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Western Libraries

HIST 374: Premodern Japanese History: Primary Sources

Primary Sources (Selected)

Listed here are examples of primary sources on premodern Japanese history that are available through Western Libraries. It is not a comprehensive list, so please search the catalog or contact the History Librarian and/or your professor for additional suggestions.

Literary and religious sources

Robert E. Morrell, trans. Sand and pebbles (Shasekishu): the tales of Muju Ichien, a voice for pluralism in Kamakura Buddhism

Michael Kelsey, ed. Konjaku monogatari-shu

Shirane, Traditional Japanese literature: an anthology, beginnings to 1600

Donald Keene, Anthology of Japanese literature: from the earliest era to the mid-nineteenth century

Haruo Shirane, Early modern Japanese literature: an anthology, 1600-1900

Sonja Arntzen, trans., The Sarashina diary: a woman’s life in eleventh-century Japan

Richard Bowring, trans., Murasaki Shikibu: her diary and poetic memoirs

Karen Brazell, trans., The confessions of Lady Nijo

Helen Craig McCollough, trans. The tale of the Heike

Ivan Morris, The nobility of failure: tragic heroes in the history of Japan

Basil Hall Chamberlain, trans., Kojiki

W.G. Aston, trans., Nihongi: chronicles of Japan from the earliest times to A.D.697

Kukai with Hakeda Yoshito, Kukai: major works

Helen Craig McCullough, trans., The Taiheiki: a chronicle of medieval Japan

George J. Tanabe, Jr., ed., Religions of Japan in practice

Four Japanese Travel Diaries of the Middle Ages.


Documents, administrative records, and miscellaneous sources

George W. Perkins, The clear mirror: a chronicle of the Japanese court during the Kamakura period

David Lu, Sources of Japanese History

Wm. Theodore de Bary, et al., eds, Sources of Japanese tradition, 2 vols


European accounts

Diary of Richard Cocks, Cape-Merchant in the English Factory in Japan, 1615-1622.

Life and Letters of St. Francis Xavier

Caron, François. A True Description of the Mighty Kingdoms of Japan and Siam.

They Came to Japan: An Anthology of European Reports on Japan, 1543-1640.

Richard Hildreth, Japan As It Was and Is (1855).

The Complete Journal of Townsend Harris, First American Consul and Minister to Japan. 

Narrative of the expedition of an American squadron to the China seas and Japan, performed in the years 1852, 1853, and 1854, under the command of Commodore M. C. Perry (1857).

Engelbert Kaempfer, with Beatrice M. Bodart-Bailey, Kaempfer’s Japan: Tokugawa culture observed


Early modern (Tokugawa) society

Buyō Inshi. Lust, Commerce, and Corruption: An Account of What I Have Seen and Heard.

Musui’s Story: The Autobiography of a Tokugawa Samurai.

A Reader in Edo Period Travel. 

C. N. Vaporis, Voices of Early Modern Japan

Jippensha Ikku with Thomas Satchell, Shanks’ mare: being a translation of the Tokaido volumes of Hizakurige, Japan’s great comic novel of travel & ribaldry

Code of the samurai : a modern translation of the Bushidō shoshinshū

Tokugawa Political Writings.

Law and Justice in Tokugawa Japan: Materials for the history of Japanese law and justice under the Tokugawa Shogunate 1603-1867.


Art and Visual sources

Bradley Smith, Japan: a history in art

Matthew P. McKelway, Capitalscapes: folding screens and political imagination in late medieval Kyoto

The fifty-three stages of the Tokaido

Images from the Floating World: The Japanese Print.

For additional accounts of premodern Japan written by Western travelers, try searching the WWU Libraries database Early English Books Online (for accounts up to 1700) as well as the Hathi Trust Digital Library, which contains published accounts from the late Tokugawa and early Meiji periods.