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Subject guide

Japanese and Korean Special Collections

The special collections from Japan and Korea kept in the East Asian Library (Arsenaal Building) were moved in the summer of 2016 to the central library building at Witte Singel, where it forms a part of the Asian Library. The Reading Room and the reference collection of the East Asian Library remain in the Arsenaal Building until spring 2017.

The Japanese manuscripts and rare books of Leiden University were catalogued for the first time by L. Serrurier in 1896. The c. 1160 titles can be found in the online catalogue; shelfmarks begin with “Ser.” The oldest Japanese books were printed by the Jesuit Mission in Japan. However, the greater part of the  Japanese blockprinted books and manuscripts from the Tokugawa period is  strongly linked with the fate of the Dutch factory (trading post) of Deshima in the Bay of Nagasaki, between 1640 and 1853 Japan's only window on Europe.
The Japanese collections were brought together by, among others, Jan Cock Blomhoff (1779-1853) and Jan Hendrik Donker Curtius (1813-1879), the last 'opperhoofd' or chief administrator of Deshima. But the name that appeals most to the imagination is that of the German Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866), a physician in the service of the Netherlands East Indies Government, a pioneering Japanologist and the 'father of Western medicine' in Japan. The sizeable collection that accompanied him on his departure from Japan in 1829 was purchased by King William III of the Netherlands, who subsequently donated it to the state. In the late 19th century the collection was dispersed over a number of museums in Leiden and the University. The collection that was transferred to the University Library contains such works as Japanese-Dutch dictionaries, Japanese literature, drawings of fish, crustaceans and waterfowl, and maps. For more information see the collection guide: Serrurier Collection.

Over 400 other Japanese books and manuscripts published or produced before 1900 can be found in the online catalogue (Any = “ubl*” NOT shelfmark = “Ser.” — filter on language and date). The Van Gulik collection contains over 80 Japanese books (shelfmarks begin with “SINOL. Gulik” — filter on language).

Some 70 Korean books printed before 1900 can be found in the online catalogue (Any = “ubl*” — filter on language and date). Most of them are incorporated in the Japan collection and the Van Gulik collection.