Interested in Japanese medical history and art? Check out the University of California San Francisco’s (UCSF) Digital Collection of Japanese Woodblock Prints!
In 1963, an East Asian collection was started by UCSF Provost and university librarian, later Chancellor, John B. de C. Saunders, MD. The collection would continue to be developed over the next thirty years by librarian curator Atsumi Minami, who traveled to Japan and China acquiring woodblock prints as well as hundreds of rare Chinese and Japanese medical texts, manuscripts, and painted scrolls.
The Japanese woodblock prints within this collection offer a visual account of Japanese medical knowledge in the late Edo and Meiji periods. The majority of the prints date to the mid-late nineteenth century, when Japan was opening to the West after self-imposed isolation.
In 2003, the California Digital Library funded the project to make digital images of the prints available online. The project involved translating titles of the prints into English, updating the metadata, and digitally photographing the prints among other related tasks to develop the digital library.
The UCSF Japanese Woodblock Print Collection consists of approximately four hundred Japanese woodblock prints on health-related themes (approximately 350 currently available in the digital collection). It is the largest collection of woodblock prints related to health in the United States and an important component of UCSF Library’s East Asian Collection.
Each woodblock print includes the title, creator or contributer, date, and contributing institution. Users can click on the “More Information About This Image” link on each image’s page (shown below) and get more metadata such as subject, type, physical description, language, origin, and collection. Users also have the option of looking at the woodblock print as an image only or with text. Either option may be helpful to the user if they are using an image for a presentation or report.
Search and Navigation
Users have a few options to explore the Japanese Woodblock prints. The first and easiest way is to select the “View Prints” option and scroll the different pages of wood block prints. Once you find an artist’s print you really like, you can copy and paste their name in the search function to find all of the prints available in the digital archive created by the artist.
Another option is to view images by theme: Contagious Disease, Drug Advertisements, Foreigners & Disease, Religion & Health, and Women’s Health. This option is equally helpful for users who are unfamiliar with the wood block prints but interested in searching particular topics.
The search function allows you to enter one or more keywords (subject, artist’s name, etc.) in the search box and choose either “all terms” or “any terms.” The Boolean operands AND & OR are available for users to expand their search results. Additionally, quotation marks can be used for exact phrase searching. Last, but not least, users can use an asterick * for truncated searching. (ex: Budd* will search for terms like Buddhist, Buddhism, Buddha).
Using the search feature can be a bit difficult to a user unfamiliar to the subject or the artists. However, after browsing through several prints and looking at the metadata, any user can quickly become familiar with how the resources are organized and discover artists that you yourself will gravitate to. Once discovered, you can easily view woodblock prints by artists and subjects. I encourage you to check out UCSF’s Japanese Woodblock Print Collection!