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Japanese Studies Primary Sources in Western Languages: Home

About this guide

This guide aims to provide an overview of English-language primary source materials in Yale's collections related to the study of Japan. While not comprehensive, the guide lists examples of each type of source: travel accounts, foreign-language newspapers, diaries, diplomatic records, and so on. 

Many people have contributed to this page. Special thanks to Dani Botsman who generously provided his bibliography "Journeys to Japan" and Michael Thornton (former student in the Yale History Department) who created many pages in this guide.

Finding Primary Sources in Orbis

To find primary resources in Orbis, the best way is to use subject headings including but not limited to:

  • sources
  • interviews
  • personal narratives
  • correspondence
  • pamphlets

For example, conduct keyword searches entering words like “Atomic bomb" and "personal narratives."  You will find 42 entries which can be further limited to those only in the English language.


For help with specific subject headings, see Reiko Yoshimura's website, which provides a list of common periodizations and subject headings in the LC classification system. Once you find a document or resource that you are interested in, be sure to check which other subject headings it falls under--many resources are cataloged under several sets of subject headings. You can thus build up a set of useful search terms to find other related resources.


To learn about more techniques, check the Orbis section of Tools for Discovery in the Primary Sources at Yale website.

What Are Primary Sources?

The Primary Sources at Yale site defines a primary source as "providing first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented. Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later." This guide introduces sources such as newspapers, images and government documents that can be used as primary sources, as well as offers some tips to aid in the discovery of other primary sources for conducting research on Japan in English. 


Japanese history and culture from ancient to modern times: Seven basic bibliographies

Dower, J. W.

Markus Wiener Publishers, 1995.

SML, Starr Main Reference Room Z3306 D69 1995

 SML, East Asia Library Reference Z3306 D69 1995  

A comprehensive bibliography of English-language scholarship on Japan. One chapter, “Japan & the Crisis in Asia, 1931-1945: ‘Primary’ Materials in English,” lists varieties of very useful primary resources, and there are also occasional sections of first-hand accounts.


Shulman, Frank Joseph.

Oxford, England ; Santa Barbara, Calif. : Clio Press, c1989.

SML, East Asia Library Reference Z3301 S475 1989 (LC)
Good selections with well organized index by subject.

Sources of Japanese tradition Introduction to Asian civilizations

2nd ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001-2005. 

SML, East Asia Library Reference SML DS821 .S68 2001

v. 1. From earliest times through 1600 -- v. 2. 1600-2000.

Online book is avaliable for volume 1.

This two-volume work is a comprehensive collection of translated excerpts from source materials dating back to the earliest Chinese records of Japan. It can be useful as a bibliographic guide to find full text editions of some sources.


While dated, Henry Smith's homepage contains a large number of bibliographies and other useful references, based on courses at Columbia.


Profile Photo
Haruko Nakamura
Sterling Memorial Library
120 High Street, New Haven, CT
Room 213A
Subjects: East Asian Studies

Research Guides

The printed works listed below contain dated bibliographies, but much of the research advice remains relevant. A useful place to begin is the Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan. Although there is an online version, the print version contains bibliographic listings for each entry, a large number of which are in English. 

For a general introduction to studying and researching Japan, consult Herschel Webb's Research in Japanese Sources: A Guide. Webb discusses a number of problems encountered in Japanese sources, such as how to interpret dates, weights and measures, names and places, and the use of legal, historical and other written sources.

A Guide to Reference Books for Japanese Studies

The International House Library of Japan Library, 1997.

This annotated bibliography, divided into English-language and Japanese-language materials, provides a classified listing of subject-specific bibliographies and reference works generally relating to the humanities and social sciences.

Japan and the Japanese is a useful (though slightly dated) guide to printed reference works about Japan, organized thematically.