By Rosina Buckland
(with some updates for late 2005 by Henry Smith)
I. Information and Images On-line
A) Japanese sites with images and/or database
B) Sites outside Japan with images and/or database
C) Other sites
II. Published Information
A) Catalogues in Japan
B) Catalogues outside of Japan
C) Selections of masterpieces
Increasingly, catalogues of holdings are being transferred to computer databases, allowing an incredible amount of potential in terms of rapid search facilities. Good programs allow for the insertion of free-form notations (and images), and include bibliographical, geographical, and biographical authorities. Largely due to security reasons, however, very few institutions have their in-house collections database on-line, but an increasing number are making available on their website a specially created one. The nature of these databases varies: some provide only the barest information on each piece, some include images, and others go further, aiming to be useful tools in both research and education. The most sophisticated have fully cross-referenced text entries, bibliographic references, and links to definitions, encyclopedias, and order-forms for images.
By the very nature of the Internet, much of the following information will be superseded fairly quickly. The sites discussed here are pioneers, however, and will probably remain ahead of the later developers.
"Cultural Heritage Online" is now (as of late 2005) up and running
as a proper web site, although
it is still announced as a "trial site" and very far from a common
catalog of all museum holdings in Japan. But it is a nicely
site, and worth following. At this stage, it is still Japanese
The search interface is divided by area of origin (limited to Japan,
Korea, and China), by "type" (bun'ya,
itself an interesting example of the way in which "cultural heritage"
is classified). The advanced search also enables other variables, such
as producer and title. At the moment, there are a total of 3541 items
from Japan, 273 from China, and 38 from Korea. Images are always
provided, but even those with enlargements are basically for web
viewing rather than serious study. It would appear that certain museums
(most or all of which seem to be public) have donated much more data
than others, so the resulting array is rather lopsided. It will be
interesting to see how this project evolves.
rev. hds2 Nov 05
Two of the Nichibunken on-line databases contain a large number of
Both require that one first register in order to use the databases, a
which takes 2-3 business days. Use the English site, and go to the
"Databases" tab, then follow the instructions after that.
Early Photographs: This large collection of old photos of
Japan had a total 5,431 items, and appears to be a potentially rich
resource. Unfortunately, it
is extremely difficult to search without having a precise idea of what
you are looking for, since there are no lists of categories,
photographers, or periods. The problem is compounded by the fact that
many of the titles are only in English, and some only in Japanese, so
Japanese or English keywords are likely to produce completely different
results. Nor is the origin of the collection explained anywhere on the
Nichibunken website. For each photo, a thumbnail plus an enlargement is
provided. The enlarged views vary in size, but tend to be in the range
of 500 x 700 pixels, enough for decent detail. Still, the difficulty of
searching makes this very much a hit-or-miss resource.
The Masterworks feature (Meihin shokai) has "detailed graphic and text introductions to over one hundred of the finest masterpieces in the Kyoto National Museum collection." Good quality, large reproductions (including detail shots). Pieces are organized by school.
The On-line Catalogue, however, is the real treat on this site. This
wonderful resource has over 10,000 images of 2,000 (sets of) objects.
is a keyword search or a category search, which has plenty of criteria,
including artist, medium, country/period, and donor. There appears to
no difference between the Japanese and English versions.
500 of the "works of art, archaeological relics, and other cultural
assets" can be viewed on-line. They are organized by medium and region.
This is a 'masterworks' feature really, with no search facility. In
Japanese and English.
Database (under "情報検索" to "収蔵品検索") has 6,500
objects, including nihonga, yoga, watercolors, drawings,
prints, sculpture, and calligraphy; searches are possible by artist,
or date. Images are not usually provided. One convenient feature is a
link to biographies of artists that have appeared in museum catalogs,
which in effect constitutes a biographical index of modern Japanese
The strength of this museum's collection is Buddhist works of art.
Masterworks page (only in Japanese at the moment) introduces 162
from a total of 1,200. Organized by medium, with large photographs,
details and textual explanation.
Has over 1,000 objects in its database; most have just object
some have images, too. They aim to include bibliography, biographical,
and provenance information, where possible.
