Library of Congress houses new Online Japanese Rare Book Digital Collection

Asha Bajaj
5 min readMar 13, 2021

#LibraryOfCongress; #JapaneseRareBook; #DigitalCollection; #AsianDivision; NINJAL

Washington/Canadian-Media: Launched in December 2020, the Japanese Rare Book Digital Collection, currently contains 35 titles in more than 270 volumes, twenty-five of which are rare books newly digitized, while the remaining ten titles were first scanned and made available online several years ago, Library of Congress (LoC) reported.

Only recently, these collections were assembled as a collection and configured for viewing on the Library’s updated platform for digital content, some of which contain rare and beautifully illustrated works of classical Japanese literature that have drawn attention from scholars around the world.

Two unique editions of the famous 11th-century work “The Tale of Genji,” which is attributed to Murasaki Shikibu (c. 978–c. 1014), a lady-in-waiting at the imperial court in Kyoto (then known as Heiankyō ) are of particular interest.

One of the two sets of “The Tale of Genji” held by the Asian Division is illustrated with a woodblock print edition produced in Kyoto in the mid-17th century.

The main text in 54 volumes, also includes six additional volumes consisting of commentaries, a genealogy, an index, and an extra chapter written by a later, unknown author.

A scene from the chapter “Wakamurasaki” (Lavender) in which Genji, who has left the capital in order to recuperate from an illness, consults with an ascetic mountain priest. Image 5 of Volume 5 in [Genji monogatari] [源氏物語], 1654, Japanese Rare Book Digital Collection, Asian Division of LoC.

The other set of “The Tale of Genji” is a manuscript edition that dates to the early 16th century, which was unknown to scholars until the LoC acquired it in 2008.

The Asian Reading Room of LoC which housed the manuscript edition was visited by several specialists in classical Japanese literature between 2010 and 2012, to carefully survey and document it as part of a project led by the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics (NINJAL). NINJAL website reveals the results of their work in both English and Japanese. Although just three of the 54 volumes in this older set have been currently digitized, plans are underway to digitalize all the volumes.

An innovative display method making use of these three digitized volumes is adopted by the staff at NINJAL to allow readers to view the team’s expert transcription of the handwritten manuscript…



Asha Bajaj

I write on national and international Health, Politics, Business, Education, Environment, Biodiversity, Science, First Nations, Humanitarian, gender, women