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A kind of camellia taken from a book of paintings of Japanese flora executed in Japan in the 17th century and brought to Europe by 1700.

Richard Cocks was the head of the English Factory in Japan for the ten years of its operation, from 1613 to 1623. Soon after his arrival he began sending Japanese books back to England and some of them survive to this day. Why did he do it, since he must have known that nobody in England could read a word of them? He sent them to prominent people and one of them showed a Japanese almanac sent by Cocks to King James I, who was unimpressed. In this talk, Professor Peter Kornicki shall explore how and why the books reached England and what subsequently became of them. 

About the speaker: Professor Peter Kornicki is an Emeritus Professor of Japanese. Educated at St George’s College, Weybridge, and Lincoln College, Oxford, he has taught at the University of Tasmania, Kyoto University and then, from 1985, at Cambridge, where he has been a fellow of Robinson College since 1986. He has lived six years in Japan, mostly in Kyoto. He has published extensively on the history of the book in Japan and, more recently, on translation and interlingual transactions in East Asia. His monographs include The Book in Japan: from the Beginnings to the Nineteenth Century (1998) and Languages, Scripts and Chinese Texts in East Asia (2018) and he has been the coeditor of several collections of essays including The Female as Subject: Reading and Writing in Early Modern Japan (2010) and Eavesdropping on Emperor (2021), a study of wartime Japanese courses in Britain and the roles of linguists as codebreakers, translators, interrogators and eavesdroppers. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and in 2017 the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon, was conferred on him by the Japanese Ambassador in London.

This event is being hosted as part of Cambridge University Libraries' exhibition, Samurai: History and Legend. Samurai are a well-known image of Japan, but they are as much legend as history. Our exhibition explores the literary heritage of the samurai and the changing nature of Japanese warrior history and culture from the 12th to the 19th centuries.

Queries relating to this event can be directed to

Venue: This event is being hosted online via Zoom Webinars. 

Registration: This event is free and open to all. Registration is required – click here to register.

Accessibility: Zoom’s Live Transcript service will be available.

Date: Thursday 3 February 2022