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Asian Collections: Library of Congress, An Illustrated Guide

HOME  Preface  Introduction  The World of Asian Books  Chinese Beginnings  Tales from the Yunnan Woods
The Diplomat and the Dalai Lama  From the Steppes of Central Asia  The Japanese World  Korean Classics
Homer on the Ganges  White Whales and Bugis Book  Barangays, Friars, and "The Mild Sway of Justice"
The Theravada Tradition  The Southern Mandarins  Modern Asia  East Asia  Inner Asia  South Asia
Southeast Asia and the Pacific  Epilog  Publications on the Asian Collections


First Japanese Delegation to America
The First Japanese Delegation to America
. This is a Japanese account of the first Japanese delegation to visit the United States in 1860, with illustrations taken from prints and photos that appeared in local media in the United States. Shown here is a print of the delegation being received at the White House by President Buchanan. (Japanese Rare Book Collection, Asian Division)

One of the Library's earliest visitors from East Asia predates our Civil War. In May 1860, a Japanese diplomatic delegation came to Washington to exchange instruments of ratification for the 1858 Treaty of Commerce between the two countries. During a call on the House of Representatives, two members of the delegation were escorted to the Library of Congress, then located inside the Capitol. According to newspaper reports of the time, the delegation was especially surprised to find a Japanese grammar text, translated from a Portuguese Jesuit book printed in Nagasaki in 1604.

Despite this early visit and a limited exchange of government publications, the Library's first important effort at building its Japanese collection came much later, in 1907 and 1908, with the purchase of some nine thousand volumes (over three thousand titles) of important works on Japanese history, literature, Buddhism, Shinto, geography, music, and the arts. This fine collection came to the Library through the efforts of Asakawa Kan'-ichi, a Japanese scholar who received a B.A. from Dartmouth and then a Ph.D. in history with a specialty in Japanese feudalism from Yale in 1902. Asakawa was commissioned by Yale and the Library of Congress to acquire books during an eighteen-month stay in Japan in 1906 and 1907. Upon his return to the United States, Asakawa began a long teaching career at Yale that stretched until 1942, when he retired as Professor Emeritus.

Hokusai, Hyaku Monogatari (Ghost Stories)
Hokusai, Hyaku Monogatari (Ghost Stories). One of Hokusai's five prints in his Ghost Stories, this is Laughing Hannya, a demon that usually symbolizes the envy of woman. In this unusual portrayal, Hannya has just claimed a victim. Hokusai apparently intended to produce a larger set of prints, since the title of his work is literally "100 Stories." The prints were engraved by Kakuki and published circa 1830. (Japanese Rare Book Collection, Asian Division)

Asakawa's collection came on top of an important gift of Japanese art work that the Library received in 1905 from Crosby Stuart Noyes, journalist and editor of the Washington Evening Star. Initially drawn to Japanese art by its impact on nineteenth- century European artists, Noyes made frequent trips to Europe and Japan, where he acquired a large collection of Japanese art and books. His gift to the Library included watercolors, drawings, woodblock engravings, lithographs, and illustrated books, all of which were produced between the mid-eighteenth and the late nineteenth centuries. While the Asian Division holds most of the Noyes collection, his single prints are in the Prints and Photographs Division. Among the latter is a fascinating series of over a hundred colored woodblock prints, essentially political cartoons, on the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.

With the acquisitions from Asakawa and Noyes, the Library might have been expected to make rapid progress in strengthening its Japanese collections. This was not to be. Over the next two decades, only a limited number of volumes was added, mainly through the efforts of Dr. Walter Swingle. Why? The answer apparently lies in the general lack of interest in Japanese studies among American academics, with the exception of a handful at universities such as Yale, where Asakawa was teaching. In 1930, however, the Library hired its first Japanese specialist, Dr. Sakanishi Shiho, who pioneered the development of the Library into a first-rate resource for scholars of Japan.

