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Travelling Books: History in Europe and Japan

Discover how travelling books sparked cultural exchanges between Europe and Japan, and how they live on in the digital era.

1,536 enrolled on this course

Japanese book both written in Japanese and alphabetical characters.

Travelling Books: History in Europe and Japan

1,536 enrolled on this course

  • 3 weeks

  • 3 hours per week

  • Digital certificate when eligible

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  • Duration

    3 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours
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Unlock the history of travelling books in Europe and Japan

Books are cultural artefacts that are easily transported and translated. As such, they have been important in fostering relationships between countries for hundreds of years.

On this three-week course presented by Keio University and the British Library, you’ll learn more about the history of European and Japanese literature promoting cultural exchange, how this continues in the digital era, and how vital this exchange is.

Delve into the history of travelling books

To start you’ll find out how books moved between Europe and Japan, beginning in the 16th century.

Discover how the books were received, compare printing styles, and find out about the role that Jesuit priests played in these book-sharing interactions.

Explore the rich heritage of travelling books and travel books

In the second and third weeks of the course, you’ll get to appreciate how travelling books influenced individuals, society, and European and Japanese literature.

Besides explaining the importance of rare and illustrated books, the course shows you how to trace physical signs on the pages that show what life was like for readers and collectors in the past.

Finally, you’ll learn about the way travel books led to great cultural exchange by allowing people to learn about places that they would never otherwise have experienced.

Expand your history know-how with leading experts

The course is jointly produced by Japan’s Keio University and the British Library, which are both recognised in their own countries and abroad.

With their rich resources and longtime friendship, these institutions will deepen your understanding and appreciation of European culture, Japanese culture, and how books brought (and bring) them together.


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Skip to 0 minutes and 11 seconds Both Europe and Japan have a long history of books, going back more than one thousand years. They evolved independently of each other, but their paths crossed in the 16th century through the Jesuit missionaries who brought not only books but also the printing press itself to Japan. Can you imagine the impact of this cultural and technological encounter? Since this first encounter, books traveled far and wide in both directions, so far and wide, in fact, that Keio University now has a copy of the Gutenberg Bible while the British Library has the unique copy of one of the first book printed with an European printing press in Japan.

Skip to 1 minute and 11 seconds I am Takami Matsuda, the lead educator of the 3-week course that will explore how books travelled in both space and time, to different cultures and to different ages. You will travel with books and see how they bridged the East and the West, and brought the past into our hands. You will also receive an introduction to the comparative study of some of the early printed books in Japan and Europe. How similar or different are the European-type books printed in Japan in the 16th-century from their European counterparts? What traces can we find in the old books that can tell you about past readers and collectors?

Skip to 2 minutes and 11 seconds What are the physical features of the travel books that make them easy to carry on a journey? Finally, in travel fiction, how do illustrations help us imagine the places that we have never been to or can only visit in fantasy? To look for answers to such questions, specialists from Keio University and the British Library join together and collaborate, sharing with learners the experience of actually comparing features of historical books from Europe and Japan, using rare books from both institutions. You will receive a first-hand experience of the encounter with foreign books and through it a foreign culture in the way only books can realize. Please join us and see you at the course.


  • Week 1

    West Met East

    • Getting started

      Let's begin our journey to the world of the book.

    • The materiality of the book, east and west

      Takahiro Sasaki will talk about the first books printed with the European printing press in Japan, using the rare collection in the British Library.

    • Comparing books: east and west

      Let's compare several versions of the Jesuit mission press editions. All are Japanese but with some variation in characters and bindings.

    • Looking into details

      Further comparison between the Jesuit mission press and old movable type in several aspects.

    • Finding similarities

      Now take a closer look into the similarity between the Jesuit mission press edition and the old movable type book.

    • Summary of Week 1

      Let's discuss the influence between different cultures in the books.

  • Week 2

    Travelling Books

    • Introduction to ‘travelling books’

      The book as a printed object outlives its author and can travel for centuries among different readers and owners. Let's think about the books' journey.

