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Japanese Studies Primary Sources in Western Languages: Travel Accounts

Useful databases

Finding/Identifying Travel Accounts

Travel accounts may include journal entries, letters or published material produced during or after a journey. In addition to the collections listed below, search Orbis using a subject search such as 'Japan--Description and Travel'. Note that below the initial entry, which contains over a thousand records, the subject headings are further refined by sub-headings. After clicking on an entry, you can limit the records by language using the 'Post Limit' feature at the top right of the page.

The earliest Western accounts of Japan date from the mid-16th century. There is a large body of Japanese travel writing, some of which exists in English translation. In addition to textual material, there are collections of photographs and other visual work that may also provide a useful perspective. The Map Collection contains both Japanese and foreign maps from the last several centuries.


Yale holds original copies of many early accounts, often in the Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library or the British Art Center collections. Many of these works, however, also exist as Yale Internet Resources. Note that travel accounts often exist in large collections spanning several countries or areas. A large manuscript or archival collection may only contain a few pages relevant to Japan.

Examples of Special Collections at Yale

Japan through Western eyes: manuscript records of traders, travelers, missionaries and diplomats, 1853-1941 

DIVINITY, Special Collections

A collection of diaries, journals and letters of Western visitors and residents in Japan. The collection includes accounts of daily life in Japan, material about missionary activities, and the writings of diplomats and long-term residents of Japan discussing the impact of Westerners on Japanese society, as well as the history of the foreign communities in Japan.

Online guide available through

Samuel Wells Williams Family Papers

Manuscripts and Archives

Include correspondence and other papers relating to Samuel Wells Williams' work as interpreter on Matthew C. Perry's expedition to Japan (1853-54), with long descriptions of his activities and his impressions of Japan and Japanese society.

Hooker Family Papers

Manuscripts and Archives

Include a notebook describing US Navy Commander Edward Hooker's visit to Japan in 1868.

Todd Family Papers

Manuscripts and Archives

David Peck Todd, astronomer and college professor, travelled to Japan in 1887 and 1896 to photograph solar eclipses. Papers of his wife, Mabel Loomis Todd, who lectured and wrote popular articles on Japan, are also included.


Japan and America, c1930-1955: the Pacific War and the Occupation of Japan. Series One. The Papers of General Robert L. Eichelberger (1886-1961) from the William R. Perkins Library, Duke University.

Available at Yale in the SML Microform Collection

Journeys to Japan

Created by Professors Daniel Botsman and Rustin Gates (Bradley University), this bibliography contains dozens of Western accounts of travel to Japan, beginning in the 16th century. The sources are grouped chronologically, and are linked to their respective Orbis records.

Japanese Sources

Japanese travel accounts range from literary journals to the memoirs of Japanese castaways and fanciful accounts of the outside world.


Between 1913 and 1917 the Japanese Railway Bureau produced an official guide to East Asia to rectify errors prevalent in Western-language travel guides. The five volumes cover Manchuria & Chosen, southwestern Japan, northeastern Japan, China, and the East Indies.

Missionary Records

The Yale Divinity Library contains the records of several missionary groups active in Japan.

The archives of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) contain 42 reels related to 19th century Japan. Materials include letters, reports, and other documentation of church activities in Japan. See this guide for more specifics. Film Ms32

The archives of the Church Missionary Society (CMS), a British agency, include the records of the Loochoo Naval Mission 1843-1861 and the Japan Mission of 1887-1915. Specific accounts include missionaries' journals, the papers of the CMS school in Osaka, and mission station reports from various cities across Japan. See the two-part online guide: part one and part two. Film Ms109 Section 1, reels 1-29

The archives of the Board of Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church, an American group, date from 1887. Film Ms170