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JPNS 3881 Environment, Nature, and Disaster in Japanese Literature and Culture (Brown) - Rare Books Collection Virtual Visit

A guide to materials relating to Japan and the environment in the Rare Books Collection, Rare and Distinctive Collections, CU Boulder Libraries.


Although Japan was closing itself off to foreigners in the 1600s, merchants and state embassies were occasionally permitted to visit. The two sources shown here, both accounts of European travels in Japan during the 1600s, became Europe's main knowledge of the island and its people until it was forcibly opened to western civilizations again in the 1850s. The books include extensive historical, cultural, and linguistic information, as well as many intricate illustrations (although the information is not always very accurate...).

A Dutch Embassy to Japan

The following book, published in 1670, details a Dutch Embassy to Japan. This English translation of the work includes illustrations of Japan, Japanese history and culture, and other information that the Embassy had gleaned from its time on the island (though certainly not always accurate). See the following pages in particular for their descriptions of Japan and natural disasters:

● p105-106: Earthquakes mentioned
● p382-383: "Scientific" explanation of the cause of Earthquakes
● p446-447: A "Burning Sulfur Mountain"

An Important European Encyclopedia of Japan

Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716) was a German naturalist and explorer who traveled to Japan in the late 1600s. During his stay, he compiled a large amount of information on Japanese language, customs, and history. This book, published in two volumes in 1727 (10 years after his death), became Europe's main source of knowledge of Japan for well over 100 years, since the island was closed to foreigners during much of the 18th and 19th centuries. It is full of many interesting (though sometimes inaccurate) descriptions and illustrations of Japan. Some of the pages specifically mention earthquakes, listed here:

● p104: Folklore explanation of earthquakes
● p527: Discusses earthquakes and laws about building materials
● p565: Brief mention of an earthquake
● p566: Brief mention of an earthquake and aftershocks

NOTE: you can turn the pages here by clicking on them! To view this book in a new tab (where you can zoom in), click on the title link below the book.

Rare and Distinctive Collections


Classroom: Norlin N345

Reading Room: Norlin M350B