October 14th, 2021
Column: Reading Kuzushiji with Technology Outside of Japan

I am Saeko Suzuki, a PhD student at the University of British Columbia, Canada. My doctoral project aims to understand how publishing systems textualize and visualize knowledge for printed books in response to social and political transformations during the Edo period.I attended the Reading Kuzushiji Workshop at the University of Chicago during the past three years under the instruction of professors from the Center for Northeast Asian Studies at Tohoku University. All the learning outcomes of the workshops guided my productive examination of woodblock printed books and archival records in several repositories in Japan. My passion for the subject stems in part from my former career as a rare book librarian and database analyst in North America. The experiences also taught me to appreciate both conventional methods and effective technology used to decipher kuzushiji.

Like most of you probably do, I have always cleaned off a desk and prepared papers, pencils, and dictionaries before reading old texts since my first deciphering of kuzushiji. However, a computer and tablet have also become essential tools over the past five years. I open multiple electronic resources such as AI kuzushiji recognition apps and new and old kanji convertors on my PC. When transcribing, I type into Word with hyperlinked information. Some may be concerned that excessive technology use damages reading skills, but I do not believe so. My interest in new technology motivates my kuzushiji learning, like the intellectual curiosity of old materials motivates experiments using technology.

One key takeaway of technology is to help speed reading. In the past, I paid excessive attention to detail. Utilizing e-resources helped me read text with a steady rhythm and understand the content from the context. Another takeaway is to save the time of readers outside Japan. These readers must spend additional time translating the deciphered text into their primary language. The other takeaway is to provide kuzushiji reference tools. There has always been a shortage of reference tools before the e-resource period. For example, ordering a dictionary from a Japanese bookstore was my first step when organizing a kuzushiji study group with my colleagues eight years ago. Our ability to access reference tools was quite different from Japanese readers’. Today, interest in reading old texts is increasing, and new study groups are emerging in North American universities. I presume that open-access tools have partially contributed to this boom. The increase in overseas readers should develop Japanese studies, and this may increase people’s interest in Japanese culture beyond research communities.

Although I appreciate and learn from new technology, it is not my only tool. One must know how to use both conventional methods and new technologies effectively. I worked on deciphering several love letters written in female calligraphy style last spring. In the project, I transcribed these letters by hand in a notebook to reproduce the fascinating compositions while struggling with the limitation of reference materials in printed and online formats. My experiment with kuzushiji reading has only begun.Ultimately, I hope to explore best practices in evolving technology to facilitate my studies and disseminate effective methods to new kuzushiji readers in North America.
(Saeko Suzuki   The University of British Columbia)

The author’s notebook, laptop, and tablet.

 

October 30th, 2020
Notice: Publication of Michinoku History Course: The Tohoku Region during the Edo Period as Depicted in Contemporary Documents

Yoshikawa Kobunkan is pleased to announce the publication of Michinoku History Course: The Tohoku Region during the Edo Period as Depicted in Contemporary Documents (Kenichiro Aratake, Teiji Nomoto, Hiroyuki Fujikata, eds.).

This book contains detailed discussions of the people who lived at the time and is focused on the themes of samurai (warriors) and villages. It is based on contemporary Edo-period documents from the Tohoku region. The three editors are among the authors, including Norikazu Sato, Masaya Kanamori, Morikatsu Takahashi, Yoshitaka Takahashi, and Takashi Watanabe. The articles are focused primarily on the activities of samurai and farmers. They explore the relationship between Date Masamune and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the daily lives of samurai, and the history of the management of forest resources and natural hot springs, and they provide analyses of the characteristics of these specific topics.

We avoided describing the commonly-held “image” of these people and events. Instead, we maintained awareness that we were depicting the realities of the samurai who lost their positions, the ordinary people who were skilled at business and commerce, and the relationships between farmers and landowners that we identified through our careful reading of the contemporary documents. We also elucidated issues such as human-centered urban planning, knowledge of fire prevention, the use of resources, and many other topics.

We hope that this book will be enjoyable and informative to readers.
(Kenichiro Aratake)

 

October 23th, 2020
Column: Studying Japanese History at the University of Chicago during the COVID-19 pandemic

By way of introduction, I am Mark Chen, a visiting undergraduate student at Center for Northeast Asian Studies Tohoku University last summer as I was doing research for my history BA thesis as well as a postgraduate seminar paper. I recently graduated from the University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in history and Chemistry, and I am moving on to complete an MPhil at Cambridge starting in October. For my graduate career, I am interested in studying the history of science (particularly chemistry) in nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Japan as well as Japan’s social history surrounding science and medicine.

This post is about how the COVID-19 pandemic has been affecting research in Japanese studies at UChicago. Like most Japanese universities, the University of Chicago shifted to online learning at the beginning of April, with the closure of campus, including the libraries. For those who study areas such as European history and international history, the disruption to their research could be minimalized by shifting to using widely available online journals, books, and archives. For us who study Japan that mainly rely on printed literature and archival accesses, the closure of the library presented quite an obstacle. The article delivery service from the National Diet Library was also halted as mail from Japan stopped, and it has been obviously impossible to travel to Japan to access sources due to the travel restrictions. Luckily, I was in the final stages of completing my final papers and spent my time in quarantine organizing and analysing my sources. However, professors and graduate students studying Japanese history mostly resorted to using the digital collections of the NDL, the National Archives of Japan, as well as CiNii. Recently, the university library restarted its Scan & Delivery service, and everyone is trying to figure out new ways to do research in the era of the prolonged pandemic.

