Iwase Bunko Library, Japan


A review of Iwase Bunko Library 西尾市岩瀬文庫 (Nishio City, Japan)

A staggering number of manuscripts as well as printed books produced in pre-modern Japan remain outside the purview of modern editions and reprints. According to an estimate by Nakano Mitsutoshi, only 10,000 titles, or barely 1%, of all books ever authored in pre-modern Japan have found their way into modern editions (中野三敏『和本のすすめ 江戸を読み解くために』 [An Encouragement of Early Japanese Books: Close Reading the Edo Period]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2011, p. 255).

As a Ph.D. candidate in Edo-period Japanese literature with a particular focus on texts penned by Confucian scholars, many of the texts I work with are unavailable as modern editions. Especially during the initial stages of my research, I frequent the online databases of the National Diet Library, the National Institute of Japanese Literature, and Waseda University Library to look through digitized images of Edo-period Japanese printed books, manuscripts, and reprints of Chinese texts. Yet at the same time, I will often decide, while searching for books on the Union Catalog of Early Japanese Books or the Database of Chinese Books in Japan, to go on a hōsho 訪書 (book visiting) trip. Although many of these trips are day trips to various libraries within the Tokyo metropolitan area where I am based, they will occasionally take me out of town to various locations across Japan. In the following review, I will zoom in on the Iwase Bunko Library in Nishio City, Aichi Prefecture.

General Overview

The Iwase Bunko Library is a public library located halfway between Nagoya and Toyohashi, in Nishio City, Aichi Prefecture, Central Japan. From Nagoya Station, the library is 75 to 90 minutes away by train and foot. The library’s vast and diverse collection boasts a total of approximately 80,000 items.

The Iwase Bunko Library was founded in the 41st year of Meiji (1908) by the local entrepreneur and benefactor Iwase Yasuke (1867-1930). Even though Iwase acquired books and other cultural artifacts with his personal funds, he intended, from the beginning, to amass a comprehensive collection that would benefit the greatest number of people. Accordingly, the library’s collection covers a wide ground. While the majority of the collection consists of pre-modern Japanese books, including a number of manuscripts, the library also houses 1,600 titles of pre-modern Korean books, as well as Chinese books dating from the Song, Ming, and Qing Dynasties. Illustrated books abound in both printed and hand-painted forms, and there are also handscrolls, single-sheet prints, and many maps. In addition to the pre-modern materials, the library’s collection also holds books, periodicals, manuscripts, and ephemera produced in Meiji, Taisho, and early Showa Japan.

Searching the Catalog

The official catalog of the Iwase Bunko Library collection is the third edition of Iwase Bunko Tosho Mokuroku 『岩瀬文庫図書目録』 (Iwase Bunko Library Catalogue) published in 1936. A digitized copy of this edition is available in its entirety on the National Diet Library online database. The absence of indices can make it challenging to navigate through the 500 plus pages packed with information, and forces (and empowers) one to lay eyes on book titles and authors that one might not have encountered otherwise. However, there is also a solution: the online catalog.

There is a project underway to make more searchable catalog of the Iwase Bunko Library’s collection available online. The beta version of the online catalog can be accessed directly from the previous link or from the link labeled “Kotenseki shoshi dētabēsu古典籍書誌データベース (Early Books Bibliographical Database) in the top right corner of the Iwase Bunko Library’s homepage. It contains entries on approximately 80% (and counting) of all items in the collection, according to the library staff at the time of the writing of this review. This online catalog contains such a wealth of bibliographic information that, for example, one can search for books carrying a particular zōshoin 蔵書印 (seal of ownership) by typing in the appropriate terms in the search field marked “kyūzōin shikigo旧蔵印識語 on the Japanese advanced search page and “Seals” on the English page, or if one is looking for books with handwritten marginalia, one can search for them by simply typing in “kaki ire書入 (handwritten notes) in the search field on the “simple search” page. It is also possible to perform “keyword” searches by typing in any word into the search field on the simple search page to find items associated with that word, since the data field labeled “naiyō内容 often contains detailed notes on the content of the book, and any word contained therein can be matched up with the search term. This online catalog should thus prove useful even if one is not particularly planning on visiting the Iwase Bunko Library per se. One can spend hours playing with various parameters to explore and discover.

If the beta online catalog is not returning any results for specific book titles or authors you are looking for, a quick and easy way to double-check would be to search by book title or author name on the Union Catalog of Early Japanese Books and see if “Iwase” 岩瀬is listed in the “kokusho shozai国書所在 (book location) field. Also, the National Institute of Japanese Literature has made digital images of 1,494 items from the Iwase Bunko Library’s collection available online. If you are interested in Chinese books, including reprints published in Japan, it would be best to check the printed and online catalogs of the Iwase Bunko Library, since the aforementioned Database of Chinese Books in Japan does not seem to contain any information on Iwase Bunko yet.

Visiting the Library

The Iwase Bunko Library is normally open between 9 am and 4 pm six days a week, Tuesday through Sunday. It is closed every Monday and also on Tuesday in case the preceding Monday is a national holiday. The library stays closed during New Year’s, and may close for special events and reshelving. The library’s homepage has a box on the top right corner listing the dates on which the library will be closed during the next two months.

