North America - U.S.A.

C. V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University
-- Phase1 --


Library Home Page
Japanese Rare Books & Special Collections


Columbia University, 300 Kent Hall: MC3901, 1140 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027 U.S.A.


Sachie Noguchi
Japanese Studies Librarian
Tel: +1 212 854 1506
Fax: +1 212 662 6286

Jim Cheng
Tel: +1 212 854 1508
Fax: +1 212 662 6286

Size of collection

Printed books: ca. 1,000 titles
Single-Sheet Items: ca. 150 titles

Collection description

Mostly [woodblock] printed books with some manuscripts, primarily from the Edo-period, but some from early Meiji period.

Access to bibliographic data

A)Online catalogues

B)Printed catalogues

  • Kai, Miwa. Japanese woodblock printed books and other unique Japanese materials at Columbia University. 1996. (mimeographed)
  • Okuda, Isao. C.V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University Catalogue of Japan-Related Rare Items. 2007 = 奥田勲編. コロンビア大学C. V. Starr 東アジア図書館日本関係貴重書目録. 2007. (A computer file available from Japanese Rare Books & Special Collectionsa

How can researchers gain access to the material?

Researchers must apply for and obtain a reader's card in the Library Information Office, 201 Butler Library. They are then able to see the special collections and rare materials, from 2 pm-4 pm on Monday though Friday, and from 10 am-noon on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

History of the collections

The Japanese Rare and Special Collection of the C. V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University was established from various sources and routes, but primarily based on the books which the Japanese Culture Center of America had collected before 1936 by requesting donations from Japan.
Ryusaku Tsunoda, who was the founding curator of the Japanese collection at Columbia University, envisioned and announced in 1927 the establishment of the Japanese Culture Center in the United States, to represent the essence of traditional Japanese culture by collecting materials, books, and other objects in order to introduce Japan to the United States and promote an accurate understanding of Japan. He went to Japan to explain this vision and solicited donations of books and objects.
The donations sent from Japan which included about 5,000 volumes of books, manuscripts, and art objects, were temporarily stored in the Columbia University Library. Unfortunately the Great Depression started in October of 1929 made it hard for the Japanese Culture Center to remain an independent institution. Columbia was planning to establish a Japanese Studies program, and in 1931 agreed to have the Center's collection formally transferred to Columbia. The resources Tsunoda collected became the core of the Japanese collection of the University Library and he became the curator of the collection.
The rare and special collection materials in Japanese language have been estimated to amount to 1,000 titles in 1,500 volumes. Sources of the collection vary, but many of the rare books were a result of Tsunoda's efforts to obtain donations for the Japanese Culture Center, in particular the gifts from the Imperial Household Agency in 1928. The gift consists of 584 volumes of books and manuscripts carefully selected by Dr. [Eizaburo] Sugi, Director of the Imperial Household Library at that time, and fairly represents the publications on history as well as all the anthologies of Japanese poetry made under Imperial direction since the early decades of the eighth century A.D., including the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, Nijūichidaishū, Genji Monogatari Kogetsushō, Miyako Meisho Zue, Gōke Shidai, and Shōgun Tokugawa-ke Reitenroku.
Another important source of the collection has been donations from Columbia faculty. There is a group of materials which was added to the Starr Library's collection donated by faculty such as Prof. Dow of Teachers College, who gave an art history collection including painting compendia, and by faculty from the Library School (closed in 1993). Examples include the Urashima Monogatari Emakimono, a Nara-ehon with notes by Kuzuoka Nobuyoshi of Urashima Tarō, and four fragments of sutras printed in the Heian Period and formerly owned by Tōshōdaiji, with stamps of Kawase Kazuma.
As mentioned above, the majority of the collection were gifts, but there are some which were purchased from antiquarian books dealers in Japan or locally, in New York. One of the latter examples of these is Ninnōgyō Taibunshō which was published in 1652.

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

  • Columbia Library columns, v. XLV, no. 1 (spring 1996), was a special issue on Starr and contains four articles on the collection: Henry D. Smith II, "Pictured fiction: popular novels of nineteenth century Japan in the Starr East Asian Library," pp. 5-14; Robert Hymes, "Writing places: Chinese local histories," pp. 15-20; Amy V. Heinrich, "Labyrinths: the Abe Kobo Collection," pp. 21-26; and Amy V. Heinrich and Amy Hai Kyung Lee, "A tree with deep roots: the Starr Korean rare book collection," pp. 27-30.
  • Tsunoda, Ryusaku. The Gift from the Imperial Household of Japan, in the Japanese Collection, Columbia University. New York: The Friends of the Columbia University, 1933.(Reproduction from the Columbia University Quarterly, New York, 1933. p. [293]-302.)
  • 兼築信行. 「宮内省図書寮から日米文化学会への図書寄贈」早稲田大学日本古典籍研究所年報 第2号(2008年 3月) pp. 20-22.

Is reproduction of the material permitted ?

Materials may be photocopied for $0.25 a page by library staff; scanned, microfilmed, or digitized. Price and additional information are found at the web site.


The David Eugene Smith collection in Butler Library includes ca. 360 titles of early Japanese imprints on mathematics. (Kai, Miwa. The David Eugene Smith collection of works in Japanese on Japanese mathematics. New York: Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University, 1986.) Early Japanese imprints on medicine are housed at Columbia University's Health Sciences Library.
In 2008, the following manuscript will be added to the collection: *Genji monogatari. 55 volumes [manuscript]. Mid-Edo period [1700s], partial collation with different editions, some with notes, accompanied by Hikaru Genji Monogatari Mokuroku (1 v.),varied colored daisen (title slips), with gold dust painting affixed to the front of each volume. Binding: Tetchōsō. 22.5 x 17.2 cm. Stored in a special Shunkei lacquer cabinet.