Tuesday, 15 September 2020

The Bus Trip 10: Nakajima Library

Good morning and for those who are still with us post-conference, we are in Japan. Here we are at the only library in Japan that is open 24/7 all year round. Actually, how many of those there are anywhere is a question. The Nakajima Library of Akita International University mainly serves students and staff of the university, but also welcomes us, the general public. It has a collection of more than 80,000 books and multimedia resources. It is also great architecture and worth checking on Google Image. Or here: https://web.aiu.ac.jp/en/news/10727/ 

We visit a contemporary 24/7 Japanese library to ponder a world without libraries, which was more or less the case in Japan before its fabled insularity ended after 1853.  It is a fact worthy of reflection that the country’s oldest library is the Imperial Library, opened in 1872. In other words, technically speaking this means there are no ancient libraries in Japan. Libraries, in Japanese ‘toshokan’, are a product of Westernisation. Your guide’s own reading of this is that before the mid-19th century ‘toshokan’ were largely private collections of scrolls and other written materials, literally in-house repositories, a view borne out by reading classical Japanese literature. Doubtless, households and individuals would have had their own collections, storerooms for reading, but the concept of organising and saving works for general use does not appear to have had any kind of widespread cultural hold. Perhaps those with a better knowledge of this aspect of Japanese history could enlighten us further. The best picture of where we are today can be seen here: https://www.jla.or.jp/portals/0/html/libraries-e.html 

Your guide is also fascinated by the recent discovery that Zen monasteries don't have libraries. They have repositories for sutras, i.e. liturgical rites as we would say, but if you want to read a book you have to go outside the monastery. Is a repository a library? Or is that why we have different words? I recently wrote a reflection on this discovery, after reading an interview with the American poet Gary Snyder: http://thecarmelitelibrary.blogspot.com/search/label/Gary%20Snyder 

Also, this thorough summary of life in a Japanese monastery is significant, again, for what it doesn’t talk about, i.e. any presence of a ‘toshokan’:


Visitors who would rather see a library on a library tour, than no libraries, are welcome to go here (you have 22 minutes, starting Now!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNo7xnI-bwY 


Philip Harvey

Tour Guide

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