Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only T&Cs apply

Find out more

The appearance of illustrated books

The appearance of illustrated books
Here I will talk about the origins of book-type illustrated books. As I said earlier, throughout pre-modern times the custom in Japan was to include illustrations only in scrolls. However, that started to change in the second half of the 16th century when we see the appearance of the first illustrated books. What caused the change is not entirely clear. If we take a look at these books, these are pictures that were taken out of one such book, you can see the binding holes here, which tell us that they came from a fukurotoji book. The size is more or less the same as that of a large scroll.
Next to appear were this kind of wide-page illustrated books which are about half the size of the larger illustrated fukurotoji books. As this line of thread here shows, these were also bound using the fukurotoji method. You can see that they contain illustrations. They are about the same size of the smaller koemaki (small scrolls) that we discussed earlier. So just like picture scrolls, book-type illustrated books also come in a large size and in a smaller one about half the size of the larger type. But why was fukurotoji binding, of all the available binding methods, preferred for illustrated books?
The thing to remember is that just as in scrolls only the inner side of the paper is used, so in fukurotoji books the leaves are first folded in two, and only the outer side is written on. So what scrolls and fukurotoji books have in common is that only one side of the paper is used. Similarly, if you have enough paper to make one of the smaller koemaki, you can also make one of the smaller fukurotoji. It is conceivable that this is how the first book-type illustrated were created. Having moved their first steps in the Muromachi period, book-type illustrated books reached the peak of their popularity in the Edo period (17th century onwards) when they were produced in huge numbers.
Picture scrolls did not die out but continued to exist alongside them.

Starting from the 16th century, it became common to insert illustrations in book-style formats. All illustrated books were in the so-called “pouch” binding (fukurotoji). First, read the following article, and then watch Prof. Sasaki explain the details with examples.

We have noted that in Japan illustrations were associated with the scroll format, so for a long time no one attempted to insert images in book-format books even though it would not have been particularly difficult to do so. We have also mentioned the exception of handwritten copies of Chinese printed books featuring “plates” (as opposed to illustrations), the earliest examples of which date from the Kamakura period. The only pre-16th century book-format book that contains illustrations is a 13th century copy of the Tale of Genji bound in detchōsō binding.

However, starting from the 16th century, it became common to insert illustrations in book-style formats. All illustrated books were in the so-called “pouch” binding (fukurotoji), and came in two main sizes, a standard one and a smaller one approximately half the height of the regular size with “low” but wide pages (known as yoko-hon or “horizontal” books).

The examples of larger fukurotoji books in Keio Library’s collection include this slightly smaller than usual 16th century item measuring 21.7 by 27.4 cm(Ōgi-awase monogatari, Fig.1), and a rather large item measuring 25.0 x 31.9 cm which dates from the turn of the 17th century. (Yonjūni no monoarasoi, Fig.2)

illustrated books Fig.1. Ōgi-awase monogatari, Click to take a closer look

illustrated books Fig.2. Shijūni no monoarasoi, Click to take a closer look

Among the horizontal fukurotoji (yokohon), we can mention this early 17th century manuscript of the Bishamon no honji 24.6 x 16.5 cm (Fig.3) and the more or less contemporaneous (and slightly larger) Giō 25.6 x 18.5 cm (Fig.4).

illustrated books Fig.3. Bishamon no honji, Click to take a closer look

illustrated books Fig.4. Giō, Click to take a closer look

To summarize, both scrolls and fukurotoji books were made in two sizes, one twice as big as the other. The likely reason is that the same sheets of paper that were used to make large and small scrolls were also used to make illustrated fukurotoji books. The fact that in both fukurotoji and scrolls only one side of the paper is used also tells us that for those making these books paper was fairly easy to source.

Finally, it is worth mentioning items of rare or uncommon size. This one(Tokiwa no uba , Fig.5)measures 21.5 x 19.3 cm and it is almost square in shape.

Illustrated Books Fig.5. Tokiwa no uba (Old Lady Tokiwa), late-Muromachi period,
Click to take a closer look

Next are these two rather large books which look just like standard large fukurotoji books that have been rotated 90 degrees; the measurements are 34 by 25.8 cm.(Isozaki, Fig.6).

Illustrated Books Fig.6. Isozaki, early Edo period,
Click to take a closer look

Books introduced in the video

1. Taketori monogatari 2. A piece of big size of illustrated book (1) 3. A piece of big size of illustrated book (2)
4. Chūjōhime 5. Bunshō Sōsi 6. Kachō fūgetsu
This article is from the free online

Japanese Culture Through Rare Books

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now