• Keio University logo

Japanese Culture Through Rare Books

Explore the important roles that books have played in the cultural history of Japan.

24,985 enrolled on this course

Japanese Culture Through Rare Books
  • Duration

    3 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours
  • 100% online

    Learn at your own paceHow it works
  • Unlimited

    $23.33/monthLearn more

Discover the rich history of Japanese literature

A book is a tool for preserving words and images. Through books, an abundance of information, including the knowledge and experiences of the people of the past, has been handed down to the present. But books are more than records of words and images. Their form, appearance, and even the scripts and styles used tell us about the fashions and technologies of the times that produced them. By studying old books, we can learn a great deal about the geographical areas in which they were made, the historical background, and the individuals and groups involved in their making.

While displaying remarkable similarities with books produced in other areas of the Sinitic cultural sphere, Japanese books also possess some unique features, starting with their sheer diversity of form and appearance. Using a wealth of multimedia content, we will take a journey through the wonderful world of traditional Japanese books.

Keio University’s Book Collection

Keio University’s Institute of Oriental Classics is a unique institution specialized in rare East Asian books. The Institute’s extensive collection comprises 163,000 items, and is open to the public as a specialized library. In this course we will make use of this rich collection and rely on the expertise of specialists and researchers who have been working for the preservation and study of these resources. Using state of the art media resources, you will familiarize yourself with not only the content of traditional East Asian books, but also with their physical appearance, format, binding method, script, and cover style.

Learn about bookbinding styles and their influence on Japanese literature

In the first week of the course, you will be introduced to the main bookbinding methods used in traditional Asia, and to the practice of rebinding books. We will also discuss the influence of Chinese bookbinding methods on early Japanese books in all their various shapes and forms.

Explore old Japanese manuscripts and illustrated books in high-resolution images and videos

In the second week of the course, we will focus primarily on the different types of manuscripts and illustrated books that were used for waka (classical Japanese poetry) and prose tales (monogatari) from the 9th century through the 17th century. High quality images and video recordings of materials in Keio University’s book collection and beyond will give you a real sense of the look and feel of these precious objects.

Discover the role of book publishing in the development of Japanese literature and scholarship

In the final week of this course, we will look at how the introduction of movable-type and woodblock printing in the 17th and 18th centuries helped books spread widely across social classes, and how this democratization of books affected Edo culture and learning.

※このコースは日本語版もございます。
The Japanese version of this course is available.

Download video: standard or HD

Skip to 0 minutes and 20 seconds Welcome to the library of the Keio University Institute of Oriental Classics. My name is Takahiro Sasaki and I will be your guide to the collections of this library. A book is a tool for preserving words and images. Through books, an abundance of information, including the knowledge and experiences of the people of the past, has been handed down to the present. But books record more than just words and images. Their form, appearance, and even the scripts and styles used tell us about the fashions and technologies of the times that produced them.

Skip to 1 minute and 16 seconds By studying old books, we can learn a great deal about the geographical areas in which they were made, the historical background, and the individuals and groups involved in their making. While displaying remarkable similarities with books produced in other areas of the Sinitic cultural sphere, Japanese books also possess some unique features, starting with their sheer diversity of form and appearance. One look at the books on display here should be enough to give an idea of such remarkable variety. Taking advantage of Keio University’s impressive collection of rare books, we will take you on a guided tour of the world of old Japanese books.

Skip to 2 minutes and 23 seconds You will explore the important roles that books have played in the cultural history of Japan and reflect on aspects of Japanese culture that can be gleaned from them. Now we would like to invite you to join us to explore the wonderful world of Japanese books.

Syllabus

  • Week 1

    The relationship between visual appearance and content in Japanese books

    • Japan, Country of Books

      Let’s take a first look at Japanese book culture and explore the various types of books and scripts that have been used in traditional Japanese bookmaking.

    • Japanese books, writing, and papers

      We will learn about the history of writing in Japan and main types of paper used in Japanese bookmaking.

    • Binding styles

      In this activity, we will explore the main book-binding methods and some less common ones.

    • Summary of week 1

      This activity reviews what we have covered during this week ( history of writing in Japan, binding methods) and introduces the libraries of Keio University.

  • Week 2

    Manuscripts and illustrated versions of the Japanese classics

    • Introduction

      Numerous books with illustrations were made and they evolved in a slightly different way to books with just text. You'll learn the characteristics of manuscripts and books with illustrations from the ninth century to 17th century.

