It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Dr. Mitsutoshi Nakano in Tokyo, Japan, on November 27, 2019. Dr. Nakano was instrumental in the Honolulu Museum of Art’s cataloging of its vast Richard Lane Collection of illustrated books. In particular, his encyclopedic knowledge of esoteric Edo-period Japanese literature allowed the museum to discover a number of rare works, such as the Otogibōko Edo Edition (1671), one of the only complete versions known to exist anywhere in the world, and the 17th-century Jinkōki, the oldest extant series of Japanese math books.

In addition to Dr. Nakano’s discoveries, his participation encouraged many other renowned scholars eager to assist him with the ongoing cataloging project, some of whom now conduct annual—and even semiannual—research trips to Honolulu. Over the years, such scholars have produced multiple publications on the collection’s Edo-period Japanese woodblock-printed books. 

According to Kiyoe Minami, HoMA’s Japanese Art Research Assistant, Dr. Nakano’s dedication to the field was legendary, and helped to shape her own study interests:

On his second trip to our museum—when he was about 75 years old—I picked him up at the airport, thinking he’d be tired from the long flight. I offered to take him to the hotel, where he could rest. His response?

“Oh no, I can’t wait to see the books! Can we go right now?”

How could I refuse? We went to the museum, and he dove into research, working until that evening. Over the years I was continually amazed at his ability to compete with younger researchers, cataloging faster than anyone, without even using a computer! Keep in mind that we have over 11,000 books in the Lane Collection, in multiple genres. Only an extraordinary scholar would be familiar enough with all of them to catalog it so thoroughly.

Dr. Nakano always brought his students on the research trips. Sometime he would deliver vault lectures, and I felt as if I were one of those students. He taught me so much about our collection and sparked my desire to specialize in this field. We will always be deeply grateful for his valuable contributions, and will dearly miss his guidance and friendship.”



Born in Fukuoka and raised in Saga Prefecture, Dr. Nakano received his Ph.D. from Waseda University in Literature, and worked for nearly 30 years at Kyūshū University, where he remained a Professor Emeritus until his death. His honors included a Medal with Purple Ribbon (1998), as well as the following awards: Person of Cultural Merit (2010), Order of the Sacred Treasure (2012), and Order of Culture (2016). In 2013 he was a guest speaker for the Palace’s annual Kōsho Hajime (Imperial New Year’s Lecture). The Emperor and Empress were in the audience for his lecture on Edo-period culture.


A Manual of Mathematics (Jinkōki)
Japan, early Edo period (early 17th century)
Woodblock-printed book; ink on paper
Purchase, Richard Lane Collection, 2003