Kornicki, Peter
University of Cambridge. Emeritus Professor

The first Japanese books to reach the USA

Yale University Library acquired two Japanese books in 1868 and hitherto these have been regarded as the first Japanese books to reach the United States. In fact, however, the famous Perry Expedition was also a shopping trip and the participants brought back a considerable quantity of porcelain, lacquerware and books. It is now possible to identify some of these books, which were mostly bought in Shimoda or Hakodate in 1853 and 1854. One of the books brought back, Ehon ōshukubai, was reprinted in Philadelphia in 1855 using a new technology, and this was equipped with notes and an explanation of Japanese writing. This was the first Japanese book printed outside Japan, apart from Japanese kanbun writings printed in China or Korea. Why was it printed, given that there was at the time nobody in America who could read it? Who was responsible for the notes and explanations? What impact did it have? In this paper I shall provide the answers to these questions and reveal the forgotten wellsprings of American academic interest in Japan.