The Ohara Institute for Social Research was founded on February 9th, 1919 at Tennōji in Osaka City by Magosaburō Ōhara, a wealthy industrialist from Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture. Besides running businesses including the Kurashiki Cotton Spinning Company, Ōhara was an extraordinary individual who also established the Ōhara Art Museum and Kurashiki Institute for the Science of Labour. Influenced by Jūji Ishii, the founder of the Okayama Orphanage, he became a Christian and financially supported Ishii’s work. Ōhara was strongly committed to social improvement and his activities included, after Ishii’s death, establishing and running in Osaka the Ishii Memorial Aizen-en, a night school for disadvantaged children. He was frustrated, however, with the results of his voluntary philanthropy. Concluding that basic systematic research was necessary to help resolve social problems, he decided to create an institute to carry out such research.
Professor Iwasaburō Takano of Economics Faculty, Tokyo Imperial University, was the first director of the Institute. It also attracted outstanding researchers, including Tamizō Kushida, Yasunosuke Gonda, Tatsuo Morito, Hyōe Ōuchi, Samezō Kuruma, Kōzō Uno, and Shintarō Ryū. Their pioneering research into labour and social issues, Marxist economics, and other unexplored fields yielded numerous ground-breaking studies. These were published in the Journal of Ohara Institute for Social Research, Ohara Institute for Social Research Publication Series (11 vols.), and Ohara Institute for Social Research Pamphlets (29 vols.).
The Institute commenced editing and publishing the Japan Labour Yearbook, Japan Social Work Yearbook, and Japan Social Health Yearbook. In the course of researching and compiling these series, the Institute collected copious publications and other materials in Japan and, dispatching researchers to Germany and the United Kingdom, also acquired a huge number of overseas journals, books, and other materials related to social and labour issues. Not limited to use by researchers, these books were made accessible to the general public.
When financial support from Ōhara ceased in 1937, along with about 80,000 items from its collection, the Institute sold its land and buildings to Osaka Prefectural government. Moving to Tokyo, the Institute operated on a smaller scale. Under difficult wartime conditions, after issuing volume 21 of the Japan Labour Yearbook, the series was suspended in 1941. By focusing its main effort on translating and publishing Selected Classics on Statistics (12 vols.), the Institute weathered this lean period.
With wartime defeat, the circumstances of the Institute changed completely. Academic freedom was ensured and labour issues resulting from the developing labour movement were of interest to many researchers. Even so, with its buildings and much of its book collection destroyed in the war, frozen bank accounts, and other problems, it was not easy for the Institute to resume activities. Meanwhile, in postwar Japan, staff members who had endured the lean years were called on to perform duties in various fields outside the Institute. In late 1945, Hyōe Ōuchi returned to Tokyo University Economics Faculty and played a major role in revitalizing the institution. In 1946, Iwasaburō Takano became president of the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK), and Yasunosuke Gonda assisted him as a standing member of NHK’s board of trustees. Tatsuo Morito became a founder member of the Japan Socialist Party and was elected to the House of Representatives. In 1947, he was appointed Minister of Education in the Katayama Cabinet. The task of reconstructing the Institute fell to Samezō Kuruma, a researcher there since its foundation. Recruiting Sutehiko Uesugi and other new members of staff, the Institute rented an office in the Seikei Building in Surugadai and resumed operations. Rampant inflation, however, quickly undermined the Institute’ s finances. In 1949, the Institute accepted a proposal to merge with Hosei University, and dissolved itself to become a research institute attached to the university. This enabled the Institute to survive the crisis.
In 1951, to obtain additional outside financial support, the Institute was again incorporated as a foundation named Hosei University Ohara Institute for Social Research with the full support of Hosei University. Finally, reconstruction of the Institute was back on track. Under Director Kuruma, the Institute resumed full-scale operations. Researchers Seijirō Usami, Kiyoshi Ōshima, and Naomichi Funahashi got surveys, studies, and other projects underway, including publication of the Japan Labour Yearbook. To fill the gaps left by the wartime hiatus, the Institute added two special editions to the series: Condition of workers during the Pacific War in 1964, and Labour movements during the Pacific War in 1965.
