East Asian Books and Manuscripts

The nucleus of the East Asian holdings in the Beinecke Library is the singular gift made by the Yale Association of Japan in 1934, which contained Japanese, Korean, and Chinese manuscripts. The Japanese material is the most plentiful, consisting of books (194 titles in 591 volumes), scrolls, manuscripts (117 in a variety of formats), documents, calligraphy, and artifacts. The materials from Korea and China are more modest in scope, with Korea represented by 44 works and China by 15.

The Japanese Manuscript Collection 日本文書コレクション was assembled by Asakawa Kan’ichi 朝河貫一 (1873–1948), the eminent historian of Japan who taught at Yale from 1907 to 1942 and concurrently served as curator of the East Asian collections in the Yale Library. Prior to taking up his appointment in 1907, Asakawa spent 18 months in Japan engaged in a grand project to obtain for Yale the nucleus of a comprehensive Japanese collection. A prominent historian at the University of Tokyo, Kuroita Katsumi 黒板勝美 (1874–1946), was chosen to assemble the collection, which was presented as a donation to Yale by the YAJ (Yale Association of Japan) in 1934. The texts were chosen to highlight the rich cultural history of East Asia and are from China, Korea, and Japan. The Japanese manuscripts, over 700 works, were collected as part of this effort; they were purchased or solicited as donations from booksellers, individual collectors, temples, and other institutions. Many were hand-copied by teams of young scholars, partly because Asakawa was sensitive to cultural patrimony issues and felt that some works should not be removed from Japan. Asakawa acquired manuscripts for the Library of Congress during his stay in Japan as well, and the two collections complement each other in terms of subject coverage.

Some of the highlights include three examples of the one of the earliest extant works of printing in the world, sutras dating to the eighth century (hyakumantō darani 百万塔陀羅尼); some of Yale’s most significant Chinese rare books, including Song period editions; approximately 100 historical documents that represent the only substantial holdings of pre-1600 works outside of Japan; artistic works on paper by luminaries such as Yamamoto Soken (山本素軒) and a number of prominent Japanese calligraphers; a range of excellent examples of artistic production, hangul manuscripts, and printing in a variety of typefaces and fonts, all from Chŏson period Korea; and Japanese woodblock-printed books on a wide range of subjects and representing an overview of publishing history and the arts of the book during the Tokugawa period (1600–1868)

The Japanese works in the YAJ were surveyed by scholars from the National Institute of Japanese literature in the 1990s. The Korean materials were surveyed by the Korean National Institute for the Cultural Heritage (NRICH) in 2008 and were digitized for the National Library of Korea (2010–11). The Chinese works in the YAJ were catalogued by rare book expert Yang Guanghui (Fudan University Library).