Akihiko Niimi (Waseda University)


Course description
In this course, students will learn about the history of Japanese books and literature.
Japanese books have a history of about 1400 years. Unlike ancient Western books that used materials such as clay tablets, papyrus, and parchment, and unlike ancient Chinese books that used materials such as bamboo leaves, mokkan (narrow strips of wood on which an official message is written) and silk fabrics, old Japanese books use paper as the main material, while mokkan were used for short document.

In Japan, there is a long history of both manuscripts and printed books. Furthermore, binding changed depending on the period and the status of the book, such as Kansu bon (a book in scroll style), Orihon (a book in scroll style), Retchō sō (a book bound with paper), and Fukurotoji (a book bound with paper).
In Japan, books by only Japanese authors are known as washo (“Japanese books”) and classified separately from Chinese classic books and Buddhist books. However, Japan has historically been strongly influenced by China, so that many Chinese classics and Buddhist texts were created in Japan up to the early-modern times.

The first half of this course follows the history of Japanese books including Chinese classics and Buddhist texts.

In the latter half of this course, we will read Japanese literature in chronological order by genre. The history of Japanese literature often overlaps with the history of Japanese books, and basically, we read the works of authors or editors by Japanese.

We will look at the works from Kojiki (712) to the end of the Edo period.
Kanji (Chinese characters) were imported from China into Japan, and kanbun (Chinese) and man’yogana (Japanese phonetic script) began to be used, and after that Japanese people started to write their own works by their own phonetic script (kana). The history of Japanese books begins with Sangyo Gisho (early 7th century) by Prince Shōtoku, while the history of Japanese literature begins with Kojiki (712) Fudoki (Around 713.) and Nihon shoki (720) based on mythology. Later, a collection of Chinese poems by Japanese people called Kaifūsō (751) and a collection of waka poems called Man’yōshū (Before 760) were edited, and a collection of Buddhist tales such as Nihon Ryōiki (“Japanese Buddhist stories”) was also created.

In the Heian period, after three imperial anthologies of Chinese poetry (early 9th century) were compiled, an imperial anthology of waka called Kokin Wakashū (“Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry”) (905) was compiled for the first time. Around the same time, prose works in kana such as Taketori Monogatari, Tosa Diary, and Ise Monogatari came to be written, and after that, through Kagerō Diary and The Pillow Book by female writers, this genre came to fruition with The Tale of Genji, a masterpiece representing Japan.

On the other hand, various collections of anecdotes for common people have been compiled since Konjaku Monogatarishū.
After the Kamakura period, hermit literature such as Hōjōki by Kamo no Chōmei and Tsurezuregusa by Kenkō Hōshi, and war chronicles like Heike Monogatari became popular, while Otogi Zōshi, a shortened version of Heian period tales, seemed to be appreciated by the common people.

In the Edo period, wood-block books came to be made, and works of various genres including ukiyo zōshi (popular stories of the floating world) by Ihara Saikaku and others, haikai (poetry) by Matsuo Bashō and others, yomihon (books for reading) such as Nansō satomi hakkenden, humorous stories such as Tōkai dochū hizakurige, and Nise Murasaki inaka Genji, which was based on the Tale of Genji, added color to literature.

We would like to read these literary works and touch upon their styles and contents.
In the latter of this course, participants will be asked to investigate and present these literary works.

Learning outcomes
Learn about Japanese bibliography. Learn about the history of Japanese books. Learn about the history of Japanese literature and various genres.

Teaching and evaluation methods
Midterm paper 25%
Presentation 25%
Final paper 25%.
Class participation 25%

Haruo Shirane, Traditional Japanese Literature: An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600, Columbia University Press; Illustrated edition (2008), 1288 pages
Haruo Shirane, Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology, 1600-1900 (Abridged Edition), Columbia University Press (2008), 552 pages
Donald Keene, Anthology of Japanese Literature: From the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century, Grove Press; Later Printing edition (1994), 448 pages


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