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A millennium of Japanese books explored through rare treasures from Japan

4 April 2013

A thousand years of Japanese book culture is celebrated at an exhibition opening this month at SOAS, University of London.  

The exhibition, ‘1000 years of the art of Japanese Books: treasures from Tenri Central Library,’ takes place at SOAS’ Brunei Gallery from 18 April to 22 June 2013.

Through some of the finest treasures of the Tenri Central Library in Japan, the exhibition explores bookbinding, format, paper quality, illustration and calligraphic style of books, manuscripts and documents.

Gagaku, Japanese tea ceremony, Sake tasting, calligraphy and origami are included in a programme of public events and demonstrations in April, May and June to introduce the exhibition to new audiences.

The exhibition also offers an insight into the historical relationship between Japan and the UK and encourages a greater understanding of some of the shared knowledge, interests and experiences, and the influence of the previous 400 years on this relationship today. 2013 is the year of J400, an international celebration of the 400th anniversary of Japan–UK relations, with a series of cultural events planned in Japan and the UK throughout the year.

Head of Department of Japan and Korea Professor Andrew Gerstle said: "Tenri Library is one of the most important in Asia and contains treasures from around the world. This exhibition focuses on the history of the Japanese book, many of which were illustrated from ancient times both as manuscripts and in woodblock print. The SOAS exhibition is a magnificent opportunity to see many treasures that have never been loaned outside Japan."

SOAS' Japanese projects continue as it collaborates with the British Museum and two universities in Japan to organise a major special exhibition on Japanese traditional erotic art (shunga). 

Taking place at the British Museum on 3 October 2013 until 5 January 2014, the research for this exhibition was supported by a three-year SOAS-British Museum grant from the Leverhulme Trust. 

Professor Gerstle added: "This exhibition will be another event in the ongoing spirit of co-operation between the UK and Japan to promote mutual understanding through research and cultural exchange."