    • Antiquarian books beyond the sea: the ideology of collecting

      We will introduce you to the collection of incunabula at Keio, and will also talk about the generous donation of rare books to the University of Tokyo by the British Academy after the giant earthquake hit Tokyo in 1923.

    • Transporting culture: Sir Ernest Mason Satow’s collection

      Takahiro Sasaki will look at the Ernest Satow collection of Japanese classics in the British Library that was the beginning of its Japanese collection.

    • Fragments on the move

      Books are sometimes changing their form while travelling. Let's see how they were transformed and how people collected the fragments of books in Europe and Japan.

    • Summary of Week 2

      We have learnt about the people behind collection building in the late 19th century. Let's reflect upon what we learned.

  • Week 3

    Travel Books

    • Tracing marks in the book

      Let's take a look at how readers left their traces in the book in East and West.

    • Portability and pretext of the book

      We'll introduce books designed and published for travellers in East and West.

    • The mind’s journey and visualising travels

      Reading a book about travelling can take the reader on a journey in the way only the book can do. Travel fictions are often illustrated to help you imagine the place you have never been to or can only go in your imagination.

    • Epilogue

      In conclusion, let’s discuss the future of our journey with books.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explain how books from different cultures interacted and promoted a cultural exchange between the East and the West.
  • Summarise the role of Jesuit missionaries in exchanging book cultures between the East and the West in the 16th century.
  • Compare the European-type books printed in Japan in the 16th-century and their European counterparts.
  • Identify the traces in the early books that can tell you about past readers and collectors.
  • Identify the similarities and differences in the physical features of the travel books that make them easy to carry on a journey.
  • Explore how illustrations in travel books (fiction and non-fiction) help the reader to imagine the places that they have never been to or can visit only in fantasy.
  • Discuss the materiality of the books in the digital era.

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone interested in European and Japanese literature, printing and historical books. Those who want to explore the lessons that can be learned by comparing books from different cultures will especially enjoy it.


We would like to acknowledge the following experts for providing valuable contributions to this course:

  • Kristian Jensen, Former Head of Collections and Curation, the British Library / Chair of the Consortium of European Research Libraries
  • Karen Limper-Herz, Lead Curator, Incunabula & Sixteenth Century Printed Books, Western Heritage Collections, the British Library
  • Hamish Todd, Head of East Asian Collections, the British Library
  • Alessandro Bianchi, Bodleian Japanese Librarian, Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Japanese-English translation by Daichi Ishikawa, an English Literature specialist at Keio University.

Who will you learn with?

I am a Professor at the Faculty of Letters, Keio University and the Director of Keio Museum Commons. I specialize in medieval English literature and book history.

I'm a Professor at Keio University's Institute of Oriental Classics. I'm the lead educator of the courses "Japanese Culture Through Rare Books" and "The Art of Washi Paper in Japanese Rare Books".

I am a Professor of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Keio University Faculty of Letters, and I am doing research of Japanese picture books and picture scrolls.

I'm a Professor at Keio University. My research areas include medieval English literature and early printing. I'm now preparing a catalogue of 16th-century English books in Japanese libraries.

Who developed the course?

Keio University

Keio University is Japan’s first modern institution of higher learning, and since 1858 has established itself as a leader in Japan through its continued commitment to education, research and medicine.

  • Established

  • Location

    Tokyo, Japan
  • World ranking

    Top 200Source: QS World University Rankings 2021

British Library

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world’s greatest research libraries.

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Choose the best way to learn for you!

Subscribe & save

$244.99 for one whole year

Automatically renews

Develop skills to further your career

  • Access to this course
  • Access to 1,000+ courses
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Digital certificate when you're eligible

Cancel for free anytime

Buy this course

$109/one-off payment

Fulfill your current learning need

  • Access to this course
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Printed and digital certificate when you’re eligible

Limited access


Sample the course materials

  • Access expires 19 Jun 2024

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

Sale price available until 3 June 2024 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply.

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

Sale price available until 3 June 2024 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply.

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