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The Japanese Collections at the Library of Congress
Past, Present, and Future

  • Announcing the Japanese Collections Display at the Library of Congress
  • Hyakumanto Darani [The one million pagodas and Dharani prayers]
  • Hokashu [Collection of Precious Amusing Tanka Poems]
  • Heike Shosetsu (a.k.a Heike Mabushi, Heike
                        Shobushi) [Authentic Melody of Heike 
  • Miyako Rinsen Meishō Zue [Pictorial Guide to Gardens in Kyoto]
  • Shigure
  • Ezoshi [Yezo Journal]
  • Hiroshige Gajō [Hiroshige Sketchbook]
  • Genji Monogatari (a.k.a. Eiri Genji Monogatari) [Illustrated Tale of Genji]
  • Beikoku Gikai Toshokan Sakanishi Shiryō [Library of Congress Sakanishi Manuscripts]
  • Kafu Kaigi Hōkoku [Official Reports from Washington Conference]
  • Kanikōsen [The Crab Factory Ship]
  • Fujin Gahō [Graphic Magazine for Women]
  • Tetsuwan Atomu [Mighty Atom]
  • Kokusai Kenchiku Jiron / Kokusai Kenchiku [International Architecture]

Our ultimate vision is one in which the Library plays an indispensable role in fostering a free and informed society by building, preserving, and providing resources for human creativity, wisdom, and achievement. We continually strive to put these resources at the fingertips of the American people, their elected representatives, and the world for mutual prosperity, enlightenment, and inspiration.

(The Library of Congress Strategic Plan: Fiscal Years 2008–2013)

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 twenty-first 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 Japanese Collections at the Library of Congress: Past, Present, and Future is a first-ever comprehensive retrospective exhibition.  It marks the eightieth anniversary of the Library’s systematic approach to building the premier research and scholarly resource on Japan in the United States.  The exhibition also highlights the evolution of the Japanese Collections resulting in new media, new tools, and new demands from its users.

The Library’s collection of Japanese language publications began in 1875 when the United States and Japan agreed to exchange documents of their respective governments.  In 1905, Crosby Stuart Noyes(external link) , journalist and editor of the Washington Evening Star, donated to the Library his private collection of 658 illustrated books representing works produced from the mid-eighteenth century to the late-nineteenth century as well as watercolors, drawings, woodblock prints, and lithographs.  In 1907, Dr. Kan’ichi Asakawa(external link) of Yale University was commissioned by the Library to purchase 9,072 volumes (more than 3,000 titles) of books, focusing on Japanese history, literature, Buddhism, Shinto, geography, music, and the arts.  The Collections began to grow systematically after Dr. Shiho Sakanishi arrived at the Library in 1930 as the Chief Assistant of the Japanese Section.  As the first Japanese employee at the Library, Dr. Sakanishi began building a premier research and scholarly resource, tripling the size of the Collections during her twelve year service at the Library.  After the end of World War II, the Collections grew rapidly with materials and documents requisitioned in Japan by the United States 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.  Currently the Japanese Collections contain more than 1.17 million items.  The Library has the most extensive collection of Japanese language materials in the world outside of Japan.

In addition to acquiring materials, the Library’s professional staff continues with initiatives to make the collections available for long-term access.  One way of doing this is by reformatting techniques, such as microfilming and digitization.  However, collection preservation presents one of the most difficult challenges facing the Library, especially in the area of digital resources.

Keeping up with the rapid growth of computer technologies and applying them to the Library will present significant challenges for the future regarding collections and services.  Use of social media to introduce and make the collections available, subscription of e-resources that provide patrons easy access to reference materials, and acquisition and preservation of born-digital materials, are just some of the many issues librarians are called on to address.  The Library has been moving forward with efforts to digitize and disseminate information broadly.  In July 2010, the National Diet Library in Japan and the Library of Congress signed an agreement to digitize more than 11,000 titles of pre-World War II censorship and serial collections and materials of the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy.  These are unique resources, copies of which do not exist in Japan.  The Japan Team is anticipating a new stage in the development and dissemination of the Collections through this project.

As the Library charts its course into a rapidly changing future for its collections, the current Library of Congress Strategic Plan sums up the vision for the Japanese Collections:

Past, present and future, the Library of Congress endeavors to remain the preeminent repository of information on a global scale, an inspiration to future generations, and a celebrant of achievement—a Torch of Knowledge that continues as a shining beacon for all the world.

(The Library of Congress Strategic Plan: Fiscal Years 2008–2013)

September 20–October 16, 2010

Asian Division Reading Room (LJ-150)
Thomas Jefferson Building
Library of Congress
10 First Street, S.E.
Washington, D.C.  20540


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