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British Library: Japanese Collection

Global Guide to Japanese Collections held at the British Library

General Information

Facility: British Library
96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB
(The Asian & African Reading Room is located on the 3rd floor)
+44 (0)20 7412 7662 (Mr Hamish Todd)
+44 (0)20 7412 7652 (Ms Yasuyo Ohtsuka)
FAX: +44 (0)20 7412 7641
Mon: 10.00-17.00
Tue-Sat: 09.30-17.00
The Reading Room is closed on Sunday and during English Public Holidays. 
More infromation here

About the Library:

The British Library’s Japanese language material relating to the humanities and social sciences ranges from the oldest datable example of Japanese printing to the most recent books, periodicals and newspapers.

The collection of contemporary printed books and serials covers a wide range of subject areas, and it also includes more than 6,000 serials and official publications as well as 20 newspaper titles. A number of on-line resources (journal articles, newspaper, books and dictionaries) are also available on site.

In addition to the Asian and African Studies collection, there are also substantial holdings of Japanese maps in the Map Library and the British Library Sound Archive holds a collection of Japanese language sound recordings.

The antiquarian (pre-Meiji) collection covers a large variety of subjects (fine arts, literature, religion, history, foreign relations, science, botany) and comprises aproximately 4000 printed works and 500 manuscripts. Amongst the most notable items, there are several Nara ehon, sutras and kirishitanban, as well as some items written in the Okinawan language. Furthermore, the India Office Records include 360 manuscript documents from the English Factory at Hirado, which operated from 1613 to 1623.

Summary of Collections

  • Kaempfer collection: 45 items acquired by Sir Hans Sloane in 1723-25.

  • Siebold collection: The first collection able to yield significant information on virtually every aspect of Japan. It comprises 1,088 titles in 3,441 volumes, and was purchased in 1868 from Philipp Franz von Siebold's son, Alexander.

  • Satow collection: 325 important examples of early Japanese printing, comprising 1,578 volumes, acquired in 1884 and 1885 from  the British diplomat and bibliographer Sir Ernest Satow.

  • Anderson collection: fine collection of about 2,000 volumes of illustrated woodblock-printed books acquired in 1882, 1894 and 1900 from the British surgeon William Anderson.

  • Meiji books: there is an extensive collection of works on a wide range of subjects published during the  Meiji Period including arts, humanities, science and medicine.

  • In addition, there has been systematic acquisition of current publications since the 1950s, following the appointment of the first full-time curator with responsibility for Japanese materials in 1955.

NB The online catalogue does not currently include Japanese  early (pre-Meiji) printed books and manuscripts. Retroconversion of Meiji works is underway. To access these materials see the list of useful reference materials here. Alternatively, users may search for antiquarian materials using the Union Catalogue of Early Japanese Books in Europe (hosted on the NIJL website) and recall items using the "Request Other Items" function of EXPLORER.  


Online catalogue: EXPLORER

Online Resources

Asian and African studies blog

(Overseas Japanese Antiquarian
Materials Study Group)

How to Use the Facility

Using the Collections

All researchers wishing to use the Asian & African Studies Reading room are required to have registered and obtained their Reader Pass (For full procedure, click here). The majority of modern publications (newspaper, serials, books and ephemera) may be consulted in different reading rooms but all the items (up to 6 per person) must be ordered beforehand using the library search engine (Explorer).

Photocopying and Scanning

From March 2015 the Library will introduce self-service photography of certain categories of material in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room

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North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources
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