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Here we will go over the physical shape of manuscripts. Please take a look. All the books here are in multi-section (tetsuyōsō) binding. Forget for a moment what we said earlier about the title, and disregard these more unusual items over here, I think you can see that, essentially, traditional manuscripts come in two main shapes, this elongated, rectangular shape here and a square shape. The size can vary slightly by period, but generally speaking, there are two main making processes, one for the rectangular books and one for the square ones. Let me explain how the two differ. Here we have a sheet of modern white paper. Let us pretend that this is the paper that was used to make these books here.
To make one of the rectangular books you first fold the leaf in two. You then proceed to cut it along the fold. You then place the two identical halves on top of each other, fold them in two and then bind them as a multi-section book. The size is smaller than the actual size but I think you can see that you get a rectangular book. If you open it up you can see that the final size is about one fourth of the size of the initial paper leaf. Which is why the rectangular books are referred to as yotsuhan (quarter-size) books. the paper used is the same, but you fold it in three instead of two.
You then cut it along the folds, stack the strips on one another, fold them in two, and bind them according to the multi-section method. You see that you get an almost perfectly square shape. And if you now unfold it back, you see that the final size is about one sixth of the leaf, which is why the square books are called mutsuhan (sixth-size) books, mutsuhan meaning “one sixth”. Although the basic source material is the same for both types of books, there are some interesting differences. The rectangular format tends to be more common in 13th century waka-related works, whereas prose tales from the same period tend to be in the square sixth-size format.
There are exceptions, of course, but overall the basic pattern seems to have been rectangular books for waka and square books for tales. If you recall what I said earlier about genres that were bound as scrolls and genres that were not and about the positioning of the title on the cover, waka was perceived as a more prestigious genre than prose fiction. This is enough to infer that, although the binding method was the same, the rectangular shape was probably perceived as somehow more dignified and authoritative than the square one. Although the quarter-size and the sixth-size are the two main formats, many more could be obtained simply by changing the way the paper was folded.
For instance, there are rectangular books with landscape orientation, or some, like these examples I have prepared here, which are basically more compact versions of the standard rectangular and square formats. Generally speaking, however, the two main shapes are the quarter size and the sixth size. To conclude, when looking at old books, it is important to pay attention to their physical shape, not just to their content.



  1. 四半本
  2. 六半本
  3. 横長本
  4. 八半本
  5. 桝形本
  6. 特大サイズ



Goshūiwakashō 図1. 後拾遺和歌抄 一帖(四半本の例16.1 x 23.2cm)
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この六半本(源氏物語 若菜上)は化粧裁ちされないままに伝わったものなので、若干大きめで、17.8×17.5cmもあります。

Genji monogatari wakananoue 図2. 源氏物語 若菜の上
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Kokinwakashū 図3. 古今和歌集 二十巻一帖(八半本の例 8.1 x 12.2cm)
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square book 図4. 古今和歌集
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Shimeisho [ca. 1289] 図5. 紫明抄(特大サイズの例 21.9 x 28.5cm)
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Edo-period books come in more or less standard formats. We will learn about this in Week 3 of the course.


books in the video

1. 源氏物語・藤袴 2. 源氏物語・若菜 3. 源氏物語・花散里
4. 金葉和歌集 5. 敦忠集 6. 僻案抄
7. 近代秀歌 8. 新古今和歌集 9. 古今和歌集
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古書から読み解く日本の文化: 和本の世界

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