The Memory of the World register is one of three major heritage programs sponsored by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).
UNESCO's Memory of the World International Advisory Committee (IAC) carries out a screening and selects a candidate for registration once every two years.
Included in the register are works such as France's Declaration of the Rights of Man, The Anne Frank Diaries, and manuscripts of Beethoven's 9th Symphony.
It is also recommended that registered materials be digitalized and released to the public via the Internet, print materials, CDs, DVDs, and other publishing and distribution methods so as to make them readily available to anyone.
Japan had nothing included in the Memory of the World program until May 25th, 2011 when Sakubei Yamamoto's Coal Mine Paintings and Writings, submitted for evaluation by Tagawa City, Fukuoka in cooperation with Fukuoka Prefectural University, became Japan's first Memory of the World registry.
Included in this event are 585 paintings, 6 diaries, and 36 manuscripts and other documents owned by Tagawa City, Fukuoka, as well as 4 paintings, 59 diaries, and 7 manuscripts, and other documents owned by the Yamamoto family and held in trust by Fukuoka Prefectural University – all totaling 697 pieces.
Yamamoto's works, listed on the UNESCO homepage as the "Sakubei Yamamoto Collection," exist as authentic, personal records of Japan's developing conditions in the coal mines of the Chikuho region, dating from the end of the Meiji era and continuing with the industrial revolution up through the waning of the 20th century. The collection includes a series of simple, annotated folk paintings recording various incidents at the coal mines, depicting them just as they were, painted by a man who actually lived and experienced them as he worked at the mines in the front line. Most documents describing Japan at that time are from public sources – government, business, etc. Personal records created by individual workers are extremely rare. Sakubei's paintings provide a glance of the time from a first-person perspective that simply cannot be found elsewhere. This collection consists of genuine records of an era of great historical significance to the entire world, based on the very human perspective on an individual who actually lived through it.