Modern Japanese Studies and Cambridge University Library: from Kokugaku to Japanology

UL Japan Librarian Emeritus Mr Noboru Koyama has published a new book on the Japan collections at Cambridge and how this library developed out of the UK’s special early relationship with Japan.


(Modern Japanese Studies and Cambridge University Library: from Kokugaku to Japanology)


In the history of Japanese studies, scholars of the English School, such as Ernest Mason Satow, William George Aston and Basil Hall Chamberlain dramatically raised the level of the discipline from the middle to late 19th century.  By comparison with the earlier generation of scholars of the German School, such as Kaempfer, Thunberg, and Philipp Franz von Siebold, these scholars of the English school had mastered the Japanese language by themselves and as a result, they were able to harvest the fruits of Japanese native scholarship, Kokugaku (‘National Learning’).  They were the first generation of student interpreters at the British Legation in Japan and they had to acquire knowledge of Japanese, and through this they inevitably made contact with Kokugaku, which was a required part of learning the Japanese language itself.

The collections held in research libraries are usually an accumulation of a wide range of scholarship and they may contain the traces of the histories of how these subjects developed.  We may be able to understand the history of the subjects through these library collections.  The Japanese collection at Cambridge University Library is one of major Japanese collections outside Japan and it is also notable for containing early Japanese books as well as modern ones.  We may be able to gain valuable insights into the history of the Western approach to Japanese studies itself, through Cambridge’s early Japanese book collections, which are called the “Aston, Satow and Siebold Collections“.   Cambridge University Library first acquired the Japanese book collections of Heinrich von Siebold (son of and Philipp Franz von Siebold), Aston and Satow in 1911-1913 and their collections are called “Aston, Satow and Siebold Collections“.

In my book, I have traced a path of Japanese studies which may be described as “from Kokugaku to Japanology and then Japanese Studies” through the “Aston, Satow and Siebold Collections“ at Cambridge University Library.  In particular, I focus on the relationship between Satow’s and Aston’s studies and those of Kokugaku.  The comparatively smaller Siebold Collection is less relevant, as it contains mainly visual-oriented early Japanese books. The reason for this was that Heinrich could not read Japanese, and his understanding of Japanese studies most resembles his father’s.


The book Is available to purchase here.

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