The forgotten secret of Japanese books

Denmark-Japan Society, Dansk Bibliofilklub and JapanSessions, ADI invite you to a public guest lecture by Professor Peter Kornicki, University of Cambridge.


Japanese books have been collected in Europe since the seventeenth century, but until the nineteenth century nobody in Europe was able to read them. So why were Europeans so interested in Japanese books? That is the first puzzle. The second puzzle is this: why are Japanese books so distinctive by comparison with books produced in China, Korea or Vietnam? The answer to this question is connected to a third puzzle: why did Japanese printers abandon movable type in favour of woodblock printing in the early seventeenth century? In this illustrated lecture I shall offer answers to these questions and focus on some of the distinctive features of old Japanese books.


Peter Kornicki is Emeritus Professor of Japanese Studies at University of Cambridge and one of the world’s leading experts on the history of the book and of reading in Japan. Much of his work interrogates how ideas and literature circulated, how books were read and what factors determined their reception. Peter Kornicki is the author of the highly acclaimed The book in Japan: a cultural history from the beginnings to the nineteenth century which explores a range of issues from censorship to lending libraries. In addition, he has published a range of important catalogues and academic works, including a collection of essays on Japanese women readers in the Edo and Meiji periods.