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We may divide books into two main categories: printed books and handwritten books. Modern bookshops only sell printed books, but Edo-period bookshops not only also sold manuscripts, but they could have them made on order. The term “manuscript” referred to everything from notes and jottings meant for personal use to widely-circulated, high quality copies of important books. Where as producing the blocks to print books required considerable capital investment and compliance with a complex series of governmental regulations, manuscripts could be cheaply produced, and because of the fewer restrictions compared to printed books, there was also considerably more flexibility with regard to content. Finally, manuscripts were prestigious.
The Edo period saw a dramatic rise in the number and range of printed books, but how did this affect the perception of both printed and handwritten books? The Osaka-based Ihara Saikaku, who was active in the second half of the 17th century, was one of the most successful authors of his generation. He produced a long list of lively novels in which he poked fun at characters from all walks of life. In Shōen ōkagami ,
a collection of stories set in the pleasure quarters, there is the following scene: [English translation] It is hard to be a tayū ! Once, a man of feeble memory was having an argument about whether the phrase “love is the most irrational of all pursuits” appears in the “Hahakigi” chapter of the Tale of Genji . He dispatched someone to the house of a tayū to fetch a copy of the Genji . The man returned with a copy of the Kogetsushō [1].
Having settled the dispute, the forgetful man said: “The tayū of this area are no longer what they used to be! In the olden days, a tayū would have owned a full library of the finest books in the hand of famous calligraphers. To send one of these printed books?how crude! Why is the lady criticized for handing out a printed book? The Kogetsushō was a hugely popular commentary to the Tale of Genji published by Kitamura Kigin in 1675. The Tale of Genji was first published in print form in the early 17th century, which means that for six-hundred years since it was written, it was read in manuscript form.
Because it was considered required reading for waka poets, hundreds, perhaps thousands of copies were made, of which the beautifully written, lavishly bound copies by aristocratic scribes to which the forgetful man in Saikaku’s story refers to were the most precious. Manuscript versions continued to be made in the Edo period, but with the appearance of the printed editions, and especially with the publication of annotated editions like the Kogetsushō , owning the printed edition is likely to have been the norm. As the highest ranking among the courtesans, the tayū was expected to be highly educated, and the Genji in particular, because it dealt with love and relationships, was very much required knowledge for a professional of the love industry.
This image [2] is from a book dealing with the pleasure quarters published in the second half of the 18th century. It shows a courtesan in the company of one of her clients and on the left-hand side, in front of one of the two book cases behind the woman, is a copy of a book titled Kogetsushū , probably an error for Kogetsushō . Courtesans and the Kogetsushō are often pictured together in art and literature from the 18th century onwards, which is another indicator of the work’s popularity among courtesans. Before the advent of print and print culture, a tayū would have owned a handwritten copy of the Genji .
Because of her high rank, only the highly prestigious manuscript book would have been considered suitable. All that changed with the appearance of books like the Kogetsushō . In a sense, we can see the comment of the forgetful man in Saikaku’s Shoen ōkagami as an elegy to the end of manuscript culture. With the spread of printed books, the manuscript ceased to be simply a way of making books. The poet and classicist Katō Enao notes in a work titled “Kokinshūshō no oku ni kakeru kotoba”. [English translation] The trustworthy texts today are the ones that the aging Lord Teika copied late in his life, in Jōō 2 and Karoku 2.
Poets of commoner stock today feel that if they own a printed version of the Kokin wakashū , they don’t need to make their own copy of it. But even today true connoisseurs do not stop at that. For example, the Confucian scholar Ogyū Sorai is said to have copied the Wenxuan three times in his personal notebooks. That is what one must do if one is serious about art, and that is why I have already copied the Kokinshū three times myself. Ever since its compilation in 905, the Kokinwakashū had been the sacred book of waka poets. Like the Genji , it had been read in manuscript form for centuries before the first printed editions appeared in the early 17th century.
More than 30 different print editions were published during the Edo period, far more than any other work of Japanese literature. Demand was so high that bookshops could pretty much assume a good volume of sales from it. In the 18th century when Enao wrote the above passage, the Kokinshū had been easy to get hold of for a while, and few poets now went to the trouble of copying it personally. By going against the trend of the time and copying it several times, Enao showed his commitment to waka. If prior to the spread of printing hand-copying texts had been just a way of producing books, in the age of print it acquired a new meaning.
In his autobiography, Shugyōroku , the government official Matsudaira Sadanobu claims to have personally copied many of the major classic poetry collections and prose tales several times, including seven different complete copies of the Tale of Genji . By this time, producing handwritten copies of classic texts no longer had a practical purpose, so it became almost a form of asceticism that signified complete devotion to a book or literary genre.



1. 太夫から源氏物語を借りようとした男の話


(原文) むつかしきは太夫の身也。有時、物覚のよはき人、「「わりなきは情の道」と書きしは、柏木の巻にはなき」とあらそひ、去太夫殿へ、源氏物語を借(かり)に遣しけるに、其まゝ湖月おくられて、即座に其埒(らち)もあけしに、此本を見て、「さてもさても此里の太夫もすゑになるかな。むかしは名の有御筆の哥書を、揃へて持ぬはなし。板本つかはされて、物事(ものごと)あさまになりぬ。
(現代語訳) 太夫(最高位の遊女)とは困難なことの多い立場である。ある時、記憶力の弱い男が、「「理屈ではどうしようもないのが恋の道なのだ」とは、『源氏物語』の柏木の巻に出てくる文章だっただろうか?」という事で言い争いになり、『源氏物語』を借りるために、とある太夫のところに人を派遣したところ、その人は『湖月抄』を携えて帰って来た。その本を参照して問題に決着はついたのだが、その本を見て記憶力の弱い男はこう言った。「それにしても、この地の太夫の品位も地に落ちたものだ。太夫ならば、昔は公家などの名の通った人が美しい筆跡で書いた、『源氏物語』を含む和歌や物語の豪華な写本を一揃い持っているのが当然だったのに、このような刊本を渡してくるとは、なんて粗末なことだ。」

2. 古今和歌集を三度書き写したことを誇りに思う歌人

加藤枝直(かとうえなお) (1693-1785)『古今集抄の奥に書ける詞』(1742)
(原文) 今世に證本といふものは、定家卿貞応二年老の手づから筆を染たまひしなり。又嘉禄二年に書給ひしも有とぞ。古人の常に深切なるをしるべし。今民間の歌よむ人、板行の古今一部もちたれば、自筆にうつす事はせぬにや。今の世にも常にすける人は、荻生何がし儒学者にて有しが、文選をほぐのうらに三度うつしたるなり。すける人はかくこそ有けれとはげまされて、をのれもすでに古今集を書写する事三度に及べり。
(現代語訳) 今現在、信頼に足る『古今和歌集』の写本は、藤原定家(ふじわらのさだいえ)が1223年に筆写したものである。また1226年に定家が書き写したものもあるという。昔の人というのは常に学問に対する思いが深いものであるということが、ここから解るだろう。現在、一般の人びとで歌を詠む人は、刊本の『古今和歌集』をひとつ所持していれば、わざわざ自分の手で書き写すことなどしないだろう。とはいえ、現在でも学問への思いの深い人であればそれで満足することはない。例えば荻生徂徠(おぎゅうそらい, 1666-1728)という儒者は、『文選(もんぜん)』を不要な紙の裏を使って三度も書き写したという。学問への思いの深い人とはこういうものであらねばならないと、私も励まされて、既に『古今和歌集』を三度も書き写したのだ。


  1. 『湖月抄』北村季吟
  2. 『令子洞房(むすこべや)』山東京伝 1785年刊
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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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