Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the Keio University's online course, Japanese Culture Through Rare Books. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 3 seconds Next, let us look at this book here. It is now a scroll. The cord is broken, but as you unfurl it, you immediately notice all these folds on the paper. If this had always been a scroll there would be no creases, so that tells us that the book was originally an accordion book which at some point in its life was converted into a scroll. It may seem a little strange that the folds are all pointing upwards; in a regular accordion book “mountain” (upward or convex) folds alternate with “valley” (downward or concave) ones but here they all point upwards.

Skip to 0 minutes and 54 seconds The reason is that when the format was changed, in order to flatten the paper as much as possible, all the “valley” folds were reversed to “mountain” folds. These reversed folds are slightly lower in height than the “original” mountain folds, so you have this characteristic alternation of “high” and “low” mountains. Usually, a second layer of paper is applied to the back of the paper in order to stretch it and flatten it, but here it was left as is. Looking at the damage from insects, it is clear here that the paper was eaten after the conversion to scroll, not when the item was in its original format. The next item is this scroll here.

Skip to 2 minutes and 3 seconds Like the other one, it has a very luxurious cover and it has this sort of sturdier background to it. At first glance it looks like a scroll, well it is a scroll, and the paper shows the typical wrinkling of scrolls. But there is something that is unusual for a scroll, and that is that there are seams here, here, and here. Usually in scrolls the first seam comes around here, so the fact that there are more seams and that the distance between them is shorter tells us that this was a book of about this width, which was then taken apart and rebound as a scroll. Another thing to look for is this area here.

Skip to 3 minutes and 22 seconds It may not be easy to see from home, but this part here is slightly darkened from dirt. If this had been a scroll from the start, there would not be dirt here. So how did it get there? That is the area where readers put their fingers to turn the pages when the text was still in book form. So that is another thing to pay attention to. Also, although there are none here, as I mentioned earlier wormholes look differently and appear in different areas of the text depending on whether the item to be eaten was a book or a scroll, so that’s another thing to look for.

Skip to 4 minutes and 12 seconds In this particular instance, from the size of the pages and from the type of paper used we can tell that before being rebound as a scroll the book was in tetsuyōsō format. Next, let us examine this scroll here. This is what it looks like, you can see there are some “scroll wrinkles” here. However, you should be able to see this, there is considerable dirt in this area here whereas this part here is relatively clean. And between the two there is what appears to be a fold. Also in this area the paper appears to have been repaired, and the damage sort of spreads symmetrically on both sides of the seam.

Skip to 5 minutes and 25 seconds Considering also the large number of seams, we can conclude that this scroll was once a book of about this width. Moreover, from the size and type of paper and from the clearly visible folds we can tell that this was originally in fukurotoji (pouch) binding. So that’s another possible case. So far we have looked at three examples of book-style books that were reformatted to scrolls. As I have explained, the scroll format was hugely prestigious and so people went to no small trouble to rebind texts as scrolls.

Converting from accordion-type book to scroll

Here is the second major type of conversion.

Accordion-type book to scroll

Procedure: The cover is removed and the book is stretched open. The roller is applied at the end and a new cover is inserted at the beginning.

How to tell: the original creases remain visible no matter what.

Main advantage: The higher prestige and value of the scroll format.

*Myōhō rengekyō* Fig.1. Example of orihon to scroll conversion: Myōhō rengekyō (Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law).
Click to take a closer look

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Japanese Culture Through Rare Books

Keio University