This museum is creating an on-line database of the entire
though has only a-gyô and
ka-gyô nihonga artists
so far. The pieces are also organized by medium, and some have images.
This site has a 'Selection of 100 Pieces", which is still under
One to watch.
Has a searchable database, but with a limited number of images.
are full listings of works in the collection by medium, though (so far,
modern paintings, drawings, and 3D objects).
Has several tens of its masterpieces on the website, divided into
different media, each with explanatory text, same on both Japanese and
English versions of the site.
A fair number of images from its collections of Chinese, Japanese,
Korean ceramics, with explanatory text in Japanese for each.
Although not too easy to find on the website, the British Museum's
project is well on the way to having 5,000 objects on-line, of which
almost 500 are Japanese. The entry for each object provides a good
explanatory text and a link to a larger image (600 x 600 pixels,
inadequate for any real detail on larger-format objects), plus detail
shots of signatures/seals
for many works. Cross-references are provided to a comprehensive
encyclopedia. Various search options are available,
including Boolean operators and wildcard searches. This of course
represents only a small sampling of the BM's huge Japanese collection,
but it is useful for an overview and as a good source of basic
information on genres and artists.
The best single English-language site for a general introduction to
Japanese prints, covering not only ukiyo-e prints, but
also shin-hanga and sosaku hanga. It is very well-designed and
easy-to-use, providing encyclopedic information for individual artists
and topics. The images are mostly small and for illustrative purposes.
The page on "other sites" is a good guide to the many other
ukiyo-related web sites in English. This site is particularly useful
for introducing ukiyo-e to students in English.
Known for the renowned von Siebold collection. 190,000 objects in
on-line database, with images. Text is only in Dutch, however. 133,376
objects are Asian.
The ImageBase on this site has over 75,000 photographs of objects
the collections of the de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor, in an
"to behave more like a resource and less like a repository". The images
are made available in a special viewer that enables successive zooming
in to details of very good resolution (at over 2X actual size for
ukiyo-e prints). The Japanese objects are predominantly
woodblock prints. A search for 'Japan' produced 3,604 hits [3760 in Nov
From April 2000, all Visual Archives staff were redirected to the
to put records on-line with images. In the December 2000 launch, 15,000
object records (of a total of 350,000) were made accessible on the
These have the standard details of materials, dimensions, as well as
history. Only about a third have images, however, and only a couple of
hundred are Japanese. There is full text search or advanced search,
various data fields.
(Nov. 2005): Go to "Collections," then "Arts of Asia," and under
"sub-sections" are several categories of Japanese art, each of which
(except for the overall "Japanese Art" section) had a "Highlights"
section with selected items, totally over 500 in all. It remains a
"Masterworks" approach that only hints at the vast numbers of items in
the Japanese collection, but even this limited selection is very
valuable. Almost all provide photographs, with JPEG enlargements up to
800 x 800 (with elongated formats like scrolls, which are very
numerous, generally limited to 400 pixels in the narrow dimension),
which are very good for screen projection but inadequate for close
study. Most distinctive is the collection of "Japanese Postcards" from
an exhibition of the Lauder Collection held in early 2004, which
because of the small format offer good detail at the enlarged size.
A center established in 1997 by Dr. Kurt A. Gitter and Alice Rae Yelen. The web-site has 280 paintings on-line, with a tour organized by school (Zenga, Nanga, Rinpa, Eccentrics, Ukiyo-e, and Maruyama-Shijo). The images are good quality, and there are basic details on the works. No search facility.
2,000 objects on-line, 100 of these are Japanese (many woodblock prints). Basic details are given.
The 'Images Online' feature has over 2,000 objects, and 66 are from
Japan. Fairly good quality images, with minimal details. Unfortunately,
using the back function loses all search results obtained.
UPDATE: As of late
2005, the image database (go from "Collection" to "Access to Images")
had 629 images listed as "Japan," including 215 ukiyoe plus many other
craft objects. The images are of high quality (768 x 768 pixels), and
downloadable. It is reported that the digitization of the entire
ukiyo-e collection (which is huge) is now in progress, and will
probably be made available online eventually.
