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Skip to 0 minutes and 4 seconds Illustrated books made between the 16th and 17th century are called Nara ehon (Nara picture books). There are several theories as to why the name Nara figures in the denomination, but what seems certain is that the city of Nara has little to do with it. Moreover, some scholars use it to refer only to picture books, others also include scrolls under this denomination, while still others call illustrated scrolls Nara emaki (Nara picture scrolls). Their period of maximum popularity was the era between the late Muromachi and the first half of the Edo periods. After an initial phase, illustrated books also began to be bound in multi-section format (tetsuyōsō), but the most common format by far was this kind of “wide-page” fukurotoji-style book.

Skip to 1 minute and 9 seconds Then, near the end of their period of popularity, this kind of book also became popular. If you try to hold them you immediately notice that they are rather heavy. The size is the same as these books, but they are much heavier. The difference is due to the type of paper used. It may be difficult to see it, but the surface of the paper has been coated with mica powder which gives it this characteristic sheen. The original paper, one of the pictures came off here, looks like this. These additives (rock dust, clay, etc.) were mixed directly with the vegetable fibers when the paper was produced.

Skip to 2 minutes and 19 seconds The tiny particles settle in the gaps between the fibers and make the paper smooth and polished. This type of paper was made as a substitute for the opulent hishi paper and is therefore known as maniaigami (literally, “makeshift paper”). The use of this more readily available type of paper allowed to produce book in larger quantities, which is why so many of them survive. Another thing to notice in these horizontal Nara ehon are these small needle holes just above and below the lines of text. They were used to ensure the alignment of the text and to keep the number of lines per page consistent.

Skip to 3 minutes and 40 seconds They are called hari kentō (needle layout) or hari meyasu (needle guides) and they were first used in Nara ehon in the late 17th century. However, they can be found in non-illustrated books dating from as far back as the late 16th century. Next time you see one of these “wide” Nara ehon check if there are any needle holes.






Ogura hyakunin isshu 図1. 小倉山百人一首
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Ōgi no sōshi 図2. 扇の草紙
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Shuten tōshi 図3. しゆてんとうし
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Hashihime 図4. 橋姫
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Books on the table

1. ふんしやう 2. ふんしやう 3. 中しやう姫 4. 竹取物語

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This video is from the free online course:

古書から読み解く日本の文化: 和本の世界

Keio University