Then, in 1968, editing and publication of Marx Lexicon of Political Economy began. Based on extracts meticulously compiled on index cards by Dr. Kuruma, cooperation was enlisted from Usami, and from other researchers outside the Institute. Kuruma did not live to see the 15th and final volume published in 1985. In 1969, to commemorate the Institute’s fiftieth anniversary, editing and publishing of Historical Documents of Japanese Social Movements began. This project made available for public use reprints of primary sources from of newspapers and other documents issued by pre-war social and labour movements During the following 30 years, over 200 volumes were published.
For a long time, the Institute’s surviving books and materials had been left unorganized at Kashiwagi in the earthen storehouse where they had escaped destruction during the wartime firebombing of Tokyo. Cataloging began in the late 1950s, and the fruits of this endeavor could finally be shared when the Institute opened the collection to the public at the Azabu Annex in April 1971. Since December 1973, the Institute has also been managing the Kyōchōkai Bunko (Harmonization Society Library), a collection housed at Hosei University. Subsequently the Institute has tried to enhance the collection by acquiring books and other materials related to social and labour movements. For the past 20 years, on average, about 6,000 items a year have been added, two-thirds of them donated. In 1985 the collection received a tremendous boost in both quantity and quality when about 70,000 items collected by Itsurō Sakisaka were donated by his widow.
In March 1986, from Fujimi in the center of Tokyo, the Institute moved out to the Tama campus. The Institute had close relationships with the already relocated Hosei University faculties of Economics and Social Sciences, and so was asked to take its place alongside these faculties at Tama. The move also solved the longstanding issue of cramped conditions which, in particular, limited full exploitation of the library resources. At the Tama Campus, the fifth floor of the newly built library and research building had facilities such as faculty offices, an administrative office, reading rooms, a book depository for valuable items, and work rooms. In the third level basement, ample book storage space was provided. The total area of 1,920 m2 was more than the Institute had ever possessed and enabled it to properly carry out its mission, especially as a special library and resource center.
Along with the move to the Tama Campus, the Institute underwent reorganization and refocused its operations. It embarked on four new activities to establish its presence as the foremost research center for social and labour issues in Japan. (1) Setting out to do more than facilitate the studies of individual researchers, the institute began directing the research of experts recruited from inside and outside the campus. (2) The Institute took advantage of being able to properly function as a special library and resource center. (3) The Institute began to emphasize its role as a research information center. (4) The Institute actively sought to become the site of international exchange. Item (1) involved the creation of numerous project teams, which have so far produced 30 new volumes of OISR publication series. By improving the content of the Journal of Ohara Institute for Social Research, the editors are also working to turn the institutional bulletin into a leading social science journal. Item (2) also benefitted from the Institute’s long-established reputation as a repository of special books and other resources, enabling it to attract scholars both from Japan and overseas. Since the 1950s, the Institute has been compiling the serial “ Monthly Labour Relations Bibliography” catalog and, in line with item (3), started transferring the bibliography to a computer database in 1988. When the Institute opened its website in December 1996, it provided access to the bibliography database, the poster collection, and other items, including some back numbers of the Journal of Ohara Institute for Social Research and the Japan Labour Year Book. Success in achieving item (4) can be measured ￼by the Institute’ s growing overseas researchers of Japan. It has welcomed numerous scholars from Korea, U.S.A. and other countries, who use the library and other resources to further their research. The Institute has also hosted international workshops on social and labour issues and is committed to publishing conference papers to spread knowledge around the world.
In April 2013, the environmental archives of the former Institute of Sustainability Research and Education were merged into the Ohara Institute for Social Research holdings.