The 'on-line collection' has 3,500 objects at present. One can
a department for highlights, take the director's tour, or search.
are accompanied by explanatory text. Unfortunately, of the Department
East Asian Art's 60,000 objects, only 50 are here, and only 12 of those
are Japanese. An image database is being created at a rate of 12,000
a year, but this will be accessible only in-house. UPDATE: As of late 2005, nothing
seems any better in terms of public access.
A small selection, about 50 works, of the collection of over 500 paintings, and some netsuke, too. The images are arranged by artist, subject (people/animals/landscape) or historical period. There are detail shots of seals, too.
This site has a searchable database for artist, title, or medium, and listed under the Japanese collection are 48 objects (from Jomon to Meiji; ceramics and paintings). Each has a large, sharp image, object details, and explanatory text.
A growing collection of on-line (small-size) images of woodblock prints, currently over 400. Organized by artist and subject.
Has 30 pieces from its exhibition, Setsugekka, on-line, with fairly small images of each piece, and long textual explanations. Includes Rinpa paintings, and ceramics.
The only Japanese images appear to be several tens of photographs
in Japan in 1908 by Arnold Genthe.
UPDATE FALL 2005: The
AMICO database has been considerably expanded since 2000 to include
many more images of Asian art. Meanwhile, however, in 2004 the database
was incorporated into ARTstor, but at the same time preserved online as
a separate database by David Rumsey's Cartography Associates under
the slightly revised name of "AMICA" (American Museum Images at
Cartography Associates). It continues to be available via the Columbia
Library Web databases at the link above.
Even sites without a sizable number of images can be of use for obtaining information quickly on the content and history of the collection. Most sites for institutions with an Asian collection include a page on its particular strengths, significant donors and important dates (usually to be found under the 'Collections' option). Many include just a handful of images in order to give a 'taster' to the non-specialist; Japanese sites often include their best/most famous works.
An important and well-maintained site, particularly for current
information on jobs, calls for symposium papers, upcoming conferences,
descriptions of graduate student programs, and links to all sorts of
museums and other resources in Chinese and Japanese History. It is
maintained by Nixi Cura of the Institute of Fine Arts,
A portal to the web-sites of most major museums and galleries (and many others) around the world, organized by country.
A very useful site with several thousand links, organized by type or country.
Another site providing links to most of the museums and galleries in Japan. Some links need updating, however, and others are just to a page of information, rather than an institution's actual homepage.
At the moment there are only a handful of images for each culture, but the museum is working on digitizing the whole collection.
A) Catalogues of Collections in Japan
The ideal catalogue includes every piece in the collection, with accompanying details on artist, subject, materials, dimensions, and illustration (if only in black-and-white), together with an artist index. It should be remembered that the major objects in many collections will be illustrated in exhibition catalogues or 'masterpiece' volumes in color and with accompanying text.
This is only a very small sample selection of the many such works available from Japanese institutions (drawn from the British Museum's departmental library).
Note: In the entries below, the institution itself is editor and/or publisher where none is specified.
A series of volumes showcasing the entire holdings, divided into the various media. Sometimes has a few color plates, but the vast majority b/w. Details are in Japanese and English, index of artists and/or subjects.
Textiles and Lacquerware (1985), Painting (1990), Sculpture and Architecture (1993). Lists at the back in English, but no index.
B/w record of the entire holdings over several volumes.
A series of volumes covering the complete collection, organized by medium. Volumes start with a few color plates, then the rest b/w. A useful feature is that inscriptions are transcribed. Only titles given in English. List of works in Japanese.
A much-awaited publication of the contents of the imperial collections, across the media. Large illustrations, all color, detailed text in Japanese. Supplementary leaflet has list of all works in Japanese and English.
1 - 3. Painting; 4. Sculpture and crafts; 5. Imperial letters; 6 - 9. Wall paintings; 10 - 12. Calligraphy; 13. Chinese art.
Complete catalog of the collection; organized by Japanese or foreign, then by medium (paintings, sculpture, prints, calligraphy). All b/w.
The complete collection of 7, 329 objects; very small b/w images. Details in Japanese and English. Pre-modern works organized by medium; modern ones by artist. Starr Library does have a book of the "masterpieces" of this museum, Fukuoka-shi Bijutsukan shozo 80-sen = Eighty masterpieces from Fukuoka Art Museum (1980), call no. N3750.F84 A56 1980.
