Museum Workshop on Antique Japanese Books

On February 17, 2017, faculty members from Japan’s prestigious National Institute for Japanese Literature (NIJL) conducted a unique workshop for University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa faculty and students at the Honolulu Museum of Art. The workshop focused on books from the museum’s Richard Lane Collection, acquired after his death in 2002. The Japanese collection includes about 3,000 paintings and 11,000 volumes of rare books. Of special interest to the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures (EALL) from the collection are the books from the 17th and 19th centuries, and their multiple editions that allow for comparative work not possible with any single collection in Japan.

The workshop (conducted a day after the signing ceremony of an agreement between NIJL, the College of Languages, Linguistics & Literature, and the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures) represented unparalleled collaboration between NIJL and UH Mānoa scholars, and the Honolulu Museum of Art. NIJL experts introduced participants to some of the holdings of the Lane Collection, and provided a tutorial on cataloging and evaluating materials. Ultimately, the goal of the workshop, as well as the agreement, was to provide the organizations with more opportunities for partnerships in the future.  

The workshop theme was kurabete kangaeru (“compare, and consider the implications”). Highlights included:

  • Professor Junko Koyama provided an overview of NIJL’s international networking project for pre-modern Japanese texts, of which UH Mānoa and the Honolulu Museum of Art are now part.
  • Professor Tomoko Koida gave a crash-course on how to read kuzushiji, the cursive characters in which many old books are written.
  • Professor Kenichi Kansaku (workshop coordinator) gave an overview of publishing practices in the Edo period, and guidelines for continuing to catalog items in the Lane Collection, only partially cataloged at present.
  • Professor Tsuneyo Terashima, deputy director of NIJL, used samples from the Lane Collection to demonstrate how formatting and presentation of a particular illustrated poetry collection changed over time to suit new tastes and interests among readers.
  • Professor Maori Saito discussed publishing practices connected to the so-called Nara ehon genre and demonstrated how the genre connected to other aspects of popular Edo period culture, such as Kabuki theater.
  • Professor Kenji Kobayashi described his discovery in the Lane Collection of a heretofore unknown text of a well-known folk-tale that alters the way we view the publishing history of that text.
  • Professor Atsushi Iriguchi used Ozaka Monogatari, a 17th century battle account that was re-printed many times over the centuries, to illustrate the development of the seihanbon, a style of wood-block printing that put a page of text on a single block using a stencil method which allowed mass-production of books that had the look of handwritten texts.

EALL MA student Hilson Reidpath remarked, “What I most liked about this workshop was that these experts were able to not only share their expertise on these texts, and demonstrate innovative ways of looking at pre-modern texts, but also that they were able to utilize books in the Lane Collection. This is particularly exciting for me, because I realized that we have such a rich vault of resources available only a few miles from campus, waiting to be examined and critically studied.”

Robert Huey, EALL chair, said “I am grateful to Tokiko Bazzell, Japan librarian in Hamilton Library, for working so hard to make the workshop and all related activities a reality, and of course to the faculty at NIJL, who even re-did many of their presentation slides with English captions to help us understand their work.” 

Following the workshop, Mr. Yasushi Misawa, Consul-General of Japan in Honolulu, and Mrs. Misawa hosted the participants and other guests at a lively reception at the Consul-General’s residence.