Japanese alum's 1886 notebook returns to Ithaca


When Dan McKee decided to go for a run on a brisk February morning in Tokyo, he had no idea he was about to uncover a little piece of Cornell, 6,000 miles from home.

McKee is the Japan curator for Cornell University Library, and he takes annual acquisitions trips to Japan to find rare books or manuscripts that are difficult to find or prohibitively expensive to get in the United States.

In Ithaca, McKee had been training for the Boston Marathon. On his third day in Tokyo, jet-lagged and unable to sleep, he decided to go for a 20-mile early morning training run.

On his way back, he stopped by an antiques fair he had passed earlier to look for "woodblock printed books, rare manuscripts, anything we might consider valuable for our collection," he says.

He didn't find anything promising until, at the very edge of the fair, he saw a dealer selling scraps of paper and old textbooks. As McKee flipped through a box, a small hardcover notebook caught his eye.

"It said 'CORNELL UNIVERSITY' on the cover in bold letters. I opened it up, and inside, there's an old stationer's label inside that says 'State Street,'" he remembers. "So now I'm having this déjà vu moment … It really struck me; these kinds of karmic connections happen all the time in medieval Japanese tales."

At first, McKee thought the coincidence was just amusing -- until he saw the date on the notebook.

Read the full story in the Ezra update.