Our collection of pre-modern Japanese materials comprises 400 manuscripts and 4,000 printed works created before the Meiji Restoration of 1868.
About the collection
Among the highlights of the collection are:
- the 8th-century Hyakumantō darani, the oldest example of printing in Japan
- 20 lavishly illustrated manuscripts in the Nara ehon style
- 120 early works printed with movable type, including the only known copies of Tale of the Heike, Aesop’s Fables and Qincuxu printed by the Jesuit Mission Press in Amakusa in 1592-1593.
The Library also has a collection of some 400 woodblock-printed Japanese maps.
The majority of our manuscripts and early printed books were collected by four individuals:
- Engelbert Kaempfer: 45 items including maps, guidebooks, primers, histories, novels and play texts as well as his manuscript notes and 50 topographical paintings (acquired by Sir Hans Sloane)
- Philipp Franz von Siebold: over 1,000 titles in 3,500 volumes covering many aspects of Japanese culture, particularly history, politics, geography, medicine and botany
- Sir Ernest Mason Satow: 325 important examples of early Japanese printing
- William Anderson: some 2,000 illustrated woodcut books.
What is available online?
Online catalogues are available for the following items:
- Manuscripts acquired after 1986 can be found in Explore Archives and Manuscripts
- Early printed books acquired after 1986 can be found in Explore the British Library.
Our Nara ehon manuscripts have been fully digitised and are available in Digitised Manuscripts (search using keywords: emaki, ehon).
What is available in our Reading Rooms?
The Asian and African Studies Reading Room is where you can consult printed materials and manuscripts. Some especially valuable or fragile material is restricted and available only in exceptional circumstances.
The following catalogues of Japanese manuscripts and early printed books are available in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room:
- Kazuma, Kawase and Okazaki Hisaji, Daiei Toshokan shozō wakansho sōmokuroku (Catalogue of early Japanese books in the British Library) (Tokyo, 1996). Includes books and manuscripts produced before 1868 and acquired before 1986. Contains indexes of the Kaempfer, Siebold and Satow collections.
- Gardner, Kenneth, Descriptive Catalogue of Japanese books in the British Library printed before 1700 (London and Tenri, 1993)
- Douglas, Robert Kennaway, Catalogue of Japanese printed books and manuscripts in the Library of the British Museum (London: British Museum, 1898) [supplement, 1904]
- Brown, Yu-Ying, "Origins and Charactersitics of the Japanese Collection in the British Library", British Library Electronic Journal (British Library, 1998)
- Brown, Yu-Ying, “Japanese Books and Manuscripts: Sloane’s Japanese Library and the Making of the History of Japan" in Sir Hans Sloane: Collector, Scientist , Antiquary, Founding Father of the British Museum ed. by Arthur MacGragor (London: British Museum, 1994), pp. 278-290
- Brown, Yu-Ying, "The Von Siebold Collections in Tokugawa Japan: 2", British Library Electronic Journal (British Library, 1976)
- Brown, Yu-Ying, "The Von Siebold Collections in Tokugawa Japan: 1", British Library Electronic Journal (British Library, 1975)
- Todd, Hamish, “The Satow Collection of Japanese Books in the British Library: its history and significance” in Daiei Toshokan shozō Chōsenbon oyobi Nihon kosho no bunkengakuteki, gogakuteki kenkyū, ed. by Fujimoto Yukio (Toyama: Toyama University, 2007)