Doing research in Japanese involves a number of skill sets. In order to step away from textbooks and readings provided by your professor, you need to prepare yourself to do a fair bit of thinking and problem solving.
First you need to think about where to search for what kinds of materials. That means thinking about the flow of information - newspapers, magazines, journals, books, etc. These days the "rawest" form of data can be tweets, video clips, photographs, or Facebook updates. Next come newspaper articles, radio and television reports. When you are looking for more analysis, after something has been digested a little more by opinion makers, and journalists, you will want to look for magazine articles, editorial pieces in the paper, or "special issues" in newspapers and magazines. Scholarly research and booklength treatments follow - sometimes months or even years later. Finally, when something becomes common knowledge is ends up in encyclopedia. Of course, wikipedia is changing that, but the information in wikipedia should be information and not someone's hypothesis.
Next you need to think about the right words or phrases to use to find the information you need. Write down words and phrases that relate to your topic - including abbreviations if they are used - then think about related terms or other phrases that will help you to limit your search if your topic is a very generic one (like education in Japan). What about your topic are you interested in? Think both narrower and broader so that you are prepared in case you find too much or nothing at all.
Keep track of where you searched and what terms you used. Too often students say "nothing exists on my topic" but when we sit down and search together we find out that they used the same (bad) term over and over again instead of trying different angles. You may need to use different terms depending on where you look - and if you are searching for books on a topic you may need to use library "subject headings" instead of keywords.
Unlike English academic and trade publications, we do not have access to large numbers of online Japanese journals. So you will probably need to request items through interlibrary loan. Even though the library catalogs can display Japanese, interlibrary loan software cannot process it SO DO NOT COPY AND PASTE JAPANESE INTO REQUEST FORMS. You need to romanize the information - and you need to romanize it according to the modified Hepburn system. Don't worry about including macrons (長音). This means that 東京 is Tokyo not Toukyou. To find out more about romaji and how the library system may differ from what you have used earlier, please see the Wikipedia article.
When you request a book or article written in Japanese, please be sure to romanize the information. The ILL software cannot handle Japanese characters. Whenever possible include the ISBN number for books and the ISSN Number for journals, so it is easier for ILL to verify your information.
W.E.B. Du Bois Library
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003-9275
Sharon Domier has a B.A in East Asian Studies and an M.L.I.S from the University of Alberta. She also has a master's degree from the University of Library and Information Science in Japan.