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The Collections of Fragments in The Keio Institute of Oriental Classics: Kirinokoshi

Fragmentation of books
Now, please look at this item. This is one of the items associated with the main house of the Kohitsu family (Kohitsu-honke), who established themselves in the field of handwriting analysis. From this cover we can see that the title is Shūishū, a collection of poetry written by Tameyo; that this came from a section about the seasons; and that the copy had been kept in the safe hand of Kohitsu Ryōon. What is particularly noteworthy is this description that reads ‘jōbon-no-kire’, indicating that this is an item of a higher grade. Another description reads ‘sumiyoshigire’, the proper name of this fragment. Shall we open the cover?
It does not have a proper cover, and it is rather damaged, too. If you turn the item around, you can see there is no back cover. It even lacks the second half of the book as the binding thread was cut off. The remaining part amounts to about one third of the original book. Threads with which old Japanese books were bound were generally fragile and liable to break. So it was not unusual that a book survived in its entirety, just like this example. The name written on this wrapper, Tameyo, refers to a man called Nijō Tameyo.
Although the handwriting is not his, there is no doubt this copy was handwritten in the period when he was active, between the late thirteenth century and the beginning of the fourteenth century. Though in a fragmentary form, this takes the shape of a book. According to the information given on the wrapper, it takes the shape of ‘kire’ (cut), meaning a fragment or fragments. This suggests that the book was made with the expectation that it should be severed and then each of the handwritten pages should be peeled off into two separate sheets of paper, resulting in two pieces of kohitsugire. There are a number of examples such as this in the collection now held in Keio’s Institute of Oriental Classics.
These were all created to be separated and severed, to serve as an invaluable evidence of the active involvement of the main house of the Kohitsu family in the production of kohitsugire.

There are experts in analysing handwriting to identify the author. We can trace such experts since the 16th century in Japan. Let’s take a look at the historical background to read the following article then watch the video.

Kohitugire – Fragments from traditional Japanese books

Traditional Japanese books, called ‘wahon’, are vulnerable to destruction, as they were softly bound with delicate and fragile paper. They were often bound using glue and thin threads, and this could easily cause them to fall apart.

It was therefore not uncommon that some constituent parts of them got lost over time as they were passed from one hand to another. Once destroyed, such books could not be read all the way through and significantly lost their intellectual value. However, people around the seventeenth century began to see such imperfect copies in a more appreciative manner than ever before. Now understanding their historic importance, they started to reevaluate such copies as works of art in the field of calligraphy. If it is a roll, it will be cut off and separated into smaller pieces to make numbers of fragments, or ‘dankan’. If it is a codex, it will be unbound and then further divided page by page into individual sheets of paper to the point where they could be newly appreciated as works of art. Unlike western parchment, ‘washi’ (traditional Japanese paper) can be peeled off into two sheets of paper, front and back. This made it possible for people to make a great number of fragments from traditional Japanese books. Indeed, what made it possible was the existence of so many old and imperfect manuscripts readily available at that time.

These fragments are called ‘kohitsugire’, which literally means pieces cut from old handwritten books. From the seventeenth century onwards, there was a craze among noble and affluent people for collecting these fragments just like collecting stamps and coins. In collecting such fragments, what mattered most to the collectors was who wrote them.

Handwriting analysis to identify the authors’ of kohitsugire

As long as they are manuscripts, there were obviously people who wrote them. But in reality, the authors’ identities can rarely be revealed, and the older the manuscripts are, the harder this whole process becomes. Even so, as a certain set of rules were laid down by someone in the past at the early stage of the history of collecting these fragments, posterity found it dutiful to follow them as fully as possible. This problem was instantly solved by the emergence of connoisseurs or experts in identifying the authors’ of kohitsugire. The pioneer in this field was a man called Kohitsu Ryōsa (1572-1662), who was given his surname Kohitsu by the powers that be. His family was later divided into two houses, both of which had since produced a great many talented individuals in this field throughout the modern age.

The Keio Institute of Oriental Classics holds a large number of collections which came from the main house of the family of Kohitsu Ryōsa. This family collection was bequeathed to Keio by the Century Cultural Foundation, which was known for its collection which illuminates the history of Japanese calligraphy. The collection bequeathed to Keio consists of a great number of various kinds of fragments and leaves, transcripts of the originals identified as authentic by those experts, and the items used by them in the process of identification. These essential items jointly testify to the cultural richness of Japanese handwriting analysis from the Edo period to the modern age.

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