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 I now see how important scrolls were in traditional bookmaking. What you have in your hands now is a book-style format though, Wa wide-page fukurotoji. Yes, it’s an illustrated book. The colors are very vivid; there is even gold leaf. It’s a particularly luxurious item. It’s what is known as a Nara ehon. They were very common in the 17th century, weren’t they? Yes. By the 17th century they were common, but they didn’t exist in the first half of the 16th century. That’s odd. They don’t look particularly unusual to me. And yet in the first half of the 16th century few would have thought of putting pictures in a book of this kind.

Skip to 0 minutes and 54 seconds Coming to think of it, I can’t think of an early illustrated book that isn’t a scroll. Exactly. Since the early days of Japanese bookmaking in the 8th century, the only books to be illustrated were scrolls (known as emaki, or, “picture scrolls”). But that changed in the 16th century. That’s an interesting development. Yes, it was one of the turning points in Japanese book history. Continuing from our discussion of book formats last week, this week we look at the history of illustrated books.

Introduction to week 2

In this week, we will take a closer look at the relationship between binding style and content, as well as the practice of rebinding and reformatting. Then we will explore the history of waka and monogatari manuscripts and illustrated books from the 8th to the 17th century.

Japanese-language literary works were mostly written in hiragana, the syllabic alphabet derived from kanji. Different formats were used for poetry (especially waka) and prose genres (monogatari, etc.). A great many illustrated books were also made, but they followed a somewhat different path from that of text-only books.

Books introduced in the video

Week 2 materials

You can download PDF version of the text and transcript of Week 2, in English and Japanese at the DOWNLOADS section below.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Japanese Culture Through Rare Books

Keio University