Ancient Printed Books Related to Japan in the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana (Venice)

Since the beginning of 2009, the department of East Asian Studies of Ca' Foscari University, with the financial support from the European Social Fund (ESF), has been promoting a research project aimed at the re-evaluation of the printed books and manuscripts related to Japan in the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana (Venice). This material, which includes some rare pieces, may provide scholars with useful insights into a wide variety of subjects, ranging from history to linguistics studies. However, it appears to be scattered amongst many different collections and is not satisfactorily accounted for in existing catalogues. The project aims at locating any book of interest, with the ultimate aim of creating an online catalogue. The catalogue will include, for each book, a bibliographic description, an abstract and a photographical reproduction of the title page (if extant) and it will hopefully be of some help in making the content of the library more accessible to researchers specifically interested in Japan.

The initial stage of research has been focused on ancient printed books. This paper presents these initial results, by illustrating the different typologies of books which have been located in the Library. Firstly, the paper will focus on books dated, roughly, from the second half of the 16th century to the first few decades of the 17th century, and mainly connected with the activities of Christians operating in Japan. This group of books is by far the richest collection and includes: "Avvisi" and letters written by missionaries and Japanese converts (including many "Annual Letters" sent from Jesuit missionaries to the Father General in Rome); "Historie" and travel accounts; some very early studies focusing on Japanese language; and one of the rare extant examples of Kirishitanban. A series of texts related to the first visit by the Japanese embassy members to Europe, who were received by the Holy Father and by the King of Spain in 1585, will also be treated separately. Secondly, the paper will focus on books dated from the second half of the 17th century up to the end of the 18th century, which provides examples of so-called "early Japanology". Lastly, the paper will present books printed during the 19th century, including, mainly, travel accounts and studies focusing on linguistics.

Selected examples will be provided for each book typology. The presentation will also offer a thorough reflection about the value of the books, and will try to shed light on the circumstances that led to their acquisition by the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana and on the meaning of such acquisition.