Contact FutureLearn for Support
Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Skip to 0 minutes and 4 secondsSasaki: Our theme in Week 3 is "Book Publishing and Scholarship in Early-modern Japan." by Professor Ichinohe Wataru, a specialist of Edo-period publishing and literary culture.

Skip to 0 minutes and 17 secondsS: So where can we position the early-modern period in the history of Japanese bookmaking?

Skip to 0 minutes and 22 secondsIchinohe: First of all, please look at this ukiyoe print. It is called "Rikōmono" (The Clever One) and it is part of a series entitled "Kyokun oya no megane" (A Parent's Edifying Spectacles) by Kitagawa Utamaro. It shows a woman enjoying a book as she lies down with her head rested on a Japanese-style headrest.

Skip to 0 minutes and 48 secondsS: The book she is reading is bound in the fukurotoji (bound-pocket) style, isn't it?

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 secondsI: Yes, the fukurotoji was the most common binding method during the Edo period.

Skip to 0 minutes and 56 secondsS: When was the print made?

Skip to 0 minutes and 59 secondsI: It dates from the beginning of the 19th century. Ukiyoe prints usually depict the life of the common folk, and this one, too, is not a woman of the aristocracy but an ordinary lady.

Skip to 1 minute and 12 secondsS: So we can say the image shows the reading habits of the commoners.

Skip to 1 minute and 15 secondsI: Yes, ukiyoe prints typically feature beautiful women, but a woman reading as she is must not have been an unusual sight at this time. However, this print is not promoting reading for women; rather, the message is that it is not desirable for women to be too absorbed by books and be too intellectual.

Skip to 1 minute and 45 secondsS: So while it depicts an attractive woman, it has a didactic message.

Skip to 1 minute and 48 secondsI: Ukiyoe were under strict governmental control because they were thought to corrupt morals, so by adding a didactic message to the portrait of a beautiful woman,

Skip to 2 minutes and 0 secondsthe author is reacting to such control by saying: "Look, this is not inappropriate content, it is didactic material." It is a bold move by Utamaro and the publisher of the series. But the important point is that before the Edo period, you would not have seen a woman of commoner stock relaxing and enjoying a book.

Skip to 2 minutes and 27 secondsS: That is a major difference with society up to medieval times.

Skip to 2 minutes and 30 secondsI: Yes, in the Edo period books became a mass phenomenon. Even people from classes who previously had few chances to come into contact with books started to use them in significant amounts. During the Edo period, a regulatory system based on written information, which included books and written materials of all kinds, truly reached every corner of Japan, and both the demand for books and their status grew accordingly.

Skip to 2 minutes and 55 secondsS: And when demand increases, quantities also increase.

Skip to 2 minutes and 58 secondsI: Precisely. It may be obvious but when it comes to books, technology is the key. Printing existed in Japan at least as far back as the 8th century, but in the Edo period the scale of printing grew exponentially. This week, we will provide a short summary of the history of publishing before the Edo period, then explain how things changed during the Edo period, and finally discuss the impact of these changes on the literature and scholarly output of the period.

Skip to 3 minutes and 30 secondsS: Thank you. So the Edo period seems to have been a time of great changes in the history of books. Please join us to find out more about these changes and how they came about.

Books in the Edo period

The theme in Week 3 is “Book Publishing and Scholarship in Early-modern Japan”. Our educator will be Professor Wataru Ichinohe, a specialist of Edo-period publishing and literary culture.

In this video, you will learn some interesting things about the cultural background of the Edo period, from looking at this Ukiyoe print.

Please take a look at this Ukiyoe (Fig. 1) and think about what it shows before looking at the video to find out more.

Rikōmono (The Clever One) *Kyōkun oya no megane* (A Parent's Edifying Spectacles)
by Kitagawa Utamaro Fig 1. Rikōmono (The Clever One) Kyōkun oya no megane (A Parent’s Edifying Spectacles) by Kitagawa Utamaro [1] , Click to take a closer look

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Japanese Culture Through Rare Books

Keio University