Skip to 0 minutes and 4 secondsThe Kōfukuji temple was an important center of learning of the Hossō sect, which traces its fortune in his East Asia to the work of the great Chinese monk Xuanzang. The temple thrived during the Heian period as the family temple of the powerful Fujiwara clan. The temple was also an important center of sutra printing and rapidly developed sophisticated printing techniques. In the late Heian period (12th c.), it published important texts of the sect, strengthening its status as a center of Buddhist scholarship. In particular, it published Xuanzang’s translation of the Discourse on the Perfection of Consciousness-only(1) and commentaries such as the Cheng Weishi Lun shu ji(2) by Kuiji (632-682).

Skip to 0 minutes and 50 secondsBooks printed at the Kōfukuji temple are known as Kasuga-ban because of the later custom of ritually presenting copies of the books to the Kasuga Grand Shrine. As some of the earliest printed books to be specifically meant for reading (as opposed to other purposes), the Kasuga editions represent a major turning point in the history of Japanese printing. The production of Kasuga books peaked during the Kamakura period (1185-1333). In particular, the years 1222 to 1227 (Jōō and Karoku eras) saw the printing of a 600-volume edition of the Dai-hannya haramitta-kyō(3), the largest text (or compilation of texts) in the Buddhist canon.

Skip to 1 minute and 21 secondsThe characters used for these editions, known as wayō (Japanese-style), replicates the writing in handwritten sutras and the pages are unruled; the replica of the manuscript is so perfect that, at first glance, it is easy to mistake it for a handwritten book. A substantial number of printing blocks used in Kasuga editions from the late-Heian and early-Kamakura periods survives. Many of them have the names of the monks who served as "engraver" or "imitator" engraved on them. These are thought to have been professional craftsmen who were members of the temple's staff and were in charge of printing as well as building work, furniture making, etc. The Kamakura period is known for the proliferation of many new sects.

Skip to 2 minutes and 7 secondsIn response to pressure from these new sects, the old Nara schools also experienced a surge of activity of which book printing was an essential part. For example, the Hōryūji published works by (or attributed to) its founder, Prince Shōtoku (574-622), such as the Hokke gisho(4) and the "Constitution in 17 Articles" (Jūshichijō kempō(5)). The Tōdaiji temple published key texts of Nara Buddhism such as the Kegonkyō(6), the Sanron gengi(7). while other temples, such as the Saidaiji and the Tōshōdaiji, also published important texts of their sect and the works of their founders(8). Here I have prepared a selection of material related to Kasuga editions. Here, with the characters carved on it, is an authentic printing block used to print sutras in Nara (9).

Skip to 3 minutes and 5 secondsIt dates from the medieval period. There are approximately 30 lines of text on each block. Both sides of the block are carved. Here you can see the characters "Yuishikiron, Book 9, no. 1" carved on it. The text is raised and arranged "in-reverse" or mirror image of what appears on the page. The characters here are carved in and were not meant to be printed but to simply identify the block. Because friction may damage the text, instead of stacking many blocks on each other, they are stored standing on the narrow edge. Finally, here we have a printed edition of the Large Perfection of Wisdom Sutra (J. Daihan’nyakyō) (10) which belongs to the same family as the Kasuga editions.

Skip to 4 minutes and 18 secondsThe paper is beautifully decorated with gold powder. The text begins after the opening illustration, and as you can see it was designed to look like it was written by hand using a brush. These silver glittery lines are known as kaisen and were added after the printing. The book as a whole looks exactly like a manuscript. This specific one is a particularly luxurious one and was no doubt intended to give that impression.

The Kasuga-ban editions

Books printed by the Kōfukuji temple are called Kasuga editions. When did they begin and what sort of role did they play in Japanese society during the Heian (794-1185) and Kamakura period (1185 - 1333)? Let’s find out.

Published works and materials introduced in the video:

  1. the Discourse on the Perfection of Consciousness-only (J. Jōyuishikiron)
    Click to see the image [1st scroll ][10th scroll]
  2. Cheng Weishi Lun shu ji (J. Jōyuishikiron jutsuki), (Explanatory Notes of the Cheng Weishi Lun) by Kuiji (632-682), Kasuga ddition, Heian period
    Click to see the image and information
  3. Dai-hannya haramitta-kyō (Sanskrit: Mahāprajñāpāramitā Sūtra, Large Perfection of Wisdom Sutra)
  4. Hokke gisyo, (Annotated Commentary on the Lotus Sutra)
  5. Jūshichijō kempō, Constitution in 17 Articles
  6. Kegonkyō, (S. Avataṃsaka Sūtra, Flower Garland Sutra)
  7. Sanron gengi, (Ch. Sanlun xuanyi, Profound Meaning of the Three Treatises)
  8. the Perfection of Consciousness-only (Ch. Cheng Weishi Lun; J. Jōyuishikiron), Kasuga edition, Woodblock, Kamakura period
    Click to see the image and information
  9. Hyōmu Hyoshikishō, Tōshoji edition, 1292 (Shōō 5)
    Click to see the image and information
  10. Woodblock of Hyōmu Hyoshikishō, Tōshoji edition, 1292 (Shōō 5)
    Click to see the image
  11. Large Perfection of Wisdom Sutra (J. Daihan’nyakyō), printing

Temples and shrines mentioned in the video

Historical figures and families mentioned in the video

Keywords introduced in the video

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This video is from the free online course:

Sino-Japanese Interactions Through Rare Books

Keio University