Commodore Perry’s Expedition as a Shopping Trip: The First Japanese Books in America

Professor Emeritus Peter Kornicki, University of Cambridge
Mar 26, 2019 - at - | Class of 1978 Orrery Pavilion
Kislak Center for Special Collections,
Rare Books and Manuscripts
Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center

What was Perry’s crew doing while he was negotiating, and what was everybody, including Commodore Perry himself, doing when the ships visited Shimoda and Hakodate? They were shopping! They bought lacquerware, porcelain, fans and a host of other things, but they also bought books. And one of those books was reproduced using a new technology and published in Philadelphia in 1855. In this talk I will explore the background to the arrival of the first Japanese books in America, but of course the problem was that nobody could read them. There was just one exception, a naval physician who took part in Perry’s expedition, but why did nobody follow his lead?

Sponsored by the Faculty Working Group in Premodern Japanese Texts and the Penn Forum on Japan.

Peter Kornicki is Emeritus Professor of Japanese Studies at Cambridge University.

Professor Kornicki did his BA in Japanese and Korean at Oxford and his D.Phil. in 19th-century Japanese literature. He has spent about six years in Japan in total, mostly in Kyoto. From 1978 to 1982, he was associate professor at the Humanities Research Institute of Kyoto University. Professor Kornicki has been based in Cambridge since 1985. In 1992 he was awarded the Japan Foundation Special Prize (with Hayashi Nozomu). He is a fellow of The British Academy, and in 2012, he was elected a member of the Academia Europea. Among his many publications are Languages, scripts, and Chinese texts in East Asia: Chinese Writing and the Rise of the Vernacular in East Asia (Oxford University Press, 2018) and Umi o watatta Nihon shoseki (Heibonsha, 2018).