Japanese Books: From Manuscript to Print

Module 1: Books, Scrolls, and Religious Devotion This unit offers special access to a unique group of books and scrolls and sacred objects once interred inside a thirteenth-century Buddhist sculpture of Prince Shotoku, now in the collection of the Harvard Art Museums. The works to be studied represent the most prevalent formats of Japanese books, but they display striking material idiosyncrasies that will help us understand how and why manuscripts were made, and how they could be personalized for individual readers, motivated, in this case, by religious devotion. Module 2: Visual and Textual Storytelling: Short-Story Scrolls Enter into the storyworlds of two lively illustrated Japanese tales, The Tale of the Rat (Nezumi sôshi) and The Chrysanthemum Spirit (Kiku no sei monogatari) in the Harvard Art Museums. Both tales are illustrated in the “small scroll” ( ko-e ) format, roughly half the size of standard scrolls, resembling medieval paperbacks, and intended for personal reading and private libraries. This unit focuses on reading experience, exploring the interrelationship between word and image, and explaining how literary and pictorial conventions work together to communicate a story. Module 3: “Multimedia” Books: The Tale of Genji Japan’s most celebrated work of fiction, The Tale of Genji , has been continuously read from the time it appeared in the eleventh-century to the present day and provides a perfect case study for exploring various book formats over the centuries in Japan. Using decorated manuscripts, richly illustrated albums, and a playful printed book of a Genji spin-off, A Fraudulent Murasaki’s Rustic Genji (Nise Murasaki Inaka Genji), this unit showcases the spectacular visual and material properties of Genji volumes that make them suggestive of “multimedia” books.

Created by: Harvard University

Level: Introductory

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