About Japan's Book Donation to the University of Louvain

  • An important symbol of the friendly relations between Japan and Belgium

In the 1920s, Japan donated roughly 3,000 books to the University of Leuven, totaling nearly 14,000 volumes, in addition to several maps and a number of works of art. This represented Japan's contribution to the reconstruction of the University Library, which had been completely reduced to ashes in August 1914 during World War I.

The collection is among the most remarkable and systematic collections of early modern Japanese books outside Japan. Most of the donated volumes date from the Edo period (1600-1868).

More than one hundred years later, the donation is an important and often forgotten part of the heritage of KU Leuven and the Université Catholique de Louvain.

Japan donated these precious books not only as a token of friendship towards Belgium, but also to increase the visibility of Japanese culture in Europe. This was in line with Japan’s wish to assert a more important role in the world order.

The catalogue of the “1920s Japanese Book Donation” can be accessed online.
Embassy's Cultural Activities and Public Diplomacy: 08/29 [Ambassador] Visit to the Japan Book Collection
  • A book

  • The present book has been compiled for the occasion of the exhibition, to serve as a durable guide to the magnificent book donation and its historical background, and as a reference for further research in the future. In five essays by historians of politics, media, culture, and arts of Japan, it offers a richly illustrated overview of the history of the donation and its wider historical context, providing illuminating insights into the vibrant 1920s in Japan, its politics, society, and popular culture.
  • The reader is further invited to explore a sample of 65 remarkable and rare items from the donation, which were carefully selected for inclusion in the exhibition and are provided here with a detailed description.
  • Moreover, the reader is introduced to 41 representative items, including visually captivating commercial and political posters related to Japan’s modernity in the 1920s, which represent mass culture, progress, and tensions, and highlight both imperial ambitions and a willingness to contribute to international cooperation.
  • 'Japan's Book donation to the University of Louvain' is curated by Prof. Dr. Jan Schmidt (Japanese Studies, Faculty of Arts, KU Leuven).
  • The e-book is available for free online : https://lup.be/products/131396
  • An exhibition

  • In a joint campaign by UCLouvain and KU Leuven, the enormous potential of this donation is now being further developed around various projects. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the donation, KU Leuven and UCLouvain are organizing a special exhibition entitled “Japan’s Book Donation to the University of Louvain: Japanese Cultural Identity and Modernity in the 1920s”, which is to be held from October 28th 2022 to January 15th 2023 at the University Library of KU Leuven.

  • To understand the background to the donation and its origins, the exhibition highlights the main features of Japanese society and culture in the 1920s in the context of global modernity. Japan's Book Donation to the University of Louvain evokes this period through numerous film clips, photographs, artworks and objects including unique loans from the National Museum of Japanese History in Sakura that will be on display in Europe for the first time.

  • More information on the exhibition
  • 2022 Foreign Minister's Commendation

  • On 4 August 2022, the 1920s Japanese Book Donation, which is jointly managed by KU Leuven and UCLouvain, was selected as a recipient of the 2022 Foreign Minister's Commendation in recognition of the contribution both universities have made to promoting mutual understanding between Japan and Belgium. This is the first time in history that such a collection has received this award.

  • Ambassador Shimokawa awarded rector of KU Leuven Sels and rector of UCLouvain Blondel with a Certificate of Commendation from the Minister of Foreign Affairs during the opening event of the exhibition “Japanese Book Donation to the University of Louvain: Japanese Cultural Identity and Modernity in the 1920s”.

  • Embassy's Cultural Activities and Public Diplomacy: 
  • 10/27 [Ambassador] Opening of the Exhibition "Japanese Book Donation to the University of Louvain" and Award Ceremony of the Foreign Minister's Commendation