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The British Library Asian and African Studies -- Phase 1・2 --


Library Home Page: Japanese language collections


96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB, UK


Hamish Todd
Head of East Asian Collections
Tel: +44 (0) 20-7412-7662
Fax: +44 (0) 20-7412-7641

Yasuyo Ohtsuka
Curator Japanese Collections
Tel: +44 (0) 20-7412-7562
Fax: +44 (0) 20-7412-7641

Size of collection

Pre-Meiji printed books: c.3,800 titles (including 637 titles printed before 1704)
Manuscripts: c.500 manuscripts (including c. 100 modern calligraphic items)
Single sheet items: c.500 surimono, 188 prints from Sino-Japanese War 1894-5
Maps: c.65 (printed and manuscript)

Collection description

The British Library's collections of antiquarian Japanese printed works includes approximately 3,800 titles starting with the Hyakumanto darani of 764-770 AD. All major categories of early Japanese printing are represented including more than 40 works printed in medieval Buddhist monasteries (Kasuga-ban, Jōdokyō-ban, Kōya-ban etc.) and 30 Chinese works printed in Japan (Gozan-ban).
There are 120 movable-type editions (kokatsuji-ban) including 11 Saga-bon and 7 books printed by the Jesuit Mission Press (Kirishitan-ban) of which the rarest is the unique copy of the Feiqe monogatari of 1593. The collection is also very strong in the field of illustrated works from the Edo Period. Among the most important items in the manuscript collections are 21 Nara ehon.

Access to bibliographic data

A) Online catalogues

B) Printed catalogues
  • Catalogue of early Japanese books in the British Library compiled by Kawase Kazuma and Okazaki Hisaji(Tokyo,1996). Includes pre-Meiji printed books and manuscripts acquired up to the mid-1980s.
  • Descriptive Catalogue of Japanese Books in the British Library Printed before 1700, by Kenneth Burslam Gardner(London and Tenri,1993). Contains detailed descriptions of 637 items printed in Japan upto and the end of Genroku Period(1704).
  • Early printed material acquired since the publication of these two catalogues is being added to the above-mentioned UK Japanese Union Catalogue.
  • Catalogue of Japanese Printed Books and Manuscripts in the Library of the British Museum, by Sir Robert Kennaway Douglas (London, 1898 with a supplement in 1904). Includes printed books and manuscripts acquired before 1904. Note that the romanization system is non-standard and almost all works in this catalogue are also included in the two later catalogues mentioned above.
  • For onsite-users listings of Japanese manuscripts can be found in the List of Oriental Manuscripts(arranged by shelfmark) and the Classified Inventory of Oriental Manuscripts (arranged by language), both of which are kept on the references shelves in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room.
  • The above-mentioned Catalogue of early Japanese books in the British Library includes manuscripts which were written before 1868. The descriptions of the manuscripts are mixed in with those of printed books but there is a separate index of manuscripts. Manuscripts acquired before 1904 also appear in the Catalogue of Japanese Printed Books and Manuscripts in the Library of the British Museum. For manuscripts acquired since 1984 consult the online handlist (see above).

How can researchers gain access to the material?

To gain access to the collections users must be in possession of a valid British Library Reader Pass. Details of how to apply for a Reader Pass can be found on the British Library website. Applicants should pay particular attention to the types of documents accepted as proof of identity.

History of the collections

The history of what are now the British Library’s Japanese collections began in 1723-25 when Sir Hans Sloane purchased 45 Japanese works collected by Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716), a German physician and traveller who had stayed in Japan from 1690-92. These passed with Sloane’s other collections into the British Museum on its foundation in 1753.

In 1868 the British Museum bought a collection of the books amassed by another German physician, Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866), during his periods in Japan from 1823 to 1829 and again from 1859 to 1862. The Siebold Collection contains 1,088 titles in 3,441 volumes on virtually every aspect of Japan.

The collections were further augmented by 325 important examples of early Japanese printing, comprising 1578 volumes, acquired in 1884 and 1885 from the British diplomat and bibliographer Sir Ernest Satow (1843-1929), and by a fine collection (c.2,000 volumes) of illustrated woodcut books acquired in 1882, 1894 and 1900 from William Anderson (1842-1900), a British surgeon and early devotee of Japanese art.

Since the appointment in 1955 of a full-time curator with responsibility for Japanese material, the acquisition of early printed books and manuscript has continued. In 1973 when the British Library was established and the collections of the former British Museum Library were transferred to the new instutition, many Japanese books of primarily pictorial, as opposed to textual or bibliographic, interest remained in the Museum collections.

Select bibliography of publications about the collections (books, articles)

  • Yu-Ying Brown, "The Von Siebold Collections in Tokugawa Japan", British Library Journal, I (1975), pp. 163-70; ii (1976), pp.38-55.
  • Yu-Ying Brown, Japanese Language Collections in the British Library (London: The British Library 1989).
  • Yu-Ying Brown, "Japanese Books and Manuscripts: Sloane’s Japanese Library and the Making of the History of Japan" Arthur MacGragor (ed.), Sir Hans Sloane: Collector, Scientist , Antiquary, Founding Father of the British Museum (London: British Museum, 1994), pp. 278-290.
  • Yu-Ying Brown, "Origins and Charactersitics of the Japanese Collection in the British Library", British Library Journal, 24 (1), 1998, pp.144-157.
  • Kenneth B Gardner,"Engelbert Kaempfer’s Japanese Library", Asia Major VII 1/2 (1959).
  • Kenneth B Gardner, Descriptive Catalogue of Japanese Books in the British Library Printed before 1700 (London: The British Library, 1993).
  • Philip H. Harris, A History of the British Museum Library 1753-1973 (London: The British Library, 1998).
  • 川瀬一馬, 岡崎久司共編, 大英図書館所蔵和漢書総目録 (=Catalogue of Early Japanese Books in the British Library (東京: 講談社, 1996)
  • Hamish A Todd, "The Satow Collection of Japanese Books in the British Library: its history and significance" in 大英図書館所蔵朝鮮本及び日本古書の文献学的・語学的研究 Fujimoto Yukio (ed) (Toyama: Toyama University, 2007).

Is reproduction of the material permitted ?

The British Library does not allow users to photograph items themselves put provides a full reprographics service. Details can be found on the British Library website. Some images from antiquarian Japanese items can be found on the British Library's Images Online.