breaking reflections, which broke the mold of hiding disease and approached cancer bravely in a public forum, would be preserved for the future.  Her posts are, through the effort of her husband the famous kabuki actor, Ebizo Ichikawa, being translated into English, providing access to an even larger audience. 

I remember in graduate school reading closely a text written by an 18th century Japanese nanny-turned-Buddhist nun soon after the death of her charge, a young prince.  Her words still resonated hundreds of years later, speaking of her loss but also of hope that a trace of his presence would live on in her written words.  Preserved in the form of a book, her poetic writing reached across the divide between the past and the present.  The book, held in the library where I studied, preserved the “trace” of her sentiment, keeping it over time for future readers.

Writing openly about her experience with cancer, Mao Kobayashi embraced a new way of communicating and she forged a new way of defining the self.  The loss of this important voice underscored for me the value of preserving online content.  Archiving her blog ensures that her bravery reaches forward through time, its power resonating and inspiring future readers. The format is new – preserving a curated selection of websites – but the impetus is old.  Libraries ensure that there is a path connecting the past, present and future.

For more information about this project, see here.



私が最初にウェブアーカイブのプロジェクトを考え始めたのは2015年でした。以前は、図書館が手紙や小冊子、アンダーグランド・コミックなど の短命な作品を収集していました。今は、それらの知的生産物はデジタル化され、ウェブ上でアクセスが容易に可能になりました。しかしながら、情報は日々早いスピードで更新・削除が行われており、私はそのようなリアルタイムな情報を保存することは、学術的観点から必要だと強く思いました。未来の研究者や学生が過去の情報に触れることは、歴史を学ぶことと同じです。そこで、私は FSI(the Freeman Spogli Institute)とスタンフォード大学図書館に助成金を申請した結果、大きな支援を得ることが出来、 "Snapshot of Japan2016-2018"と言うウェブアーカイブ・プロジェクトを立ち上げることにしました。目的は、現代社会の中で抱える主要な問題についてのウェブサイトを収集し、アーカイブ・コレクションを構築することです。

私は、このプロジェクトのテーマの一つとして、読者数が多く題材のアプローチの仕方が画期的で、尚且つ社会に影響を与えている人物の ブログを限定的に収集しようとした時にある意義を見出しました。それは、BBCニュースサイトが2016年の最も影響力のある女性100人の一人として選んだ小林麻央さんのことでした。彼女は、既成概念を破りがん闘病中の経験を ブログで彼女の想いを綴っていたからです。それは、日本中から大きな支持と共感を呼びました。BBCは、彼女が想いを綴った「色どり豊かな人生」の手記を掲載しました。


 (出典:BBC  News Magazine より抜粋)

私たちは、麻央さんのブログをウェブアーカイブ・コレクションに加えるために通知レターを送付しました。ところが、その一週間後、私は麻央さんが亡くなったと言うメールで飛び起きたのです。彼女の勇気ある投稿は、その日が最後でした。スタンフォード大学東アジア図書館日本コレクション・グループのスタッフ全員が、この訃報に 悲しみ、また彼女の言葉が永遠に去っていくことが想像できませんでした。 私たちは、每日彼女のご家族や幼いお子さんたちのことを思いました。  そのような中 、私は、麻央さんのご家族がリクエストに同意したと伝えるメールを彼女のブログ管理会社から受け取りました。それは、私たちに希望を与え、彼女のブログを保存する作業へと前進することが出来るようになったのです!





[i] “100 Women 2016: Kokoro – the cancer blog gripping Japan” 23 November 2016.


Regan Murphy Kao

Dr Regan Murphy Kao

Head, EAL Special Collections
Curator, Japanese Collections