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Initiated with an exchange of government publications in 1875, the Japanese collection has grown to more than 1.2 million volumes of books and serials as well as extensive microform holdings. The humanities and social sciences are strongly represented and are complemented by a significant collection of scientific and technical journals and Japanese government publications from both national and local levels. Among the wealth of rare items are some 6,000 titles of pre-20th century printed books, scrolls, and manuscripts.
Many of these rare books entered the collection as part of a major gift in 1905, when Crosby Stuart Noyes, editor and publisher of the Washington Evening Star, donated 658 illustrated books, watercolors, drawings, woodblock prints, and lithographs to the library. Dr. Kan'ichi Asakawa, who first purchased books in Japan on behalf of the library in 1907, also contributed to early acquisitions. These included works on Tokugawa government laws, local administration, history, regional geography, and Buddhism. Dr. Walter Tennyson Swingle, a botanist at the USDA with a special interest in Asian botany, also purchased materials for the library between 1915 and 1926.
The collection grew slowly until Dr. Shiho Sakanishi became the Library’s first area specialist on Japan in 1930. During her tenure, Dr. Sakanishi collected about 900 titles, most of which were literary works. In 1938, the Japanese Section was established as part of the Orientalia Division, which was renamed the Asian Division in 1978.
Following World War II, the Japanese collection increased dramatically with the influx of nearly 300,000 volumes requisitioned by the US-led occupying forces in Japan. These include important historical materials, such as tens of thousands of publications and manuscripts produced or acquired by the Imperial Army and Navy, Japanese colonial agencies, and the South Manchuria Railway Company, a quasi-governmental enterprise that also managed what was arguably the largest center for research on East Asia in the first half of the twentieth century.
Among these materials one can find valuable pre-1946 studies and reports related to various aspects of colonial Taiwan and Korea as well as several countries occupied by Japan during the wartime years. Other materials include trade publications, archival records from Japanese government agencies, journals, newspapers, and censored wartime publications. Taken together, these items form a rich and unique collection of primary sources for the historical study of modern Japan as well as colonial Taiwan and Korea, mainland China, and Southeast Asian countries in the early twentieth century.