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Skip to 0 minutes and 16 secondsHorikawa: We are at the Ryōsoku-in, one of the buildings of the Kenninji temple, Kyoto’s oldest Zen temple. Prof. Sumiyoshi, the Ryōsoku-in was founded by the Zen abbot Ryūsan Tokuken(1284-1358) who went to China in 1305 and spent 45 years there studying, wasn’t it?

Skip to 0 minutes and 35 secondsSumiyoshi: Yes. Tokuken was born near Tokyo in what is now Chiba prefecture. After first moving to Kamakura to practice Buddhism, he travelled to China, where he learned extensively not only about Zen, but also about Chinese culture in general, until his return to Japan in 1350. After his return, he built the temple that later became the Ryōsoku-in in this area of Kyoto.

Skip to 1 minute and 2 secondsH: In this course, we will study how Chinese culture was absorbed in Japan by looking at the history of specific books. Prof. Sumiyoshi, you will be in charge of Week 1, which covers the period 5th through 16th centuries, and then I will take over from there in Week 3 and 4, to cover the 15th through 19th centuries. The 14th century, when this temple was built, sits right on the cusp between these two periods, so it is a suitable place to start from.

Skip to 1 minute and 40 secondsSumiyoshi: Yes. In the first week, we will start from before the formation of the Japanese state (pre-7th c.), and continue into the Nara, Heian, and Kamakura periods (8th through 14 c.). We will explore the impact of texts from China and Korea, including Buddhist texts, within the changing political and social landscape of East Asia. Although there was a practically constant influx of texts from continental Asia after the 6th century, there were two main peaks, one around the 8th century, at the time of the official embassies to China, and the other in the 13th and 14th centuries, with the travels of Zen monks.

Skip to 2 minutes and 30 secondsMany of the books that were brought in at these times were republished in Japan and many are stored here at the Ryōsoku-in.

Skip to 2 minutes and 41 secondsHorikawa: The embassy period is well known for its importance at the time of the formation of the Japanese state, but as far as books are concerned, the 13th and 14th centuries are as important, aren’t they?

Skip to 2 minutes and 59 secondsSumiyoshi: Absolutely. And the most significant development was the introduction of print, which was already very advanced in China. The introduction of Korean movable type technology at the end of the 16th century also had a profound impact on Japanese print culture, so in the first week we will cover up to this point.

Skip to 3 minutes and 21 secondsHorikawa: So with texts and printing as our focus, let us join Prof. Sumiyoshi and learn about Japanese culture in the early and medieval periods.

Welcome to the course

Welcome to the course “Sino-Japanese Interaction Through Rare Books”!

In the video, Prof. Horikawa, the lead educator of this course, and Prof. Sumiyoshi, your main navigator in Week 1, invite you on this journey through Japanese culture from the Kenninji, a famous Zen temple in Kyoto, Japan.

After watching the video, please read the article below about the course outline, the organizing team, and some notes that might be helpful as you proceed in this course.

Course outline

Timeline [Take a closer look] Please refer to Step 1.3 for more information about the history.

Through this course, you will learn about how Japan, while being profoundly influenced by continental cultures and Chinese culture in particular, was able to adapt and develop these influences to create its own distinctive culture.

As you can see from the above timeline, in the first week, we will cover from the 5th to the 14th century C.E., paying special attention to the role played by both secular and religious texts from China and Korea at the time of the emergence and consolidation of the early Japanese state and language.

In the second week, we will focus on one of the most influential Chinese works of all time, the Analects of Confucius – “Lunyu” in Chinese and “Rongo” in Japanese. We will study how it was first introduced to Japan and its impact on Japanese culture.

In Weeks 3 and 4, we will cover the period from the 14th through the 19th centuries, focusing in particular on the activities of Zen monks and Confucian scholars who were key players in the reception of continental culture in Japan. Pre-modern Zen temples played a role similar to that of the modern university. We will learn about the research activities conducted at these institutions and they were reflected in the books they published.

We hope the course will also provide an excellent opportunity to think about cross-cultural interaction from a world history perspective!

Meet our team

This course will be led by Professor Takashi Horikawa, Professor Tomohiko Sumiyoshi and Professor Satoshi Takahashi. Prof. Horikawa specializes in Sino-Japanese literature, Prof. Sumiyoshi specializes in Sinology in Medieval Japan, and Prof. Takahashi specializes in Chinese Classics. Japanese contents have been translated and edited by Dr. Gian-Piero Persiani, a specialist of Heian literature. The course has been produced by the Research Institute for Digital Media and Content and the Global Education Project at the Graduate School of Media Design of Keio University.

Educators and Organizers From the left: Takashi Horikawa (the lead educator), Tomohiko Sumiyoshi, Satoshi Takahashi and Gian-Piero Persiani.

Motoki Yasui from Keio University Press, Goki Miyakita and Professor Keiko Okawa from the Graduate School of Media Design, will assist you during the course!

Follow the team to read their responses to learners throughout the course.

Important notes

  • Video subtitles are provided in both English and Japanese. To select your preferred language, please hover over the speech bubble icon in the video player, and choose from the options provided. You can also select “subtitles off” here. video screen
  • You can change subtitle’s font size by changing the browser’s font size.
  • All steps have English and Japanese translations which you can find as PDFs under the “DOWNLOADS” section at the bottom of the first step of each week (Step 1.1, Step 2.1, Step 3.1 and 4.1). The list of Items used in each week is also available in PDF at the same section.

  • All historical names follow the Japanese convention (family name first and then given name). ie. Tokugawa Ieyasu
  • Sometimes ō and ū will appear with a straight bar above the letters (i.e., macron or diacritical mark) . This represents long vowels, for example, ō for “oo” or “oh.”
  • All book titles and Japanese keywords will be italicized.
  • You can view the images that are used in the articles and part of the videos in larger size by clicking the links marked Click to take a closer look.
  • Some words and names that may be unfamiliar to learners are listed in the glossary for each week. It located in Step 1.4 for Week1 and the last step of each week.
  • Names of the historical periods will be introduced in Step 1.3.
  • When you complete each step, select the Mark as complete button before selecting the arrow to move on.

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Sino-Japanese Interactions Through Rare Books

Keio University