Peter Kornicki
University of Cambridge. Emeritus Professor

The first Japanese books to reach Europe?

The earliest Japanese books known to have reached Europe in the seventeenth century and still to be found there are mostly in libraries in England and Ireland. How did they get there and what connection did they have with the English Factory (trading outpost) in Hirado, which was operating from 1613 to 1623? What was the subsequent fate of those books and what impact did they have? What other Japanese books reached Europe in the seventeenth century and what happened to them? In this presentation I shall show images of the books and the evidence that proves they reached Britain before 1700. I shall also demonstrate that they were all thought to be manuscripts, even though they were in fact printed: was this a reasonable mistake to make in seventeenth-century Europe, or was it simply due to the mistaken supposition that East Asian cultures did not know of printing?