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D-Lib Magazine
March/April 2008

Volume 15 Number 3/4

ISSN 1082-9873

The UCSF Japanese Woodblock Print Collection

Contributed by
Lisa A. Mix
Manager, Archives & Special Collections
UCSF Library and Center for Knowledge Management

Japanese Woodblock Print

Oranda-jin no zu ("Hollanders"), c. 1800. Courtesy of the East Asian Collection, Library and Center for Knowledge Management, University of California, San Francisco. Used with permission.

The UCSF Library and Center for Knowledge Management holds a collection of 400 Japanese woodblock prints, ranging from the 17th through the early 20th century. It is the most extensive collection of Japanese woodblock prints on the subject of health and medicine in the United States.

The collection is of interest to scholars of Asian medicine, the history of medicine, Asian religion and Japanese art. It has attracted the interest of health care practitioners, especially those interested in Traditional Chinese Medicine or Complimentary/Alternative Medicine.

With funding from the California Digital Library (CDL), the UCSF Archives & Special Collections conducted a project to produce digital images of each print in the collection and make them available on the web.

The digitization project was a collaborative process, involving several University of California campuses and external vendors. Digital photography was outsourced to UC Merced, as the Library staff there was experienced in photographing Asian art. UC Merced staff also supplied the technical metadata.

For preparing METS objects, UCSF arranged with the Digital Publishing Group (DPG) at UC Berkeley to use their digital assets database, WebGenDB, to manage the metadata. UCSF Special Collections staff prepared the descriptive metadata for each print and entered it into WebGenDB. DPG staff prepared the final METS objects, associating the descriptive metadata with the digital images and technical metadata.

In July 2006 the images of the prints became available through the CDL's site, Calisphere, which presents digital objects from several cultural institutions throughout California.

Japanese Woodblock Print

Bōji yōjō; kagami ("Diet advice for a healthy sex life"), 1855. Courtesy of the East Asian Collection, Library and Center for Knowledge Management, University of California, San Francisco. Used with permission.

Our next aim was to develop a UCSF-hosted portal to the collection, with added contextual information. To develop the site, UCSF staff worked with staff at the CDL using CDL's Interface Customization Tools. While the UCSF Library hosts the website, the digital objects reside on, and are delivered by the CDL's server. When accessed through UCSF's site, the digital objects carry the UCSF Japanese Woodblock Print Collection "brand", and retain the look and feel of the UCSF site.

The UCSF Japanese Woodblock Print Collection website went live on October 1, 2007. Visitors to the website may search for prints by keyword or artist, view prints by theme, and read essays about the five major subject areas in the collection. The digital images also continue to be accessible through Calisphere, giving the best of both worlds.

The collection is strong in five major subject areas, each with a section on the website:

Contagious disease: Seventy-seven prints in the collection relate to contagious diseases: measles, smallpox, and cholera. Most deal with causes and cures, and contain a mixture of folk belief and health advice. Several of the measles prints address diet, as certain foods were believed to be good or bad for measles patients. There are 11 prints dealing with smallpox, of which 4 are the traditional red "Hōsō-e" ("smallpox print").

Drug Advertisements: Over 150 of the prints in the collection are advertisements for drugs, often new Western drugs in powder or pill form. Many of the advertisements are colorful scenes showing geisha, actors, ordinary people, or figures from history and legend. Some of the drug advertisements are text-based and contain factual information about the drugs.

Japanese Woodblock Print

Utagawa, Yoshitora, fl. 1850-1870, Hashika yōjōben ("Advice on caring for measles patients"), 1862. Courtesy of the East Asian Collection, Library and Center for Knowledge Management, University of California, San Francisco. Used with permission.

Foreigners: The influence of Westerners, especially the Dutch, is a theme that pervades the collection. In addition to prints depicting European traders, the collection contains 8 maps showing the man-made island of Dejima, in Nagasaki harbor. The Dutch were confined to this island, in large part to keep foreign diseases from infecting the Japanese populace.

Religion: Religion intersects with health in many of the prints in the collection. Shinto and Buddhist deities are portrayed as protectors and healers, as well as inflictors of disease. Some of the prints bring together traditional folk beliefs with modern cures – drugs, many introduced by western visitors.

Women's Health: Thirty-six of the prints relate to women's health, including vivid depictions of the stages of pregnancy and scenes of childbirth. Other prints include advertisements for various drugs and beauty products, advice on nutrition, and instructions for child care.

These subjects overlap and intersect in several of the prints. Other topics in the collection include diet and nutrition, child care, and an almost-complete set of Hiroshige's Uo-zukushi ("A Shoal of Fishes"). The opening of Japan to the west is a recurrent theme throughout, as the bulk of the prints date from that era.

The homepage for the UCSF Japanese Woodblock Print Collection is

Copyright© 2008 The Regents of the University of California

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