Home>Events / Reports>Workshop on Bibliographical Studies at the Keio Institute of Oriental Classics (session 1)
Special Lecture

Method of East Asian Classical Studies, 38th Seminar
Workshop on Bibliographical Studies
at the Keio Institute of Oriental Classics (session 1)

January 26th and 27th
Keio Institute of Oriental Classics, Keio University
SASAKI Takahiro (Lecturer at the Keio Institute of Oriental Classics)

Basic Information


Dr. Sasaki Takahiro will conduct a lecture and hosting a practical workshop on bibliographical studies at the Keio Institute of Oriental Classics. Participants will consist of graduate students from Kyoto University, Tokyo University, and Hokkaido University working in the area of premodern Japanese literature. This is the first of a series of such workshops planned for the future. All participants have been selected beforehand; attendance is not open to the public.


The Creation of a Next-Generation Hub for East Asian Classical Studies: Accelerating Research and Education through International Collaboration
keio Institute of Oriental Classics


A two-day workshop on bibliographical studies was held at the Keio Institute of Oriental Classics (Shidō bunko), from January 26-27. Aside from Dr. Sasaki Takahiro, who led the workshop, there were a total of six attendees, three from Tokyo University, one from Kyoto University, and two from Hokkaido University.


The first day of the workshop began with an introduction to the Keio Institute of Oriental Classics, and was thereafter occupied mainly with a lecturers about such things as the history of paper and the various types of book binding used in Japan. Paper types and binding methods were selected by bookmakers in accordance with contemporary standards relating to different types and genres of books, such that it is now possible, by examining these material aspects, to know the status or prestige of a given book at the date of its publication. Moreover, by looking at these same aspects, we can get a glimpse into the social and economic status of the individual or individuals who participated in the production of a given book. Finally, an understanding of the salient features of the various forms of binding is helpful in reconstructing, in the imagination at least, the original form and appearance of documents that have come down to us in fragmented form.


 After lunch, participants looked at actual samples of a number of books, each bound in different styles commonly found in Japanese premodern books. Attention was drawn to telling changes in orthography that, when properly identified, allow one to ascertain the date of production of a given document more easily. Then, after a short break, the workshop continued with an explanation of the different types of glue—their relative adhesive strength and unique features—once used in Japanese bookmaking. Finally, having heard a lecture on a traditional method of Japanese bookbinding known as fukurotoji, literally “pouch binding,” participants were invited to handle and carefully examine a number of actual samples. It was explained how the content of books bound in this method reveal certain common characteristics, and that the cover size of books bound in this manner, as well as some finer details of binding, varied somewhat according to the genre of writing of a given book.

The second day of this workshop began with a lecture on books produced in Vietnam, and continued with another lecture on the art of rebinding books. Regarding the latter, it was often the case that books would be rebound with covers that were more expensive in order to increase the overall value of a given book. Participants examined samples in order to find traces of rebinding.

 After lunch, participants engaged in more hands-on work, applying what they had learned thus far. Participants selected books that bore some relation to their respective fields of specialization and, using special forms created expressly for collecting bibliographical data, recorded their observations regarding such aspects as binding, format, and paper. Bibliographical studies, despite serving as an important part of the foundation of many different fields of study, is often treated as an ancillary field of only secondary importance. The fact remains, however, that our understanding of books—not only their material form but their content, as well—can be significantly enriched by a thorough, tactile acquaintance with extant premodern books. Modern-day edited volumes and digital reproductions, while convenient, have their limitations.

This two-day workshop offered a valuable opportunity to think more seriously about such issues, and to gain a real hands-on experience of bibliographic studies. Some of the materials made available for examination are quite rare; this was truly a special and intellectually stimulating event for all involved. We offer out sincerest thanks to Dr. Sasaki for making this two-day workshop all possible.

Participants were kind enough to share with us their thoughts on the workshop. What follows is a translation of each of the six participants’ words.

[1.] This workshop gave me an opportunity to gain a basic understanding of bibliographical studies. For example, though I had previously read books on my own about Japanese bookbinding, I was never able to come away with anything more than a few fragments of knowledge. During the practical portion of the workshop, when the different types of binding were explained in a systematic, chronological fashion, I was able to lay my hands on real examples of these various types. It was then that I first began to gain a concrete understanding of the subject matter. Moreover, we were shown, by means of real examples, how fukurotoji-style bound books were rebound into tecchōsō 綴葉装-style books, and how these latter books were then turned into scrolls (kansubon 巻子本). I am now able to discern these various types from one another. The explanations given at this workshop were extremely helpful. Now, having had the opportunity to undergo some practical training, discerning such things as damage to paper caused by insects or staining seems relatively straightforward. Before the workshop, however, I could not have appreciated such things. I feel as though my horizons are greatly broadened.

