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Overview of the Rare Books

1. Rare Books Designated at the NDL

At the National Diet Library, the materials that are regarded as particularly important in studying the history, society, culture and other aspects of a nation for their rarity in surviving intact to today are designated as rare books or semi-rare books. The Council on the Designation of Rare Books makes the designation based on certain criteria.

For the designation, materials are roughly classified into Japanese, Chinese, and Other Foreign Countries categories. Then they are separated into printed books and manuscripts in each category. The criteria are formulated for each segment. The basic standards are "age" and "value as a historical material."

2. Overview of the Rare Books

As of October 2008, we had designated 1,246 items as rare books, and 785 items as semi-rare books. These rare books include six important cultural properties designated by the national government, as well as about 120 Chinese books and about 200 Western books.

Japanese books are selected from a variety of areas: about 60 old hand-copied or printed sutras; about 90 printed books from medieval times such as Gozan-ban (Gozan edition); about 200 manuscripts from the Heian Period through the Muromachi Period (9c. to 16c.); about 110 books handwritten or with notes added by distinguished persons; about 110 historical documents and records. This is a result of our endeavor to build up collections of precious materials for over a century from the era of the Tokyo Shojakukan (1875-77), a predecessor of the NDL, to the era of the National Diet Library. In recent years, we have focused on bibliographically important materials, such as old movable-type printed books and illustrated books in particular.

The NDL now possesses more than 250 old movable-type printed books. This is one of the largest collections in Japan. Recently, we have improved our collections by adding fine editions published in the earliest years, including "Ise Monogatari" (2), "Genji Monogatari" (6), "Heike Monogatari" (15), and "Nihon-shoki" (21).

We have also improved weak elements of our collection, such as picture scrolls and nara-ehon (Nara picture books) up to the beginning of the Edo Period (17th century), by adding "Yoshitsune Oshukudari" (55), "Yuya" (61), and "Tenjinki" (62), which have greatly raised the quality of our collections. "Ouma-jirushi" (60) is very important in studying printing history in Japan.

3. Storage and Use of Rare Books

The materials designated as rare and semi-rare books have special treatment both in storage and use unlike other materials.

To conserve the originals as cultural properties for coming generations, we impose certain restrictions on the use of such materials. We are also going ahead with microfilming and digitization of these valuable materials in order to provide more opportunities for users to access them. Digitized materials began to be accessible in the "Rare Books Image Database" on our website in March 2000 which is now combined to "NDL Digital Collections". We also provide a digital exhibition "Digital Kichosho-ten (Rare Books of the National Diet Library)" on our website. These contents were in an exhibition held in 1998, which was held in commemoration of our 50th anniversary. We hope visitors will enjoy them together with the digitized materials for the current "Rare Books of the National Diet Library" commemorating our 60th anniversary.