THE British Library's antiquarian Japanese collection has long been regarded as one of the finest outside Japan. Its quality and quantity are such that the descriptive catalogue compiled by my predecessor, the late Kenneth Gardner, had to be limited to pre-1700 printed books. Even then, it included 637 items of outstanding rarity. These range from the Hyakumanto darani (Empress Shotoku's 'One Million Pagoda Charms') of AD 764-70; to books printed in medieval Buddhist monasteries (imprints known as Kasuga-ban, Jodokyo-ban, Koya-ban, etc., from the names of their associated temples or sects); Chinese classical works printed in Japan (especially Gozanban); and the early movable-type editions (Kokatsuji-ban), which include Saga-bon and those rarest of all Japanese books, volumes printed by the Jesuit Mission Press, the Kirishitan-ban. In the category of Kokatsuji-ban, the best yardstick with which to measure the comparative strength of fine antiquarian collections, the British Library has about 120, a holding comparable with those of such great Japanese libraries as Tenri Central Library in Nara, Daitokyu Memorial Library and the Toyo Bunko (Oriental Library) in Tokyo.
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