It seems both ironic and fitting that today, August 3rd, the same day that the geographically challenged Genoese mariner Christopher Columbus sailed west from the Spanish port of Palos in search of a shortcut to the Orient, my blog post should focus on the arrival of 26 boxes of rare materials dealing with the region that eluded him—China and Japan. This last month, both business and family affairs had pulled me up to New England and New York, and while I was in Boston I had the opportunity to visit long-time Wolfsonian supporter, scholar, and collector Frederic A. Sharf. Mr. Sharf has always been interested in the rise of the Japanese Empire, her various conflicts with her Russian, Chinese, and Korean neighbors, and with the Western imperial powers operating in the East Indies. Once more, Mr. Sharf most generously invited me to sift through his incredible holdings and to make a selection of materials to appropriate for our collection.

While we completed the process of unpacking and shelving the books, diaries, and photograph albums, we have only just begun the process of processing, accessioning, cataloguing, and digitizing the several hundred works. What follows below is a small sampling—a glimpse, if you will—at the most recent arrivals in the ever-expanding Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection at the Wolfsonian-FIU Library. Thanks to Fred and Jean, the library now has an excellent run of the Nippon Ysen Kaisha (N.Y.K.) Line annual, Glimpses of the East, the Japanese Mail steamship company’s official shippers’ guide containing valuable information for travelers, importers, and exporters. As can be seen from the selection below, each annual has a unique and beautiful binding.

Other items included in this most recent gift include books in English about Japan and her neighbors. One of the books, Young Americans in Japan, or, The Adventures of the Jewett Family and Their Friend Oto Nambo, was written by Edward Greey and published in 1882. Greey also designed and illustrated the pictorial cover.

Although essentially a work of fiction, the author claimed his book to be “founded on facts.” He had cruised with the American Navy in Japanese waters in the days of earliest contact between our nations, and had later returned to Japan, “lived among its estimable people, studied their language and literature, and, what they term, ‘learned their hearts.’” The adventures of the fictional Jewett family and their “modern” Japanese friend, Mr. Nambo (who had adopted “Western Civilization” and “abandoned the traditions of his forefathers”) was intended to acquaint young Americans with the “modern” and “conservative” inhabitants of the “Land of the Rising Sun.”

Another book published later in the same decade and written in a similar vein is Henry Faulds’ Nine Years in Nipon: Sketches of Japanese Life and Manners. In his preface, the author apologized for publishing yet another book about the island nation—(books on the subject had flourished after 1854, when U.S. Commodore Matthew C. Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay with a fleet of warships, demanded that the Japanese open their ports to U.S. ships, and signed the Treaty of Kanagawa, the first one negotiated between Japan and a Western nation in the nineteenth century.

Another item included in this latest gift from the Sharfs is a book of Japanese Fairy Tales retold by Teresa Peirce Williston and illustrated by Sanchi O Gawa, and published by Rand McNally & Co., in Chicago. Once she relinquished her policy of seclusion, Japan exerted an important cultural and artistic influence in the West, even as the islanders also began adopting some Western ways and technologies.

The last book illustrated in today’s blog deals with Korea, which, in the nineteenth century was often referred to as the “Hermit” nation, so great was its reputation for seclusion. Fifteen Years Among the Top-Knots, or, Life in Korea was written by L. H. Underwood, a woman who had traveled to Korea as a medical missionary in the 1880s. Mrs. Underwood’s book describes the work of the missionaries in the land and their efforts to enforce quarantine regulations during a cholera epidemic, but also provides first-hand information about the Japanese War, the murder of the Queen, and the fate of Christian converts.

As Associate Librarian Rochelle Pienn finishes processing and begins to catalog more of the rare items included in the gift, she will describe more of the Sharf’s generous gift in greater detail.

~ by "The Chief" on August 3, 2012.


  1. Thanks! Beautiful books, great blog.

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