After the Meiji Restoration, antique artifacts and treasures of temples were literally destroyed due to the notorious Haibutsu Kishaku (literally "abolish Buddhism and destroy Shakyamuni") and many cultural assets and art objects flew out of impoverished samurai and feudal lords' families. In the midst of such social context, the Meiji government issued "The Plan for the Preservation of Ancient Artifacts," the very first law related to the protection of cultural assets in Japan, in 1871. In response to this law, investigations on treasures were conducted centering on shrines and temples in Nara, Kyoto, Shiga and Mie in 1872. The investigations were called "Jinshin Survey," which was named after the oriental zodiac sign of the year.
The "Jinshin Survey Materials" that the Tokyo National Museum possesses are the records of the survey comprising investigation results and rubbed copies and replicas of originals. The Jinshin Survey was conducted by a team of officials from the Ministry of Education, including Hisanari Machida (1838 – 97, who later became the first executive director of the Tokyo National Museum) as the leader and other Dajokan (current cabinet) officials, such as Masao Uchida (1838 – 76) and Noritane Ninagawa (1835 – 82). On August 12, they, together with an Imperial envoy, opened the Shosoin (the treasure house of Todaiji Temple), where they photographed, copied and did rubbings of the artifacts. Until August 23 when the Shosoin was closed, they made a careful record of the treasures in the Shosoin with Kaichiro Kashiwagi (Masanori, 1841 – 98), a painter and Matsusaburo Yokoyama (1838 – 84), a photographer, both of whom Machida and others hired at their own cost. In particular, Ninagawa did rubbings of treasures from every angle. He used dry and wet rubbing methods depending on the object and his rubbed copies still remain as fresh and vivid as they once did. Their experience in creating the "Former Edo Castle Photographs" (important cultural property) possessed by the Tokyo National Museum was of great use in conducting this survey on cultural assets.
The Tokyo National Museum also possesses many photographs taken during the Jinshin Survey, which are also designated as important cultural properties.