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Japanese Collection: Asian Collections at the Library of Congress

The Library’s Japanese collection comprises more than 1.2 million physical items. This guide provides an overview of these materials, outlines search strategies, and describes how to access digital collections and e-resources.


With more than 1.2 million physical items, the Japanese collection in the Asian Division at the Library of Congress is the largest collection of Japanese-language publications outside of Japan. In addition to books and serial publications like academic journals, magazines, and newspapers, it also includes a variety of other formats, such as manuscripts, microfilms, pamphlets, and scrolls.

This guide offers a comprehensive overview of materials in the Japanese collection, which can be requested and viewed in the Asian Reading Room, as well as Japan-related materials found in other parts of the Library.

Additional Resources

In addition to this guide, the following resources provide more information about South Asian materials at the Library of Congress:

Collection history

Two men wearing traditional Japanese clothing read books and letters in a scene from chapter 2 of The Tale of Genji.
A scene from the second chapter of Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji). 1654 edition. Japanese Rare Book Collection. Library of Congress Asian Division.

The Library's Japanese collection originated with an exchange of government publications in 1875, a cooperative agreement that continues today. At the beginning of the 20th century, the collection began to grow thanks to donations and dedicated acquisitions work by several individuals. The first of these was a major gift in 1905 from Crosby Stuart Noyes, editor and publisher of the Washington Evening Star. Noyes donated 658 illustrated books, watercolors, drawings, woodblock prints, and lithographs, which formed the initial core of the Library's collection of Japanese rare books.

Shortly thereafter, in 1907, Dr. Kan'ichi Asakawa, completed a strategic acquisitions trip to Japan on the Library's behalf, which gathered 16th-19th century works on government and law, local administration, history, regional geography, and Buddhism. Dr. Walter Tennyson Swingle, a botanist at the United States Department of Agriculture with a keen interest in East Asia, also purchased materials for the Library between 1915 and 1926 during research trips to China and Japan.

The collection grew slowly until Dr. Shiho Sakanishi became the Library's first reference librarian for Japanese studies in 1930. During her tenure, Dr. Sakanishi collected about 900 titles of mostly 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 included 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.

About the Asian Division

The Asian Reading Room provides public access to more than 4 million items in approximately 200 languages and dialects from across Asia, including Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Thai, Tibetan, Urdu, Vietnamese, and many others. In the reading room, researchers can use the Asian Division’s collections of printed materials, microform, and databases and confer with reference librarians to answer research questions about the countries of East, South, and Southeast Asia.