    • Rebinding and format changing

      The current binding of a book is not always its original one. In this activity, you’ll learn about various types of rebinding types and discuss why books were rebound to begin with.

    • Relationship between format and content

      Waka and fiction had different standings in the genre hierarchy. This is reflected in the different way in which titles were positioned on the cover, the binding type, and even the size of books.

    • Waka and monogatari manuscripts

      In this activity, we will focus specifically on the binding types used for waka and fictional tales.

    • A short history of illustrated manuscripts

      We will overview the history of books with illustrations.

    • Summary of week 2

      Let's review what we've learned this week with a short quiz.

  • Week 3

    Scholarship and publishing in the Edo period

    • Introduction to week 3

      Welcome. The theme of the third week is book publishing in the Edo period. To start us off, Prof. Sasaki and Prof. Ichinohe will briefly discuss the week’s most important topics.

    • History of printing and publishing in Japan

      In this section we will look at the early history of printing and bookmaking in Japan from the 8th century to the age of movable type printing (late 16th to mid-17th century).

    • The rise of printed illustrated books

      Printed illustrated books appeared not too long after their handwritten counterparts. In this step, you will learn how printed picture books first appeared, evolved, and were used.

    • The spread of books

      Let's explore Edo-period reading habits, the culture of re-using the classics in new ways, and the spread of books to larger and larger sections of society.

    • Book publishing and the development of scholarship

      We will explore how book publishing influenced the development of scholarship in the Edo period.

    • Summary of the course

      This activity reviews what we have covered during this course.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and learn at your own pace. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

You can take this self-guided course and learn at your own pace. On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explain how old Japanese characters evolved into their current format.
  • Demonstrate understanding of the relationship between different binding styles, contents, and values of books.
  • Describe how books affected the democratization of education in Japan.
  • Investigate images from old books and identify the cultural and historical background of each image.

Who is the course for?

This is an introductory course and is open to anyone with an interest in the history of Japanese books. A basic knowledge of the history of Japan and Japanese literature will be helpful but is not required.

This course can also be studied alongside two companion courses, Sino-Japanese Interactions Through Rare Books and The Art of Washi Paper in Japanese Rare Books.

The course makes use of a number of visual resources which may unfortunately make some of the activities not accessible to learners with visual impairment. Course videos will be in Japanese with English subtitles.

Who will you learn with?

I'm a Professor at Keio University's Institute of Oriental Classics. I'm the lead educator of the courses "Japanese Culture Through Rare Books" and "The Art of Washi Paper in Japanese Rare Books".

I am an associate professor at Keio University's Institute of Oriental Classics (SHIDO-BUNKO). I'm one of the educators on the FutureLearn course, "Japanese Culture Through Rare Books."

Who developed the course?

Keio University

Keio University is Japan’s first modern institution of higher learning, and since 1858 has established itself as a leader in Japan through its continued commitment to education, research and medicine.

  • Established

    1858
  • Location

    Tokyo, Japan
  • World ranking

    Top 200Source: QS World University Rankings 2021
Recommended

Ways to learn

Upgrade this course

Unlimited

Basic access

Choose the best way to learn for you!

$74

$23.33/month

Billed at $279.99 for a year

Free

Unlock your expertiseEndless possibilities!Try before you upgrade
Access to this courseticktickLimited to 5 weeks
Access to ALL eligible short courses with additional benefits, for a yearcrosstickcross
Discuss your learning in commentstickticktick
Certificate when you're eligiblePrinted and digitalDigital onlycross
Join and Upgrade

Ways to learn

Buy Unlimited to access this course and hundreds of other short courses for a year or Upgrade just this course for extra benefits. Or, join with basic access.

Unlimited

$23.33/month

Billed at $279.99 for a year

Endless possibilities!

  • Access to this course
  • Access to ALL eligible short courses with additional benefits, for a year
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Digital certificate when you're eligible

Upgrade this course

$74

Unlock your expertise

  • All of the above* for this course only, plus a printed certificate when you’re eligible

*Excludes access to all eligible short courses with additional benefits for a year

Basic access

Free

Try before you buy

  • Limited access to course content for 5 weeks

Find out more about certificates, Upgrades or Unlimited.

Find out more about certificates, Upgrades or Unlimited.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps, but you can complete them as quickly or slowly as you like
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

Want to know more about learning on FutureLearn? Using FutureLearn

Learner reviews

Learner reviews cannot be loaded due to your cookie settings. Please and refresh the page to view this content.

Do you know someone who'd love this course? Tell them about it...

You can use the hashtag #FLjapanesebooks to talk about this course on social media.