Fauna and Flora in Illustrations

Natural History of the Edo era

This digital exhibition is based on the catalog of the special exhibition 『描かれた動物・植物 : 江戸時代の博物誌』, which was held at the National Diet Library in 2005.


Natural history generally includes both the biological and geological sciences, and the works of Edo-period naturalists describe plants, animals, and minerals as well as how these things were used for clothing, food, housing, and medication, not to mention in literature and leisure activities. In this sense, natural history includes elements of our cultural heritage and eloquently describes the richness of the natural environment, which has been and should always be a precious resource for humans, past, present, and future.

The majority of materials included in this exhibition come from the Edo period, at which time numerous books relevant to natural history were authored. Despite the ravages of natural disasters and human warfare, significant volumes of historical materials have been preserved and are available for study by modern scholars. In particular, the National Diet Library holds thousands of volumes from the personal libraries of SHIRAI Mitsutaro and ITO Keisuke, which are considered to be primary sources in Japanese natural history.

This exhibition centers around illustrations of flora and fauna and includes as many rare and uncommon items as possible, particularly from materials written by well-known Edo-period naturalists like ONO Ranzan (小野蘭山), KURIMOTO Tanshu (栗本丹洲), MORI Baien (毛利梅園), and ITO Keisuke (伊藤圭介). Works on minerals, on how plants and animals were used in medicine and agriculture, or treatises describing famine-resistant crops are beyond the scope of this exhibition.

The exhibition is organized into four sections: an introduction and three chapters, covering about 180 items in total. The following table contains a description of each section.

The NDL Image Bank is a public-domain digital gallery of the National Diet Library, the national library in Japan. Our website has thousands of out-of-copyright Japanese artworks and images from our library’s extensive collection!

The NDL Gallery is online content that you can enjoy using the digitized materials of the National Diet Library. It also provides information on exhibitions in the National Diet Library.

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