Each volume in this series covers a particular area of the collection: for example genre paintings, ceramics, sengai. Some have a selection of objects, with color plates and text, others have the full inventory with b/w illustrations.
Similar volumes (single or in series) for other institutions can usually be located in library catalogs by the museum or gallery name, and often by '(sho)zôhin mokuroku'.
A useful institution located in Minato-ku, Tokyo, providing
catalogs of art institutions in Japan, as well as exhibitions catalogs
both Japan and overseas. The library catalog is accessible via the
UPDATE: According to an
announcement at http://www.acejapan.or.jp/acl/index.html,
the Art Catalog Library was closed in October 2004, and its functions
will continue in the new National Art Center, Tokyo (in Japanese,
Kokuritsu Shin Bijutsukan, "National New Museum of Art," see http://www.nact.jp), which was first
proposed in 1995 and is scheduled to open in 2006. Meanwhile, the
overseas component of the project to collect exhibition catalogs, the
JAC Project, will continue, and the overseas collection being
maintained at the Freer Gallery (and at the University of Pittsburgh
for Japanese catalogs of western art exhibitions). The Tokyo collection
will be reopened in the National Art Center.
Several institutions outside Japan have now had their entire holdings published, usually by Japanese publishers, and with the emphasis on paintings.
B/w illustrations, details in Japanese and English. List of works and artist index. Organized by medium and school. A very useful and important series on foreign collections, but now apparently out of print.
1. Painting and Sculpture of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New
2. Painting and Sculpture of the Mary and Jackson Burke Collection and the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, New York. 1992
3. Painting and Sculpture of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 1993
4. Painting of the Price Collection. 1994
5. Painting and Sculpture in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. 1995
6. Paintings of Musée National des Arts Asiatiques - Guimet, Paris. 1996
7. Applied arts and sculpture in the Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst der Stadt Köln. 1999
8. Painting in the Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst der Stadt Köln. 1999
The definitive record of some of the holdings (mostly paintings) of
what is held to be the
collection of Japanese art outside Japan. Part I covers Buddhist
masks, ink paintings, early Kano, Rinpa while the second volume covers
Edo period paintings of the Kano-ha, Tosa, Sumiyoshi, and Fukko
Yamato-e schools. The text volume is available
English. Neither have indexes.
These volumes catalog Japanese works of art in five Russian and East
European museums: Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; State Hermitage
Museum; The Náprstek
Museum; National Gallery, Prague; and Ferenc Hopp Museum of
Eastern Asiatic Arts (Budapest). All works are illustratred in color,
about six to a page, and
cover paintings, ceramics, and netsuke, although the great majority are
ukiyoe prints. There are introductory essays in
Japanese on the collections by curators in the institutions concerned.
The ukiyoe in these collections are all included in the following
Some of the images are in the Nichibunken web-site database (see
One volume in English, one in Japanese. This is an index of all
ukiyo-e prints in foreign collections that have been published in the
following four multi-volume publications:
A very useful volume bringing together the results of a questionnaire sent out to institutions all over Europe, listing anything Japan-related from Belarus to the Vatican City. Organized by country, and then alphabetically. Information given typically includes a breakdown of the holdings by medium, details of record format, a list of exhibitions, and sometimes comments.
107 of the most notable pieces in Canada at the time of compilation. B/w illustrations, with text on each piece.
A very strong collection; this catalogue was printed in limited quantities, however.
Full details of the contents of the series are included here to give an idea of the breadth of institutions covered, and for ease of finding/ordering volumes.
Taken from nearly all the great collections of 'floating world pictures' outside Japan, and one from within. Each has well over a hundred illustrations in color (with explanatory text), then many more in b/w. Index volume lists works by artist.
