Japanese manuscripts and early printed books

The Tale of Yuriwaka
Detail from The Tale of Yuriwaka (Yuriwaka Daijin) c.1640-1680 (Or 13822)

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:

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:

Further information

How to guides

Find Chinese manuscripts and printed books

There are several catalogues for our Chinese material

Get a Reader Pass

A guide to how to obtain a British Library Reader Pass to use our Reading Rooms