 To give one very specific example: I learned exactly where to place the tape measure when measuring the dimensions of a book. This may seem like an insignificant point, but it is one I have found myself confused over when measuring books for myself. This little piece of knowledge was very helpful. Also, I feel now somewhat more familiar with the actual tactile feel of the various types of paper used in premodern Japanese books. Even so, considering the wide range of papers, each with their special feel and thickness, I would require a deal more training before I felt confident enough to accurately distinguish one type of paper from another. It was a pleasure to see how our instructor used a number of clever “techniques” to ascertain the properties of various books. He told us to try to ascertain the type of paper used for book covers by running our fingers over them in order to feel the position and shape of their weave. Try as I might, however, I could not succeed. More importantly, though, I was honored to simply be able to feel with my own hands books that had been felt and read by great scholars of the past.

 Considering books serve as a repository for the written word, turning our attention squarely to books as material objects in themselves has considerable merit. I only hope that my understanding of bibliographical studies will continue to grow. I am grateful for this wonderful opportunity.

(SatōKai佐藤嘉惟, Doctoral student at Tokyo University)


[2.] Considering I specialize in the Meiji period, I was not at all familiar with the world of handwritten manuscripts. Thanks to this workshop, however, I was able to gain a rudimentary understanding of pre-modern manuscripts. When it comes to the different sorts of bookbinding techniques and paper types, words are simply not enough. This workshop gave me the invaluable opportunity of being able to touch manuscripts with my own hands, thereby giving me a firsthand, tactile experience. Moreover, by looking at a number of actual examples, we were able to see for ourselves the different sizes and types of font in which book titles were written. Though this may seem like a minor point, it meant a great deal to me. This workshop, as opposed to giving us detailed knowledge of a particular book, was aimed at making us familiar with a hands-on appreciation of a wide range of different books. From this experience, I was able to gain a basic understanding of the different sort of books that circulated throughout the pre-modern period. If not for this workshop, I would not have been able to gain this sort of experience—an experience that will help in building a foundation for my future research. The practice of reading and coming into contact with a great variety of things, of perceiving broad trends and systematically organizing one’s observations is, far from being something unique to bibliographic studies, something fundamental to all research. In the field of literary analysis, scholars tend to focus more-or-less exclusively on a single text. On the other hand, however, there are things that can only be discerned after one has come into contact with a great many texts. Dr. Sasaki’s book drew my attention to an important fact: We ought to consider not only the content of the text in question, but what sort of material format—what sort of book—it was written in. This fact was further enforced by his workshop. As for my own research, I would like to make a survey of the sorts of book formats found throughout the Meiji period, and see what sort of connections might be made between format and content.

(TobitaHidenobu飛田英伸 , Doctoral student at Tokyo University)


[3.] What left the greatest impression on me from this workshop on bibliographical studies was the knowledge I gained regarding the rebinding of books in different formats and the designs found on the hanshin 版心 (writing on the outermost edge of each page) and kyōkaku 匡郭 (lines forming the marginal borders of each page). Almost all books published in China were bound in the fukurotoji style. Of course, this is not to say that China did not produce any scrolls, folded books (orihon) or decchō-style 粘葉装 books. Rather, these formats were never the norm in China. It is also a rare thing in China to find a book that has been rebound in a different format. Had it not been for Dr. Sasaki’s lecture, I should never have known that Japanese books were rebound in different formats. Dr. Suzuki made it clear to us that, in Japan, scrolls were sometimes rebound as folding books in order to facilitate easier reading. Folding books and fukurotoji-style books were rebound as scrolls, while fukurotoji-style books and decchō-style books were, in their turn, rebounds as tecchō-style 綴葉装 books in order to give these books a more impressive appearance. It is possible, therefore, to gain some insight into the manner in which a book was treated by contemporary readers by looking at its format history.

              Likewise, it is possible to gain a deeper understanding of a bookmaker’s attitude towards his creations by looking at the aforementioned hanshin and kyōkaku. During the two days of our workshop, we were able to examine several dozen premodern books. I saw very clearly how the hanshin and kyōkaku of books made in China, Korea, and Japan differed from one another. The designs of various hanshin and kyōkaku reveal their cultural provenance. My experience with bibliographical studies had always been limited to orthography. This workshop taught me that, aside from the written word, it is also important to examine the material format of a book. Those elements of a text that cannot be explained strictly from the perspective of orthography may be properly understood from the perspective of a book’s format and binding.


Li Zhaoyu (Doctoral student at Tokyo University)


[4.] For me, the Keio Institute of Oriental Classics (Shidō bunko) is a something akin to a holy place, a place every scholar interested in Japanese and Chinese books knows and loves. As a foreigner, the thing that helped me most in improving my understanding of bibliographical studies was being able to hear someone pronounce the many technical terms of the field out loud. Many exchange students, despite having read many technical Japanese books, often do not know the correct reading (pronunciation) of technical terms. Thanks to this workshop, in which Dr. Sasaki repeatedly used a number of technical terms, I was finally able to learn exactly how to pronounce these terms. It occurred to me that, no matter how many books or articles one reads, nothing can help you improve your speaking ability of a foreign language quite so much as hands-on workshops like this one. I believe that I will now be able to express my thoughts more clearly at future symposiums and research meetings.

