By ERIN ALLEN
For nearly a century after the birth of the American Republic, Japan was a land of impenetrable mystery, sealed off from the rest of the world. Today, in the 21st century, Japan is one of the leading engines of world economic development and of modern technological progress. More than ever before, access to the knowledge and creativity of Japanese culture is critical to Congress, its constituencies and to the American people.
The Library’s Japanese collection, consisting of more than 1.17 million items, is the largest and most comprehensive collection of its kind outside of the country of origin. Selected treasures from the collection comprise a new Library display titled “Japanese Collections at the Library of Congress: Past, Present and Future.”
Items of note in the display include the Hyakumantō Darani, one of the world’s earliest examples of printing dating from 770 A.D.; the Library’s rare edition of the Japanese literary masterpiece “Tale of Genji,” published in Kyoto in 1654; an illustrated guidebook for the gardens of Kyoto (Japan’s former capital) produced by Ritō Akisato in 1787; Manga “Tetsuwan Atomu” (“Astro Boy”) by Osamu Tezuka; and “Kanikōsen” (“The Crab Factory Ship”), written by Takiji Kobayashi in 1930 from a left-wing point of view, eschewing capitalist exploitation.
“The Japanese Collections at the Library of Congress: Past, Present and Future” was assembled to mark the 80th anniversary of the Library’s systematic approach to building a research and scholarly resource on Japan in the United States. The display also highlights the evolution of the Japanese collections resulting in new media, new tools and new demands from its users.
In conjunction with the display, a symposium was held on Sept. 21. Featured speakers included Ichiro Fujisaki, ambassador of Japan to the U.S., who offered opening remarks. The discussion focused on the current status of the Library’s Japanese collection and a study into its past and how the collection was formed.
The Library’s collection of Japanese-language publications began in 1875 when the U.S. and Japan agreed to exchange documents of their respective governments. In 1905, Crosby Stuart Noyes, journalist and editor of the Washington Evening Star, donated to the Library his private collection of 658 illustrated Japanese books representing works produced from the mid-18th century to the late-19th century along with watercolors, drawings, woodblock prints and lithographs. In 1907, Kan’ichi Asakawa of Yale University was commissioned by the Library to purchase 9,072 volumes (more than 3,000 titles) focusing on Japanese history, literature, Buddhism, Shinto, geography, music and the arts.
The collections began to grow systematically after Shiho Sakanishi arrived at the Library in 1930 as the chief assistant of the Japanese Section. As the first Japanese employee at the Library, Sakanishi began building a premier research and scholarly resource, tripling the size of the collections during her 11-year service at the institution. After the end of World War II, the collections grew rapidly with materials and documents requisitioned in Japan by the U.S. Armed Forces. Over the last six decades, the collections have grown consistently as a result of Asian Division staff efforts to research new publications, listen to patrons’ needs, revise collection development policies, and recommend resources.
Erin Allen is a writer-editor in the Library’s Office of Communications.