It is highly recommended that you call the library and speak with the library staff prior to your visit, not only to confirm that the library’s reading room will be open for your planned visit, but also to check if the books and other materials you are interested in viewing will be available. Since the library is in the process of creating microfilm images of the entire collection, certain items may be unavailable.

It is possible to request the items for perusal ahead of time, on the phone if they are relatively few in number, and if they are numerous, by faxing in an etsuranhyō 閲覧表 (request form) no later than three days before the visit. The form can be downloaded online. The maximum number of items one can view at one time is an equivalent of 30 satsu (fascicles). If one wishes to view a greater number of fascicles over the course of a brief visit, it would be best to consult the library staff by phone in advance.

Getting to the Iwase Bunko Library can be slightly challenging, especially when one is new to the area. The nearest train station is Nishio-guchi 西尾口 on the Meitetsu Nishio line 名鉄西尾線. Be sure to have a street map on hand once you get off the train at Nishio-guchi, since Iwase Bunko is tucked away in a quiet residential area and is not extremely easy to find the first time around. From the station, it is a 10-15 minute walk.

The Iwase Bunko Library is housed in a modern, glass-and-concrete structure built in 2003, and is located on the same grounds as the Nishio City Library 西尾市立図書館. Once you enter the building through the front glass doors, there is a reception desk with a receptionist, but there is no need to check in yet. There will be an elevator to your left. Go up to the second floor, and the reading room (etsuranshitsu 閲覧室) will be to your right.

Upon entering the reading room, you will find lockers immediately to your right. Only pencils, essential notebooks/paper/books, and laptops are allowed on the reading room tables. The reference desk (etsuranshitsu counter 閲覧室カウンター), where you will be greeted by the Iwase Bunko Library staff, will be on your right past the lockers. You will not need to present any documents, such as an I.D. or a letter of recommendation, and will simply be asked to fill out a book request form. The request numbers and the number of fascicles can be found on the online and/or printed catalogs, and it would be good to have all of this information on hand, so that you can quickly fill out the form. If you have faxed in the request form, you should not have to fill out any additional forms, and you should be all set. All materials need to be requested before 3:30 pm.

It would be a good idea to take off your watch and other accessories from your hands and wrists while in the reading room, and to clean your hands before and after viewing the materials. The reading room has a sink, and restrooms are located downstairs on the first floor. Also on the first floor is a lounge area (kyūkeishitsu 休憩室) where one can buy coffee and made-to-order matcha green tea  Even though eating is allowed in the lounge area, there are no food vendors inside the library compound, and you will need to bring your own lunch or snacks. There is a 7-Eleven convenience store within a 100-meter radius, but to save time one would do well to purchase food and beverages in Nagoya and bring them in. There are no trash bins inside the library compound, so keep in mind that you will need to take everything back with you. The reading room stays open from 9 am until 4 pm, but the library staff will take a lunch break and may not be directly behind the reference desk between noon and 1 pm. At least one staff member will be present behind the screen, however and you can ring the bell on the counter if you need assistance. If you are stepping outside the reading room for an extended period of time, e.g. for lunch, you will always need to check in with the library staff and temporarily return all of your materials to the reference desk.

When you are done for the day, let the library staff know, and they will check your materials in. If you are looking for accommodations nearby, there is a hotel close to Nishio Station (Business Hotel Takeso). It seems, however, that many visitors spending consecutive days at Iwase Bunko choose to stay in Nagoya and commute back and forth, which is what I always choose to do as well. As a side note, other public libraries in Nagoya that could be of interest include the Hōsa Library 蓬左文庫 and the Tsurumai Chūō Library 鶴舞中央図書館.

Duplication of Materials

Visitors are not permitted to take their own photographs of the library materials. Black and white photocopies are available for 50 yen per sheet, but photocopies will be made from microfilm images and cannot be instantly processed. Black and white copies can take up to two weeks to be print for materials that are available on microfilm, and up to two months for those that are not. You can check with the library staff over the phone or in person whether the materials you would like to photocopy are available on microfilm. When the copies are ready, the library will first mail you an invoice (please note you will be charged for postage as well). After the payment has been made, the copies will be mailed out within 10 days. The library accepts payments by bank transfer only. Photocopies can be mailed internationally.

If you need high-resolution or color copies, it would be best to consult the library staff before filling out any forms. The library keeps photographic negatives of all the items which have been photographed in the past, and may be able to lend them to you for up to a month. Please note the approval process for borrowing photographic negatives can take up to a week. For materials without photographic negatives, the library will refer you to a professional photographer, with whom you will need to work on-site at the library to photograph the materials at a later date, after a successful completion of the approval process, which can take up to a week. If you have a legitimate reason for having to take the photographs yourself, let the library staff know.

Information on the duplication of materials is available in Japanese on the library’s website. Since duplicating the library’s materials can take long and might also put a burden on your budget, it would be best to do as much research and prep work as possible before your visit, so that during your visit, you can be confident in deciding which materials truly need photocopying.

Yoshitaka Yamamoto 山本嘉孝
Program in Comparative Literature and Culture
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
University of Tokyo

Image: Early Japanese books from the Iwase Bunko Library (courtesy of MotionVisualJapan Inc.). Find more photos and video clips of the Iwase Bunko Library collection on Iwase Bunko Library Theater.

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