Centuries of Japanese Legal Tradition/数世紀にわたる日本の法的伝統
To the surprise of many of our visitors, the Harvard Law School Library’s collection extends far beyond Magna Carta, trial broadsides, and faculty papers. Centuries of Japanese Legal Tradition features rarely-seen treasures from the Japanese collection. This exhibit draws from a collection of manuscripts, scrolls, and printed books dating from the twelfth to the nineteenth centuries that was acquired circa 1935. According to Mikael Adolphson, historian of medieval Japan, the collection came to Harvard to coincide with its 300th anniversary “as part of a donation from Japan facilitated by Takono Tatsuyuki, a scholar and teacher of Japanese culture and music but was largely forgotten until the 1970s.” At that time, James Kanda, an East Asian Legal Studies research associate at the Harvard Law School, rediscovered the collection and subsequently catalogued it.
Selected from over 300 items, the manuscripts, scrolls, and illustrations on view highlight the scope and depth of this extraordinary collection. To appeal to a large, non-Japanese speaking audience, this exhibit explores the different imagery found throughout the collection. Divided into three components, it first focuses on the hugely transformative moment when Japan opened to the West, ending two centuries of closed-door policy. It goes on to show the more routine aspects of the law, such as land disputes, land surveys, and criminal code. And finally, the exhibit showcases extremely rare scrolls, which are among the oldest items in the Library’s collection.
This exhibit was curated by Sarah Wharton, Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections.
It is on view August 2021 - June 2022, Caspersen Room, Harvard Law School Library.