Hand-colored illustrated books

Hand-colored printed books represent an interesting amalgam of handwritten and printed illustrated books.

This book (Fig.1) was printed using wooden movable type and features bordered color plates.

*Iwaya no sōshi* Fig.1. Iwaya no sōshi (Lady in the Cave) [1], Click to take a closer look (Left) (Center) (Right)

Various colors including red and green were added by hand in a rather haphazard manner. As hand-colored plates can be found in European books, it is possible that the makers were influenced by European models. What they were certainly aware of was the local tradition of illustrated manuscripts.

These books are known as tanrokubon (lit., “red and green books”), from the names of some of the pigments used. They were only made for a few decades from the 1620s on, so they are quite rare. One must be careful when buying them because often the color was added later by unscrupulous vendors seeking higher profits. Movable type color books are quite rare; woodblock printed ones are much more common. Here are two examples: (Fig.2), (Fig.3.)

*Tengu no dairi* Fig.2. Tengu no dairi (The Palace of the tengu) [2], Click to take a closer look (Left) (Center) (Right)

*Bunshō no sōshi* Fig.3. Bunshō no sōshi (The Tale of Bunshō) [3], Click to take a closer look (Left) (Center) (Right)

Since illustrations made books more marketable, they began to be added even to works that did not initially contain any, including ones where there was no special need for them, such as poetry collections. As this process continued, images became an increasingly indispensable element of printed books.

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This article is from the free online course:

Japanese Culture Through Rare Books

Keio University