Skip to 0 minutes and 4 secondsThe publication of many of the classics during the Edo period gave a tremendous boost to scholarship. The most important of the classical works all appeared in print in the one-hundred-year period between the end of the 16th century and the end of the 17th century. Research and scholarship thrived as a result, but efforts to make old sources available did not stop here. Rather, from this point on, they extended to include rarer materials, making accessing old texts easier than ever before. The Hōshōin archive of the Shinpukuji temple in Ōsu, Naka ward, Nagoya, has housed a rich collection of priceless ancient texts since the times of its founder, Nōshin.

Skip to 0 minutes and 56 secondsThe quality and value of the holdings of the collection were already known in the early Edo period. Among the most important works in the archive is the oldest extant complete copy of the Kojiki in 3 volumes, which was made between 1371 and 1372 and which is now a designated National Treasure. This very copy of the Kojiki was studied by prominent Edo-period scholars such as Watarai Nobuyoshi and Motoori Norinaga. The size and variety of the collection was such that a large number of Edo scholars paid regular visits to it to survey it and study it.

Skip to 1 minute and 36 secondsParticularly noteworthy is the research stay of Inaba Michikuni, a samurai from the Owari domain who in 1797 was officially commanded by the daimyō of Owari, Tokugawa Munechika, to study the Kojiki. In the spring of 1798, as he surveyed the holdings of the collection, Michikuni accidentally stumbled upon a fragment at the bottom of a book case. What he had found was a fragment of a 1283 copy of the Wamyō ruijūshō, an early 10th century Sino-Japanese dictionary. At the time, this was the oldest surviving text of the Wamyō ruijūshō. Realizing the importance of the document, Michikuni immediately made a faithful copy, and two years later, he published it as Bishū Ōsu Hōshōin-zō Wamyōshō zanpen.

Skip to 2 minutes and 40 secondsWhat is particularly remarkable about this woodblock edition is how faithful to the original in every detail it is. Not only the original handwriting but even the damage to the text in the original were faithfully reproduced. Documents are most suitable for research when they are left in their original form without any modification. It is no doubt because he fully realized the value of the document he had found that Mitsukuni produced a replica version that allowed readers to study it almost as if they had been looking at the original text. The books you see on this bookshelf are the Gunsho ruijū, a series of books published in the late Edo period.

Skip to 3 minutes and 31 secondsThe full series comprised 666 volumes, and included approximately 1300 Japanese texts dating in time from the 7th century to the 17th century. The project was the brainchild of a blind scholar named Hanawa Hokiichi. Hokiichi lost his eyesight in his childhood, but he had a great passion for learning and was apparently blessed with a prodigious memory. He conducted his studies of the classics in Edo, under the guidance of Yamaoka Matsuake and Hagiwara Sōko, among others. In 1779 he had the idea of publishing a collection of shorter texts which, because of their small size, were more likely to become lost.

Skip to 4 minutes and 26 secondsWhen we said that most of the classics were available in print by the middle of the Edo period, we meant the most important ones, that is to say, books that had been traditionally recognized as valuable and important. By contrast, the works included in the Gunsho ruijū were the mass of shorter works that one was unlikely to ever have the opportunity to see, which lied unread at the back of private libraries, shrine and temple archives, and which were unlikely to ever be published. But precisely for this reason, they were more appealing to the researcher. The Gunsho ruijū was inspired by this desire to fill a gap in the world of scholarship and to explore previously uncharted territory.

Skip to 5 minutes and 16 secondsHokiichi dispatched friends and disciples to archives in all corners of Japan to analyze and collect texts, and steadily published their findings. Hokiichi himself travelled to the Shinpukuji archive from Edo and personally surveyed its holdings. The publication of the Gunsho ruijū was a work of undeniable public utility, but the driving force behind it was one man, Hokiichi himself. In 1793 he borrowed land from the shogunate to set up an officially-recognized teaching and research institute named “Wagaku kōdanjo” and even received grants from the government. But although he did receive some official support, it was a rather feeble and indirect form of backing.

Skip to 6 minutes and 10 secondsA few years prior to the publication of Gunsho ruijū, in China, the Qianlong Emperor sponsored the publication the Siku Quanshu which was completed in 1782. Compared to this state-commissioned, officially-sponsored series, the Gunsho ruijū has all the hallmarks of a private project. Hokiichi published many more books besides the Gunsho ruijū. His partial edition of the official history Nihon kōki, in 1799, was a major event. Up to the 14th century, the text had been stored in the court’s library but nothing had been known about it since. The shogunate had repeatedly tried to locate it, but to no avail. It was Hokiichi’s disciple Inayama Yukinori who eventually found the book in Kyoto and Hokiichi published it soon after.

Skip to 7 minutes and 24 secondsInasmuch as they made available books that had been previously difficult or impossible to find, Hanawa Hokiichi’s publishing efforts had a profound impact on scholarship and learning. After Hokiichi’s death, his disciples continued his work and even released a sequel to the Gunsho ruijū, the Zoku Gunsho ruijū. The Gunsho ruijū was published in modern typographic edition in the Meiji period, and it is now available in electronic format. As such, it continues to serve its original function as a publicly accessible treasury of ancient texts. The curiosity of Edo scholars was not limited to texts but extended to the material culture of the past. This is a book entitled Shūko jisshu, which was published in 1800.

Skip to 8 minutes and 10 secondsIt is an illustrated archaeological catalog containing detailed reproductions of ancient steles, weapons, copperware, musical instruments, writing utensils, paintings, etc. In addition to the images, it also provides information about the current owners and locations of the items as well as their size, material and color. The main person behind the Shūko jisshu was the influential daimyō and politician Matsudaira Sadanobu. As rōjū of the shogunate, Sadanobu was responsible for the important set of reforms known as the Kansei reforms, but he was also very active as a scholar and man of culture.

Skip to 8 minutes and 50 secondsWith the help of retainers and collaborators from around the country, he collected and edited for publication information about items in temples, shrines and private collections, and the Shūko jisshu was the result of this work. To sum up, from approximately the mid-18th century onward, large-scale efforts were made to retrieve, study, and make available through publishing previously unavailable materials. Publishing activity went hand in hand with the love for the past. By collecting and making available these ancient materials, Edo scholars aimed to acquire a fuller and more accurate picture of the cultural past. In this respect, their goals are not so very different from those of researchers working in the humanities today.

Toward a new, open knowledge

Starting in the mid-18th century, a large quantity of previously unpublished works were published and made available to a wide audience.

In this video, Prof. Ichinohe introduces the publishing activity of various late Edo-period scholars and intellectuals. For many of them, publishing activity went hand in hand with their love for the past. By collecting and making available ancient materials, Edo scholars aimed to acquire a fuller and more accurate understanding of the cultural past.

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This video is from the free online course:

Japanese Culture Through Rare Books

Keio University