Librarying in Japan

by: Sarah Kortemeier, Library Specialist

Sarah in Museum of Haiku Literature

In January 2016, I traveled to Japan on a Special Project Fellowship funded by the Arizona Library Association’s Horner Fellowship Committee. The goal was to study Japanese poetry collections in their natural habitats: since poetry has such a long and illustrious history in Japan, I was interested to see how libraries and museums worked with the poetry artifacts in their collections.

I had only a week in Tokyo, but it was an awesome week—involving a lot of food, as pictured. (Ruth Stephan tells us that poetry is the food of the spirit, which is absolutely right. But you know what is also the food of the spirit? Chocolate sauce on fries. I have layers, y’all.)


Over the course of the week, I visited the National Diet Library, the Museum of Haiku Literature, Tokyo National Museum, the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, the Museum of Modern Literature, the Kenji Miyazawa Museum, the Bashō Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Japanese Poetry, Tanka and Haiku. All these institutions had gorgeous examples of manuscript poetry, particularly classical waka, tanka, and haiku; there were some innovative and wonderful interactive exhibits on display, particularly at the Museum of Contemporary Japanese Poetry, Tanka and Haiku, which showcased a series of tanka in wall-mounted boxes with lights, photographs, and (in one case) a kaleidoscope showing behind the poems.



I also had a chance to visit several bookstores, and to pick up quite a few works of Japanese poetry in translation for the Poetry Center Library. Special thanks to Colleen Burns, who told me to track down a copy of Katsumi Komagata’s wonderful pop-up book Little Tree, and to Japanese librarian and former Horner Fellow Yuka Sugimoto for actually going out and finding the book for me in a remote shop in the Tokyo suburbs. Little Tree is now a treasured addition to our Rare Book Room.

For a fuller account of my project and the places I visited (including more photos!), see my report to the Horner Fellowship Committee. I’m hugely grateful to the Committee, as well as to the Poetry Center and the International Relations Committee of the Japan Library Association, for their support of this project; and a warm thank-you, as well, to poets Sawako Nakayasu, Jesse Glass, Katsumasa Nishihara, Bill Elliott, and Naomi Shihab Nye for coffee, hospitality, and some really glorious conversation during my stay.