1 - 3. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; 4 - 6. Art Institute of Chicago; 7. Metropolitan Museum of Art/New York Public Library; 8. Fogg Art Museum, Harvard Uni./Worcester Art Museum/Yale Univ. Art Gallery/Philadelphia Museum of Art; Nelson-Atkins Museum; 9. Minneapolis Institute of Fine Arts/Portland Art Museum/Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Art/Allen Memorial Art Museum/Cleveland Museum of Art; 10. Honolulu Academy of Arts/Edwin & Irma Crabhorn Collection; 11. British Museum/Ashmolean Museum/Victoria & Albert Museum/Fitzwilliam Museum; 12. Musée Guimet/Bibliothèque Nationale; 13. Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, Bruxelles/Bibliothèque Royal Albert 1er/Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam/Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden; 14. Museen für Ostasiatische Kunst in Berlin und Köln/Kunsthalle, Bremen/Museum für kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg/Museum Rietberg, Zürich/Österreiches Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Wien; 15. Tokyo National Museum; 16. Freer Gallery of Art (paintings); Additional (2 vols.) - MFA, Boston. Index volume by artist
Kôdansha really has cornered the market now in producing outstanding series of volumes of paintings and prints, making accessible the treasures of Japanese art in both European and Japanese collections. Each has a large number of big, color illustrations, then plenty more in b/w, resulting in a much higher number of pieces than many 'masterpiece' volumes. Details are in Japanese and English; explanatory text (for color plates) and thematic essays in Japanese by leading art historians. Volumes are often introduced by essays on the history of the collections. Works are listed at the end.
1. British Museum (screens and Buddhist paintings); 2. British Museum (handscrolls); 3. British Museum (hanging scrolls); 4. British Library/Ashmolean Museum/Victoria & Albert Museum; 5. Chester Beatty Library; 6. Musée Guimet; 7. Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst / Staatsbibliotek, Berlin; 8. Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst, Köln; 9. Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden; 10. National Museum, Cracow; 11. Österreiches Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Vienna / Náprstek Museum and National Gallery, Prague / Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest; 12. Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg / Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Kupferstich Kabinett / Linden-Museum, Stuttgart / Staatliches Museum für Volkerkunde/Museo d'Arte Orientale "Edoardo Chiossone" / Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Hand-scrolls and albums have b/w reference photographs showing the entire work.
1. British Museum (paintings); 2 & 3. British Museum (prints); 4. Victoria & Albert Museum (paintings & prints); 5. Victoria & Albert Museum (prints); 6. Musée Guimet (paintings & prints); 7. Musée Guimet (prints); 8. Bibliotècque National, Paris; 9. Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, Bruxelles; 10. Genoa Museum of Far Eastern Art (paintings & prints); 11. Genoa Museum of Far Eastern Art (prints); 12. Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst, Berlin; Additional - Chester Beatty Library and Gallery of Oriental Art, Dublin/ Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst, Köln/Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Index volume by artist, with a guide to collections of ukiyo-e in Europe, by country and with address and brief description.
Ukiyo-e paintings in Japanese collections.
1 & 2. Tokyo kokuritsu hakubutsukan; 3. Idemitsu bijutsukan; 4. MOA bijutsukan; 5. Ôta kinen bijutsukan/Hokusai-kan/Itabashi kuritsu bijutsukan; 6. Azabu bijutsu kôgeikan; 7. Mannô bijutsukan; 8. Nyû Ôtani bijutsukan; 9. Nara kenritsu bijutsukan/Kyôtô furitsu sôgô shiryôkan; 10. Chiba-shi bijutsukan
286 paintings illustrated in color, with b/w references plates. Explanatory texts in Japanese. An important series because of the quality of the Boston collection.
Masterpieces of Kyoto National Museum. 1990.
Call no: N3750.K93 A56 1990g
Organized by gallery and medium; as well as Japanese objects, it includes Chinese, Indian, and Korean works. List of plates.
Lavishly produced volume, with 293 objects of paintings, calligraphy, ceramics, lacquer, musical instruments, masks, robes, and swords. Full color with Japanese text.
Two works in the Avery Fine Arts collection probably duplicate much of this material:
Tokugawa Bijutsukan. The Shogun Age Exhibition, from the
Art Museum (1983)
Call no.: FINE ARTS --- N7353 T569
Tokugawa Bijutsukan. The Japan of the Shoguns : The Tokugawa
Call no.: FINE ARTS --- N 1060 J2N13T5 T57
Organized by era and medium, this represents the strengths of the
but also serves as a general introduction to Japanese art. 250 objects,