 Beginning in 2016, I became involved in assisting in the management of materials stored in the Fujikawa Collection at Kyoto University Library. During this recent workshop I thought to myself many times how beneficial it would have been had I had the opportunity to participate in some hands-on practical work of this sort before beginning my work at the library. At the library, I was asked to help organize a number of premodern medical treatises. Considering my lack of bibliographical knowledge, however, I made a great number of mistakes. As I was listening to the lectures during this workshop, I set my mind on rechecking those mistakes when I went back home.

At the end of the second day of our workshop, all participants were invited by Dr. Sasaki to visit the book stacks at the Keio Institute of Oriental Classics. For someone like me, who had seen Kyoto University’s Rare Books Room, this workshop was especially stimulating. Seeing the stacks and rare book collections, and how books were preserved in each, left a deep impression on me. On the afternoon of the second day, we were looking at a number of medical treatises. I asked to look at a book entitled Shinkyaku hitsuwa 清客筆話, which is a record of the conversation exclusively in writing by the Japanese doctor Mori Risshi 森立之 and the Chinese scholar yang Shoujing 楊守敬. I never dreamed I would be able to touch with my own hands a book I had only read about in articles and elsewhere. That scholars at the Keio Institute of Oriental Classics were able to unearth this document, which has preserved this rare conversation of historical importance, is truly something for which we ought to be grateful. This workshop helped me recall to mind the feelings I had when first I decided to pursue studies in premodern texts, and inspire me to push ahead with future research.


 (Cheng Gaoya, Doctoral student at Kyoto University)


[5.] This workshop, including even those casual remarks or incidental tangents during the lectures, is sure to benefit me from hereon in. I took special interest in the fact that, during the premodern period, Chinese bookmakers favored woodblock editions in order to preserve the content of their books, while Japanese bookmakers preferred handwritten manuscripts. For example, in Japan, readers, who were simultaneously copying the texts they were reading, were consequently able to alter the content of the works in question, this giving birth to alternative versions. Differences of genre and subject matter aside, it is safe to say that Japanese literature was amenable to being changed by readers/copyists. Even though printing technology reached Japan around the eighth century, the fact that it was not widely used in Japan speaks to this country’s preference for handwritten manuscripts, and for the particular way in which Japanese readers approached what was for them a truly interactive art of reading. I was impressed also by the manner in which measurements of certain aspects of woodblock editions can help in determining the close relationships between different editions. Even when such things do not seem to yield much profit in the immediate present, the knowledge gained from these and other meticulous observations is sure to be of service in later research. The realization that these observations are waiting to be made with relation to premodern texts had a deep impact in me. From hereon in, I would like to take what I have learned at this workshop and apply it to my own research, especially to the practice of collecting accurate information about books.


 (Kudō Takaaki, Doctoral student at Hokkaido University


[6.] A book is not merely the sum of its textual contents. Binding, paper, calligraphy—all these bibliographical elements are intimately connected with the text. As Dr. sasaki, in his monograph Nihon koten shoshigakuron, has stated, literary research that does not take a comprehensive look at all these aspects is in danger of being too narrow. Research into Japanese literature must be rebuilt upon the foundations of bibliographical studies. The 38th seminar of the Method of East Asian Classical Studies, dedicated as it was to bibliographical studies, comes at a most opportune time. To be able to touch with my own hands rare books belonging to the Keio Institute of Oriental Classics (Shidō bunko), and to hear lectures by Dr. Sasaki, was, for one specializing in Japanese literature, a truly invaluable opportunity. Researchers throughout their careers tend to become stuck in a progressively narrower world of specialization. Research into Japanese literature and language has made some great progress by sharing new insights gleaned from numerous related fields, such as history, intellectual history, and cultural studies. Bibliographical studies is doing the same thing by simultaneously engaging various fields. I would like to thank Dr. Sasaki as well as the Keio Institute of Oriental Classics for providing us with this wonderful opportunity.


(Takao Yūta, Doctoral student at Hokkaido University)


A Note regarding the Workshop on Bibliographical Studies

As of 2017, the program “The Creation of a Next-Generation Hub for East Asian Classical Studies: Accelerating Research and Education through International Collaboration” (led by Saitō Mareshi), has held a series of seminars dealing with the methodology and perspectives of bibliographical studies, insofar as such studies serve a foundational role in research relating to the East Asian classics. in cooperation with Keio Institute of Oriental Classics. This series of seminars, “Workshop on Bibliographical Studies,” is made possible through the generous cooperation of Dr. Sasaki Takahiro of Keio University. This workshop seeks to provide participants not only with those basic skills required for the field, but also with a more in-depth understanding of relevant theoretical knowledge. We offer two levels for this workshop, a beginner as well as an intermediate class. Participation in each session is determined beforehand. These workshops are intended primarily for doctoral students.