Elements de la Grammaire Japonaise.
Elements de la Grammaire Japonaise.
In 1860 members of the first official Japanese delegation to visit Washington stopped by the Library of Congress. Among the books they saw, this one especially attracted their attention. The book is an 1825 French translation from Portuguese of a Japanese grammar text, written by Father Rodriguez in Nagasaki in 1604. (Japanese Rare Book Collection, Asian Division)

Today's Pre-Meiji Printed Books and Manuscripts collection consists of some 4,200 titles, with most dating from the early seventeenth century to 1867. Among its items is a rare edition of the Japanese literary masterpiece Genji Monogatari (The Tale of the Genji), published in Kyoto in 1654. The "monogatari" is a type of literature developed in Japan that combines elements of the short novel, the historical novel, the fairy tale, and even the morality play. There is no exact counterpart in Western literature. Written in the first decade of the eleventh century by Lady Murasaki Shikibu, Genji Monogatari is considered to be the world's earliest novel. It consists of some fifty-four long chapters that tell of the life and loves of Prince Genji and vividly bring to life the personalities and elegance of Japanese court society. The collection also holds a rare volume of Heike Monogatari, written during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), which represent a new type of monogatari--the war tale. Heike Monogatari tells the story of the Taira Clan's rise and fall and was carried around the country by minstrels who recited the work accompanied by a "biwa," or lute. The Library's volume is especially valuable because it indicates how the text should be chanted during a performance.

Yet another rare book in the Pre-Meiji collection is the Yoshitsune Azuma Kudari Monogatari, printed with movable type between 1624 and 1643. Bronze movable type was brought to Japan from Korea at the end of the sixteenth century. In Japan, it was often combined with wooden movable type to print books for a short period between 1600 and 1650. This form of printing gave way to woodblock printing until the end of the Edo period when wooden movable type came into use again.

Cherry Blossoms.
Cherry Blossoms
. This watercolor is from a set of drawings of the leading varieties of Japanese cherry blossoms that grow along the embankment at Arakawa, near Tokyo. The City of Tokyo collected buds from these trees to send to Washington, D.C., where they were planted around the Tidal Basin and are a major attraction each spring. The watercolors were done by a Japanese artist in 1921 for Dr. Walter T. Swingle, who presented them to the Library of Congress. (Japanese Rare Book Collection, Asian Division)

The Yoshitsune Azuma Kudari Monogatari tells part of the story of Japan's foremost tragic hero, Minamoto noYoshitsune. After defeating the Taira Clan in a series of battles known as the Genpei Wars (1180-1185), Yoshitsune rebelled against his powerful brother Yoritomo, founder of the Minamoto Shogunate. Facing military defeat, Yoshitsune killed his wife, his daughter, and himself in 1189. This volume tells the story of Yoshitsune's flight from Kyoto three years before his death and his retreat to northern Honshu. The poignant tale of Yoshitsune has given rise to many literary works, mixing history with legend so thoroughly that the two are now inseparable. The Yoshitsune Azuma Kudari Monogatari closely follows volume seven of the Gikeiki that tells the full story of Yoshitsune. It uses fewer kanji (Chinese characters), however, and differs somewhat in text. The Library's copy is one of only two known to exist. The other is in Japan.

In the West, perhaps the best-known Japanese poetic form is the "haiku," an extremely short poetic expression consisting of only seventeen syllables, often preceded and followed by descriptions and observations designed to make the haiku more accessible to the reader. The haiku reached its peak during the Tokugawa period (1615-1868) with the poetry of Matsuo Basho. But it was not necessary to have the literary talent of a Basho to compose haiku, because a unique feature of this art form was that fine poems could be created by ordinary Japanese. The Japanese Pre-Meiji collection holds many haiku anthologies by common people such as merchants, shopkeepers, women, and artisans.

Japanese Views of Commodore Perry.
Japanese Views of Commodore Perry
. Commo. Matthew C. Perry's expeditions in 1853 and 1854 stirred tremendous excitement in a Japan that had been largely closed to Westerners for over two hundred years. Japanese artists made sketches of the Americans, their ships, and their strange possessions. To meet strong popular demand, the original drawings were quickly copied and circulated. These illustrations are from the Library's collection of Japanese scrolls and sketchbooks of the first Americans in Japan. It also includes drawings of the first American commercial ship to visit in 1855 and the newly appointed American Consul, Townsend Harris, who arrived in 1856. (Prints and Photographs Division)

Another unique Japanese art form is the "kabuki" theater, one of Japan's three major classical theaters together with "noh" and "bunraku." Starting in the early seventeenth century, kabuki became a very popular form of entertainment in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and, of course, is still performed today. The Library's Pre-Meiji collection includes a rare manuscript, "Kabuki Sugatami," written by kabuki actor Nakamura Nakazo in 1776. The actor's manuscript is a valuable source for the study of kabuki and its history.

