Kornicki 1998

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Kornicki, Peter. The book in Japan: A Cultural History from the Beginnings to the Nineteenth Century. Leiden: Brill, 1998.

1. The History of the Book and Japan

in Japan, shuppan-bunka (studies of "print culture") -- concerned with commercially published books in the 17, 18, 19c (9) -- but this is limiting, doesn't address popular culture like block-printed illustrated versions of popular tales, and doesn't address cultural exchange with China, Korea, and the West (10)

few instances of bookburning before 17c in Japan

"It is, I suggest, the disintegration of the old hierarchies of texts and reading, and the collapse of the privileged position in the conception of the Japanese state which sinology had for so long enjoyed, that made a revised perception of what books and texts meant to the state possible and then paved the way for the introduction of much more rigid mechanisms of control." (16-7)

"vital flow of books from China from the 5c to the 19c"; "as a transmitter of book culture Japan played a very minor role, even in the case of books written in Chinese by Japanese authors; to the small extent that there was a flow of Japanese books out of Japan, from the 17c onwards, it was at the initiative of curious Europeans. Japan was a cultural receiver, not a transmitter, whereas Chine was a transmitter rather than a receiver. There is a sense, then, in which reading in China was perforce a hermetic experience, while in japan it potentially required constant accommodation with the Other." (18)

printing began in Japan in 8c, but was "resorted to only sporadically between the 8 and 11c, and then for ritual purposes rather than for producing texts for people to read. From then until the end of the 16c, the printing of books for the purpose of erading did begin to take effect, but they were few in number (fewer than 500 titles printed in 500 years), they were produced by Buddhist monastic institutions rather than by commercial publishers, they were almost exclusively in Chinese and they were almost entirely Buddhist scriptures or doctrinal works. Very few of tem, therefore, were published in the sense of being produced with the intention or possibility of making them public property and were rather for the use of the monastic community, often just that of one particular Buddhist sect." (20-21)

"By 1700 the situation had been transformed out of recognition and urban, educated Japan had become dependent on print and the book had accomplished its transformation into a commercial entity. So printing was in Japan a dormant technology and its potential latent until the 17c." (21)

no literate public before 1600, print culture didn't take off until one emerged in 17c

no antipathy toward printing sacred texts, as there was in Islamic world

in East asia, "print was used first for ritual purposes, for the meritorious reproduction of Buddhist texts, and only later for the production of texts, Buddhist or secular, for people to read" (24)

"Print, be it typography, xylography, or lithography, does not contain within itself the seeds of its own success, and thhe reasons for its success in creating print cultures in sixteenth-century Europe, Song-dynasty China, seventeenth-century Japan and eighteenth-century Russia must be sought elsewhere, just as the consequences of literacy must be explained without reference to an untenable determinism that attributes given social changes simply to the spread of literacy." (25)

until 1880s, Japanese books were "almost exclusively block-printed books" (26)

"are we justified in treating block-printed books as equivalent to movable-type printed books, in discussing the advent of print without reference to the different tecnologies involved? The consequence of the domination of wood-block printing was taht each book had a different personality, and one that was closely related to calligraphy, to the written hand." (26)

"block-printing is in effect the reproduction of manuscripts and a block-printed text shares many of the characteristics of manuscripts." (27) -- given syllables or characters will not be identical thorughout a text, as in movable type -- "each block-printed text, by virtue of being a reproduced manuscript, is therefore unique and unrepeatable." (27)

text therefore had "calligraphic appeal" -- "enhanced by appending a preface by the author and/or one or more commendatory prefaces by some well-known person or persons, all in their own reproduced hands. Prefaces and texts, they reproduce unique samples of unique calligraphic hands, and those hhands can be judge in terms of their aesthetic appeal, or lack of it in the case of the cheapest forms of literary production, they can be understood in terms of the age and personality of the calligrapher, and appreciated as the product of a particular calligraphic tradition in a particular time and place." (29)

thus "block-printed books enforce a more particularistic relationship between reader and text than was possible with movable type" (29)

"The encounter of readers with block-printed texts is not merely with texts but calligraphic personalities as well." (29)

manuscripts coexisted alongside block-printed books

"multiplicity of print languages in pre-modern Japan" followed by influence of Edo/Tokyo on language/dialect (33)

2. Books as Material Objects

paper roll, earliest book form known in Japan, comes from China

first documentary reference to papermaking in Japan dates from 610 (40)

colored and decorated papers

increase in publishing in Tokugawa period = increase in paper

development of alternatives to roll in China is difficulte to date, but possibly during the Tang period long rolls of sheets of paper glued together began to be folded alternatively to create a concertina -- this form possibly suggested by palm-leaf books transmitting Buddhist texts from INdia to China -- called "orihon" format in Japan

butterfly binding

fukuro-toji dominated in the Tokugawa period; text on outside of bifolium folded, foredge seign

often separately bound volumes, satsu, but also internal divisions that didn't always correspond to physical divisions; books divided into a number of maki, a term for roll deriving from when the roll was standard in China

Tokugawa period, use of prefaces and preliminaries

colophons at the end of books

  • manuscripts, hon-okugaki (text written by the author on the composition of the work) and shosha-okugaki (note added by person responsible for making the copy)
  • printed books, kanki (found at tthe end of text), okuzuke (separate sheet attached to the inside of the back cover, often lost during rebinding)
  • also sometimes printed sheet in inside front cover, called mikaeshi or homen, carrying info about publisher or date of publication, title, name of author

from early 17c covers also have title slips

covers are soft, so books often stacked on their side


  • manuscripts pasted to a copyist (hanshitagaki) who wrote out a clean copy (hanshita) -- sometimes good calligraphist, or done in house for a cheap text, or maybe authors prpard hanshita
  • hanshita passed to block-carver, or horishi, who pasted the hanshita face-down on woodenblock and carved away white parts
  • carved blocks passed to printer or surishi who inked, laid paper on a block, and rubbed it with a baren
  • proofs were rare
  • once printed, sent to worker for page alignment, choai
  • covers made by hyoshiya
  • finally book put in protective wrapper
  • most of this work done in-house, but smaller scale publishers might contract out parts of this labor

more instability in this process than you might imagine

  • kabusebori, producing a facsimile by using earlier printed version as a hanshite pasted onto blocks for carving -- used to make new edition, say of book from China, or if original block was worn out or lost
    • publishers would lodge a copy of every work they published with a shrine, so that the lost of a copy would mean another was available to make blocks from (49)
    • sometimes only select pages recut
  • umeki, replacement of part of a printing block with a fresh piece of wood containing a different text (52)
    • altering the colophon for reprint, for example]

publishers would hold stock of blocks and print according to demand for a text, meaning different printings can look different