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How to handle Japanese rare books

Learn how to handle rare books in the library.
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Next, I would like to briefly explain the proper way to handle a traditional book. The correct way is to place it on a flat surface, such as a desk, and look at it rather than holding it in your hands. In Edo times, it was common to use slanted reading desks (called shokendai), but generally speaking the proper way of looking at a book is to lay it flat. As you can see, I am touching the book with bare hands. Some of you might think that I should be wearing gloves but there is a good reason for not using gloves. Wearing gloves makes turning the pages difficult.
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It is fine when the paper is thick as it is in this book, but close to impossible with very thin paper like the one used in this one. As you struggle to turn the pages you tend to apply more strength, which greatly increases the likelihood of tearing a page. From a researcher’s point of view, turning pages with bare fingers also allows the specialist to get valuable information about the item, such as the type and thickness of the paper used.
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The downside is, of course, is that the items can get dirty, so in order to keep the soiling to a minimum, researchers always wash their hands with soap before handling an item and repeat the process if they sweat during the session. It is also desirable to remove all items that could potentially damage the books (wrist watches, bracelets, etc.) and to keep one’s fingernails clean and short. Oil from dirty hands can lead to the formation of mold on which insects feed. So please be careful when you handle old books.
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And let me also add that today we are looking at the books from your point of view, so the reverse of how I would be looking at them if I were on my own.

Before introducing rare books from our library, let’s learn how to handle Japanese rare books.

Watch the video of Prof. Sasaki explaining the proper way to handle old books and the reasons behind it.

Any comments? Share your thoughts in the comments area with other learners. Feel free to read and respond to other people’s comments.

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Also you can find a PDF version of all the steps including scripts in the DOWNLOADS section of the first step of the each week.

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Japanese Culture Through Rare Books

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