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Main Binding Methods 1 - Scroll

There are 5 main binding styles for old Japanese books. In this section, you will learn about Kansusō (scroll binding).

There are five main binding styles in traditional Japanese bookmaking. First, read the article below, and then watch Prof. Sasaki talk about the oldest and most prestigious one, scroll binding.

The Five Main Binding Styles

Moving back to books, we can define a book as several sheets of paper arranged in order and bound together. The sheets can be bound in many different ways, and the book will look different depending on the binding method used. All methods used in traditional Japanese bookmaking were first invented in China. They were introduced in Japan in successive waves, very much like the kanji pronunciations that we discussed in a previous section.

Despite their common origins, many differences set apart Japanese books from their Chinese and Korean counterparts. The primary reason for these differences is the much greater diffusion of printing on the Asian mainland compared to Japan. Woodblock-printed books, which first appeared in China in the 7th century under the Tang had become the dominant format by the Song dynasty (960-1279). Popular commercial editions known as fangkeben (J. bōkokubon) were also in existence by the Song. Printing was so successful in China because it allowed to disseminate a standardized version of any text in a large country with widespread literacy. But in Japan, where literacy was far more limited and distances were much smaller, printing was only used for Buddhist works until the seventeenth century, despite having been introduced as early as the 8th century. It was only with the introduction of new printing technology from Korea and Europe and the arrival of Christian missionaries between the late 16th and early 17th centuries that (movable-type) printing came into widespread use. Prof. Ichinohe will say more about these developments in the third week of the course.

Publishing is a form of mass production, so efficiency is important. In China and Korea, where printed books dominated from early on, the most popular binding methods were those best suited to printed books and other methods were rarely used. By contrast, in Japan where manuscripts held sway for much longer, efficiency was never a concern and a wide range of different formats and binding methods were used according to their suitability to the content and aim of each book. The five main binding methods used in traditional Japanese bookmaking are the following:

  • I. kansusō (scroll binding)
  • II. orihon (concertina or accordion-style binding)
  • III. detchōsō (“oriental style” or “pasted paper leaf” binding)
  • IV. tetsuyōsō (“multisection” binding)
  • V. fukurotoji (“bound-pocket” or “pouch” binding)

The styles can be grouped into subgroups according to different criteria. In the first three formats, the sheets are joined together with glue, whereas in the last two thread or string is used. Styles nos. III to V are all book-style formats and are collectively called sōshi (books). With styles nos. III and IV it is usual to have writing on both sides of the sheet/page, whereas in styles nos. I and II it is not common. Let us look at each method in more detail, starting with those that use glue.

I. Kansusō (scroll binding)

Kansuso (scroll binding) Fig.1 Above: Scroll Binding (Unit: Jiku)

In scroll binding, the different sheets of paper are joined together with glue to form a long horizontal strip; a cover sheet is applied at one end and a roller (jiku) at the other, around which the scroll is rolled up. The parts of the roller that stick out from the paper are called jikugashira (roller-heads). The outer edge of the “front” cover is rolled inwards to form a tube called hassō through which a half-moon shaped bamboo dowel is inserted. The dowel’s function is to make the cover stick firmly to the scroll. The scroll can be then tied tightly together with a lace (makihimo).

In most cases scrolls bear writing only on the inner side, but the rear side was used occasionally when no more space was available on the inner side. This is known as uragaki (“rear inscription”). The scroll is the most ancient of the paper book formats. As the first scrolls that were brought from China contained extremely valuable content such as Buddhist sutras and the great writings of China, scroll binding was perceived in Japan as highly prestigious and even after it ceased to be used in China, it remained a popular format for books of an official or formal nature (See two samples below).

Tōdaiji Hachimankyō Daihannya haramitakyō Fig.2 Example of Kansusō: Tōdaiji Hachimankyō Daihannya haramitakyō.
Click to take a closer look.

Shinsen Tsukuba-shū Fig.3 Example of Kansusō: Shinsen Tsukuba-shū.
Click to take a closer look

One of the characteristics of the scroll is that the viewing area is larger than in an ordinary book, and for this reason it was often used for works with illustrations and diagrams or charts. The disadvantages are that it is not easy to go directly to the section one wants to look at and that the scroll must be rewound after reading it. However, rather than diminishing the popularity of the format, these characteristics added to its aura of prestige and authority. The individual volumes of a book are still today called ikkan, nikan etc. (scroll one, scroll two, etc.) because of the past popularity of the scroll format. However, modern specialists use the term jiku (literally, roller) to number individual scrolls.

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