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The invasions of Korea and printing technology

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The dawn of the early modern era saw another event that was to have important repercussions on Japanese book culture: the two invasions of Korea of the Bunroku() and Keichō() eras (1592-1598). The victorious Japanese troops returned home with prisoners and spoils of war, which included books. By this time, Korea already possessed a sophisticated print culture, which thrived under the support of the ruling Joseon dynasty (1392-1897). The central court oversaw the production of metal type, which was used to print high-quality editions of the canonical texts. These texts were then sent to the various government offices and their local outposts to be reprinted in woodblock editions for wider distribution. Printed texts from Korea are known in Japan as Chōsen-ban (Korean editions).
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The texts produced by the court are beautifully-made, large-size books measuring more than 30 cm in height, and it is not an exaggeration to call them one of the high points of the East Asian bookmaking tradition. By officially embracing book printing, the Korean court truly put into practice the ideal of “governing through culture”. (1)(2) The Japanese troops’ interest in books may have been piqued by the participation in these missions of Zen monks from the Five Mountains serving as diplomatic envoys. Once brought back to Japan, “Korean editions” were then sent to important families such as the Toyotomi(), the Tokugawa(), and other parties directly involved in books and bookmaking (temples, physicians, etc.), and, almost immediately, they began to influence local printing practices.
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Japanese readers were quick to notice the new printing technology. A movable-type edition of the Classic of Filial Piety(3) is known to have been printed in the Bunroku era () at the court of Emperor GoYōzei(). Then in 1596, Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s physician, Oze Hoan, employed the new technology to print the Tang-period(*) Mengqiu(4), a popular text for early learning. In the Keichō era, GoYōzei’s court also published such books as the Kangakubun, the “Four Books” (5), the poetry collection Kinshūdan, and the “Age of the Gods” volumes of the Nihon shoki(6) Interestingly, all of these books note the use of the newly-imported printing technology from Korea in the colophon. Here we have a Korean edition of the Sanchū(7), a series of texts for early learners.
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They were printed in the 15th century at the court of King Sejong the Great(). The metal type used is the Gapinja (J. Kōinji), also known as First-cast Gapinja (shochū Kōinji), a beautiful version of the block script (kaisho, Ch. Kaishu) known traditionally as “Lady Wei’s script” () it is made from a copper alloy. The slight difference in thickness of the ink on the page is due to the fact that ink can spread unevenly on the metal. In Korea, movable type books were printed in relatively small numbers for use by senior officials of the court. A different printing and distribution method was then used to circulate them beyond the court.
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As a result of the Japanese invasions of Korea, a large number of these books found their way to Japan.
The dawn of the early modern era saw another event that was to have important repercussions on Japanese book culture. Watch Prof. Sumiyoshi explain.

Period names that appeared in the video

(*) in the English subtitle indicates the name of the period. Please refer to the following Chinese period names appeared in the video as well as Step1.3 “East Asian History at a Glance”.

Historical figures that appeared in the video

Keywords mentioned in the video

Books introduced in the video

  1. J. Shōsetsu kobun shinpō taizen, from Korea, Early Korean Period
    Click to see the image and information
  2. Shiji (J.Shiki)
    Click to see the image and information
  3. Classic of Filial Piety (Xiaojing, J. Kōkyō)
  4. Mengqiu (J. Mōkyū), published by Oze Hoan
  5. Four Books includes; Analects, Mencius, Doctrine of the Mean, and the Great Learning
  6. Nihon shoki (Chronicles of Japan, 720).
  7. Sanchū, from Korea, Early Korean Period
    Click to see the image and information
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Sino-Japanese Interactions Through Rare Books

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