One of the greatest but most forgotten cultural common heritages of KU Leuven and UCLouvain is the 1920s Japanese book collection of over 3,100 Japanese titles comprising almost 14,000 volumes as part of the international program that was launched to rebuild the University Library destroyed in 1914 during the Great War.
The precious collection was donated by Japan to symbolize the friendship between Japan and Belgium, after the library of Leuven was completely destroyed and burned during the First World War. Today KU Leuven and UCLouvain have a common objective of strengthening links with Japan and Japanese universities and maximizing the value of the Japanese collection.
To realize the full potential of this important and unique heritage, both universities decided to set up a specific joint fund, the Japan Mirai Fund, with three major goals:
- ensure that the worldwide scientific community can benefit from this unique collection by making it digitally accessible along with Japanese partners such as the National Museum of Japanese History in Sakura;
- establish a new professorship to develop the enormous potential of the 1920s Japanese donation not only for the academic community but also for a wider public in Belgium and beyond;
- increase the visibility of this donation by developing a major exhibition in 2022 and organizing regularly other events around this collection to raise wider public’s awareness of Japanese culture and history.
To realize these three goals, the Japan Mirai Fund is looking for philanthropic support and partners. Just in time for the upcoming 600th anniversary of our university, this fundraising effort will help to honor the centennial of the 1920s Japanese donation as an integral part of our global history.
100 years of history
2026 marks the 100th anniversary of the final book arriving in Leuven. In the seven years it took to complete the donation, a great deal has happened. We look back at a few important milestones and centennial events in the collection's history:
- In 1922, the Japanese National Committee, as part of the international relief efforts of the Oeuvre internationale de Louvain, became operational. Its objective was to help the library of the University of Louvain - KU Leuven’s and UCLouvain’s common ancestor - to get back on its feet. In March of the same year, a pivotal meeting at the Belgian Embassy took place, after which Japan organised a large-scale collection of books and artwork to be donated to Leuven/Louvain.
- 1923 almost meant the end of the project. On 1 September, the disastrous Great Kantō Earthquake devastated large parts of the Tokyo-Yokohama area and also ruined the library of the Tokyo Imperial University, today’s renowned Tokyo University. When Belgium came to Tokyo's aid as part of an international relief effort, the National Committee in Japan decided to go forward with the donation.
- Better news in 1924: a massive shipment of historical books arrived in Leuven, the first of several. It would take the next two years to transfer the entire collection from Japan to Belgium.
- In 1926, the Leuven university received the last book. It marks the completion of the donation, but also the beginning of a promising future of further collaboration.
What’s in a name?
Japan Mirai Fund is not coincidentally the name of this collaborative project. Mirai (未来) means 'future' in Japanese. It represents our forward-driven ethos. With a strong vision for the future, we strive to safeguard the collection, to encourage the research on its heritage and to foster ties between Japan, Belgium and Europe at large.
Together, we build a bridge from yesterday into tomorrow, honoring the heritage from a time that was equally full of challenges as ours, including war and a pandemic, the Spanish-Flu and socio-economic upheaval, and yet full of energy and hope for international cooperation to advance the common goals of humankind.
Make a donation
You can support this fund through a donation to the KU Leuven account number BE45 7340 1941 7789, BIC-code
If you annually donate a minimum of 40 euro, you are entitled to a tax certificate and tax reduction of 45% on the donated