Library News
Maintaining Japanese Connections and Collections at the Library
October 4, 2016

Although it was the middle of the rainy season, I had the great pleasure of spending two weeks in Tokyo this summer, visiting six universities and purchasing books for the University Library.

One of the highlights was attending the Japan Illini Club‘s reunion party. Being an Illinois graduate and a former resident of Niigata and Tokyo in the late 1990s, this party combined my passion for Japan and the University of Illinois—what a perfect afternoon! During the party, I was happy to make new friends and meet former students such as Akiko Fujii and Hiromi Okazawa, both graduates of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (now the School of Information Sciences).

My main purpose for travel to Japan, however, was to support the Library’s Japanese language collections. Ours is the largest public academic library in North America and has one of the largest and most distinctive collections of non-English language materials in the Unites States. Over the years, Japanese studies librarians at Illinois have built a solid Japanese collection that, along with Japan House and the Japanese studies programs on campus, promotes a greater understanding of Japanese history and culture. Our Japanese collection’s strength lies mostly in the humanities and social sciences with key holdings in literature, history, philosophy, religion, theater, business, and economics; there are approximately 90,000 volumes, 150 serial titles, and more than 1,000 microform items.

The most distinctive aspect of the Japanese studies collection is the Yamagiwa Collection, which consists of nearly 2,000 titles dating from the 14th to the 20th centuries. The great majority of items are Japanese books printed between the 17th and 19th centuries. Based on the Yamagiwa Collection, the Library works to build its distinctive collections of important Japanese books and cultural artifacts. For example, the Library acquired a copy of a 1608 edition of the classic Ise Monogatari (伊勢物語) through the generosity of Library Friends Robert E. and Juanita J. Simpson—and celebrated it as our 13-millionth volume—in 2012.

During my two weeks in Tokyo, I searched for books and materials that are difficult to acquire and unique to North American research libraries. I spent much of my time visiting book vendors, exploring the used books shops in Jimbocho, and even purchasing used manga (a style of Japanese comic books and graphic novels) at Mandrake in Akihabara. One Sunday, while shopping at the Hanazono Jinja market in Shinjuku, I found a very rare manga titled “Black Star” that was published in 1952 yet appears to be missing from library collections. The highlight of book acquisitions was participating in the Meijikotenkai rare-book and art auction that took place during Tanabata. At the auction, I was lucky to purchase 34 issues of Yojo no tomo (幼女の友) that range from the 1920s to the 1940s. In addition to its illustrated nature, this magazine will provide social and gender studies of Japan with an excellent view of the life and expectations for young girls in this period of Japanese history.

The Library’s Japanese Collection attracts scholars to Illinois to research Japanese history and culture. In addition, these unique materials provide opportunities to teach about Japan and foster cultural exchange. To learn more about the collection, visit

For more photos from Professor Witt’s trip to Japan, visit

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