By Hiroshi Hiramatsu / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterDaito Bunka University’s Beatrix Potter Reference Library, which opened in April 2006 in Higashimatsuyama, Sai-tama Prefecture, is dedicated to the work of British writer and illustrator Beatrix Potter (1866-1943), creator of the widely read “Peter Rabbit” picture books. English literature expert Prof. Yoshihide Kawano has assembled a collection of valuable items, including a first-edition copy of “Peter Rabbit” and original pictures from the popular book series. With more than 150 items in its collection, the library provides information about the life and creative background of the acclaimed author.
The library’s building and garden are modeled on the author’s home at Hill Top farm in England’s Lake District. Wisteria vines that bloom in spring climb to the second floor of the building and the large garden is filled with a variety of flowers such as rose and lavender. Honeybees and butterflies flutter around the vegetable garden, in which tomatoes and onions are grown.
At the entrance, visitors are greeted by a diorama of the garden, featuring some of the animals that appeared in Potter’s stories, including a rabbit trying to escape the clutches of a character from one of her books.
Visitors can also see early drafts of “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” and a letter signed by Potter, as well as self-published versions of the picture-book alongside the first commercial edition published in London in 1902. The reference library is the only place in the world where both the privately published version and the first commercial edition are exhibited together, according to the library. Because of the popularity of Potter’s picture books, unauthorized versions have often been printed, some of which are displayed at the library.
Hand-drawn sketches and watercolor prints that have appeared in her books are also included in the library’s collection, as well as letters she had written to the children of friends.
The library, which is located in Saitama Children’s Zoo, was initially worried about the risk of insects damaging items in the collection. Despite such concerns, the university settled on its current location: “This is the best place to understand the world of Peter Rabbit and Potter because the area is full of nature and animals,” said Akane Suzuki, 26, a curator at the library.
Beatrix Potter Reference Library
Potter, who was born into a wealthy family and privately educated, was interested in insects and animals rather than playing with friends. Some of her sketches, among other items, are displayed with details about her personal history at the library.
Address: 554, Iwadono, Higashimatsuyama, Saitama Prefecture (Located in Saitama Children’s Zoo)
Open: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (to 4:30 p.m. in winter. Closed on Mondays and the year-end and New Year holidays)
Admission: ¥200 (Does not include zoo admission fee. Half-price for junior high school students or younger)