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Bordered plates and the use of the outer border in kana books

Bordered plates and the use of the outer border in kana books

An important difference between printed and handwritten illustrated books is that illustrations in printed books often feature a border or frame whereas illustrations in handwritten books do not. First, read the article, and then watch Prof. Sasaki’s video explanation to see examples.

Illustrations in printed books tend to be surrounded by a border or frame whereas illustrations in handwritten books are not. For example, as a printed book, this version of the Ise monogatari (Fig.1; the same book introduced in the previous step) does feature the border.

Saga-bon Ise monogatari Fig.1. Saga-bon Ise monogatari
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Most of the so-called Saga-bon were printed with movable type but some, like Shinkokinshūshō Getsuei waka-kan (Poems on the Moon from the Shinkokinshū) (this work is preserved in Gotoh Museum collection. please refer to “See also” section), were printed using the old woodblock method (known as seihan). Not all scholars consider it part of the Saga books, but there are other examples, such as the Saga-bon Sanjūrokkasen (Fig.2). It follows in the tradition of portraits of famous poets accompanied by their most representative poems (known as kasen-e, literally, “poet-pictures”), which dates back to at least the twelfth century. Literary countless poet-pictures survive, in scrolls, books, or as individual images(Look at manuscripts of Hyakunin isshu (Fig.3.)).

But whereas images of the poets in earlier works do not feature the border around either the images or the text, the Saga-bon version does.

*Saga-bon Sanjūrokkasen* Fig. 2. Saga-bon Sanjūrokkasen
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Ogura hyakunin isshu Fig.3. Ogurayama hyakunin isshu
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We do not know for certain why illustrations in printed books always featured a border. It may have been for some unknown technical reason, but that is unlikely to be the only explanation. One intriguing hypothesis is that it was as a result of Western influence. European printed works, the history of which began in 1455 with Gutemberg’s Bible, were usually in book format, and featured bordered images. The introduction of firearms in 1543 marked the beginning of a time of great interest in all things Western, including books. However, due to the persecution of Christianity almost no European books from this period survive, so it is difficult if not impossible to determine whether a connection exists. Considering that book-style illustrated books appeared roughly at the time of maximum circulation of Western books in Japan, the possibility of direct influence seems likely enough, but it is impossible to say more.

Interestingly, as of a certain point the use of the border around images seems to have begun affecting the printed text as well. Ever since the early days of movable type printing at the beginning of the Edo period, printed books in hiragana did not feature a border around the text (called kyōkaku, Korean kwangg-wak ). However, books in Chinese or Sino-Japanese did, as it was usual in China and Korea, and so did books written in katakana, the script traditionally used to annotate Chinese texts. In a sense, the border was a sort of hallmark of printed books. Recent research has shown that the book below was one of the so-called Saga-bon (Fig.4. Shiji [J. Shiki, Records of the Grand Historian]). As you can see, it does feature the outer border.

By contrast, books without borders were more visually akin to manuscripts, and it is likely that the earliest printed kana books were made as replicas of manuscripts. We know that printed replicas of manuscripts were quite popular in Europe, for instance.

Shiji Fig.4. Shiji (J. Shiki)
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The text of this book Tawara Tōda monogatari (The Tale of Tawara “Rice-bag” Tōda)(Fig. 5) looks almost handwritten; what gives it away as a printed book is the border around the image.

Tawara Tōda monogatari Fig.5. Tawara Tōda monogatari
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As you can see, the top part of the frame is slightly more indented than the text (a feature which we first see in the Saga-bon Ise monogatari). Indeed, if one looks at both text and image at the same time, there is a certain lack of balance. It is difficult to say for certain if the two phenomena are related, but as of the second half of the 17th century, not only did the border begin to be used around the text portion in more and more kana works, but in all cases in which the type and the images were produced at the same time (text and images were not always made together; sometimes illustrations were added to texts that initially did not have any, or they were made anew to replace older ones), it was standard to use frames of equal size for both . This book Tsuru no sōshi (The crane’s tale) (Fig 6.) is an early example featuring practically perfectly aligned frames for both text and images.

Tsuru no sōshi Fig.6. Tsuru no sōshi
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The eventual adoption of the text border in printed books in kana can be said to mark the end of the attempts to associate printed books to manuscripts and the final acceptance of the printed book as a legitimate medium. Though very rare, there are a few examples of mid-17th century kana books without the border. They are a series of 23 books called Otogi bunko (Collection of Tales), although it is unclear if the blocks were all made at the same time (Fig.7 Otogi Sōshi Issun bōshi) From such features as the landscape orientation of the page and the design of the covers, we can tell that they were created as faithful replicas of the horizontal Nara ehon. One item in the set, the Tale of Bunshō (Bunshō-zōshi), even features hand-colored illustrations. By replicating all the features of manuscript books, the makers probably meant to maximize the appeal of the product at a time when the book market as a whole was moving away from manuscript replicas.

Tsuru no sōshi Fig.7. Otogi Sōshi Issun bōshi
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Books introduced in the video

Books on the table

6. Nosezaru Sōshi 5. Akinoyonaga monogatari 4. Akinoyonaga monogatari
3. Tsukishima 2. Sanjūrokkasen 1. Shiji
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