Washington Evening Star
editor Crosby Noyes was far from alone in his fascination with Japanese art. American and European collectors have had an especially strong affinity for Japanese woodblock prints, an art form that began in the 1660s during the Tokugawa period, and many fine collections can be found in the West. The prints, called "ukiyo-e," or "floating world pictures," began as depictions of kabuki actors and courtesans and were primarily produced for Japan's growing merchant class. The subject matter later expanded to include scenes of daily life and landscapes. With Japan's increasing exposure to the West following Commodore Perry's missions in the 1850s, printmakers began to portray the strange foreigners coming to their shores and the exotic nations they represented. This fascination with foreigners is well illustrated by the Chadbourne collection of Japanese prints in the Prints and Photographs Division. A gift to the Library from Mrs. E. Crane Chadbourne in 1930, the collection consists of 187 late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century prints, the majority showing American and European visitors in Japan and imagined scenes of foreign cities.

The Bible as Calligraphic Art
The Bible as Calligraphic Art.
Unaided by any magnification, Yoshikawa Mototake spent eight years copying the Old and New Testaments in miniature calligraphy on these two scrolls, one in Japanese and one in English. The scrolls, which can be read only with a magnifying glass, were presented to the citizens of the United States in 1948 through Gen. Douglas MacArthur. The copying of the Bible may be compared to the ancient Japanese custom of copying Buddhist sutras as a means of mental and physical discipline and as a pious act for salvation. (Japanese Rare Book Collection, Asian Division)

The Geography and Map Division holds many early Japanese maps. These include the Shannon McCune collection of scrolls, atlases, woodblocks, and fan maps of Japan and Korea from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries.

Flourishing Nihonbashi Section of Tokyo
Flourishing Nihonbashi Section of Tokyo
. This print is one panel of an 1861 triptych by UtagawaYoshitora. (Chadbourne Collection, Prints and Photographs Division)

The Library's Japanese collection also contains the world's second oldest example of printing that is still in existence and that has a date of printing recorded in contemporary historical documents. It consists of three printed strips of Buddhist sutras used as prayer charms, printed between 764 and 770 A.D.. The prayers were placed in one million wooden pagodas that were distributed equally to ten temples throughout Japan to mark the end of the eight-year civil war. The project involved the work of 157 people over a six-year period, making it one of the earliest examples of mass production.

Traditional Map of Japan on Blue and White Porcelain.
Traditional Map of Japan on Blue and White Porcelain
. Produced about 1830 during the late Tokugawa Period, this porcelain plate is decorated with an early "gyoji" type of map of Japan. It was made at the Mikawachi kiln under the patronage of the Matsura family, the feudal lords of Hirado. At the center are Japan's three main islands, Kyushu, Honshu, and Shikoku. Of the four other "countries" depicted at the edges of the plate, two are real places (Korea and the Ryukyus) and two are mythological (the Country of Dwarfs and the Women Protected Country). Already long eclipsed by more accurate maps, this old map was probably reproduced by the potter because of its antiquarian interest to early nineteenth-century Japanese. (Shannon McCune Collection, Geography and Map Division)

Dharani Prayer Charms.
Dharani Prayer Charms
. The Buddhist hierarchy exercised strong influence over affairs of state in eighth-century Japan, especially during the reign of Empress Shotoku. Between 764 and 770 A.D., the empress had a million copies of Buddhist prayers printed, placed in wooden pagodas, and distributed to ten Japanese temples. These printed prayers, consisting of four passages from Buddhist sutras (dharani), are considered to be the world's second oldest examples of printing. (Japanese Rare Book Collection, Asian Division)

HOME  Preface  Introduction  The World of Asian Books  Chinese Beginnings  Tales from the Yunnan Woods
The Diplomat and the Dalai Lama  From the Steppes of Central Asia  The Japanese World  Korean Classics
Homer on the Ganges  White Whales and Bugis Book  Barangays, Friars, and "The Mild Sway of Justice"
The Theravada Tradition  The Southern Mandarins  Modern Asia  East Asia  Inner Asia  South Asia
Southeast Asia and the Pacific  Epilog  Publications on the Asian Collections

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( August 20, 2012 )
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