Normally, UChicago hosts a summer workshop for reading kuzushiji taught by a professor from Center for Northeast Asian Studies Tohoku University. Unfortunately, due to travel restrictions and safety concerns caused by COVID-19, the workshop had to be cancelled this year. However, students, lecturers, and professors of Japanese history and art history have been convening twice a week from the end of June via Zoom to read early modern texts written in kuzushiji. Recently, we have been focussing on texts related to the cholera epidemic in Japan at the end of the Edo period. While we have been busy honing our skills of reading these texts, the emotions of anxiety and hope towards cholera really travel through time via these texts, reflecting parallels in the COVID-19 pandemic in which we currently reside.
(Mark Chen  The University of Chicago)

A scene of the “Reading Kuzushiji Workshop” at the University of Chicago in June 2019 (the author is on the left)

 

June 18th, 2020
Column: How were hot springs managed during the Edo period? The history of the Kamasaki Hot Springs and the Ichijo family

Hot springs during the Edo period
Classical documents written by samurai, farmers, and merchants can be useful when investigating the Edo period. At the time, like today, the world was filled with a variety of jobs and society was built on different occupations. Our research division is currently examining the “Ichijo family document,” a historical source about the management of a hot spring area and inn from the Edo period. From the contents we have discovered, we present “The history of hot springs,” set in Kamasaki Hot Springs in the city of Shiroishi in Miyagi Prefecture.

A tanka poem by Yoshimura Date, fifth lord of the Sendai domain (an Ichijo family document)
In 1708, Yoshimura Date dedicated a tanka poem to the Yakushidō at Kamasaki Hot Springs.

Kamasaki Hot Springs
The Kamasaki Hot Springs are located in southern Miyagi Prefecture surrounded by lush, green mountains; the environment is quiet and refined. The usual explanation about this area is: “The Kamasaki Hot Springs are said to have been discovered over 600 years ago, at the point [saki] of a villager’s sickle [kama]. They are believed to have medicinal properties in the Tohoku region. These renowned hot springs which were even visited by the lord of the Sendai domain attracted a high level of activity in the 19th century. (Quoted from “Yajiro and Kamasaki Hot Springs,” Commerce & Tourism Division, Shiroishi City Hall website).

Discovery of the hot springs
The history of these hot springs supposedly began in 1428. According to a document written about 200 years ago, a woodcutter from the town of Shiroishi (today, it is a city about ten minutes’ drive away) came to gather grass to fertilize his fields and heard the sound of bubbling water from the mountains. Upon approaching the source of the sound, he saw steam; he split a stone with his sickle and struck a hot spring. Since the woodcutter found the hot springs with kama no saki (the end of a sickle), the springs were called “Kamasaki Hot Springs.” The woodcutter built a hot spring resort and moved there, but the hot springs likely suffered severe damage during the heavy flooding of 1455, and the resort had to close.

Revival by Ichijo Ichibee
Over 100 years later in 1573, Ichijo Ichibee, who was visiting Shiroishi from Kyoto, heard that “there is a hot spring nearby” and decided to visit Kamasaki Hot Springs. Ichibee was highly impressed after entering the hot springs, declaring, “The waters are the same as the Arima hot springs [now in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture].” He thought his name would be remembered for future generations if he could make the springs popular. However, he could not run this business on his own, so he sought the opinions of the locals. They agreed to make Ichibee the yunushi (owner of the hot springs) and revived the Kamasaki Hot Springs, which had lain dormant for years. Ichibee used his own funds to start developing a resort and building accommodations. Gradually, guests from distant lands also came, increasing the high regard in which the hot springs were held.

“The historic sickle”
A picture of the sickle that the woodcutter who discovered Kamasaki Hot Springs supposedly used

The job of a yumori
In each generation since Ichibee’s time, the head of the Ichijo family has operated the Kamasaki Hot Springs. During the Edo period, the Sendai domain granted them the title of yumori (master of the hot springs). Yumori refers to the manager of a hot spring; they were permitted to operate hot springs and inns, and to receive entry fees (yusen) from guests. Of course, part of this income was remitted to the domain in taxes. We tend to imagine that the operator (Ichijo Ichibee and his descendants) owned Kamasaki Hot Springs, but formally, the Sendai domain owned it, although it was actually the Ichijo family’s property.

An important resource
The Kamasaki Hot Springs were under the control of the Sendai domain, along with other renowned hot springs such as Tōgatta, Aone, Akiu, and Naruko. At the time, the office that managed hot springs in the Sendai domain was called the Kanayama-kata. As the name suggests, Kanayama (lit. “metal mountain”) controlled the mining of gold, silver, and copper, as well as the hot springs. Ores have a great impact on finances, but we can see that the hot springs were also treated as a precious resource.

Hot springs and health
Hot springs inspire ideas of leisure and resting, but the people of the Edo period prayed to restore their health in hot springs, with the aim of finding cures for ailments and injuries. The guidebook Ryokō yōjinshū (Collection of travel hints), published in 1810, introduces Kamasaki among the well-known hot springs of Japan, and describes the site as being “most effective for bruises and cuts.” In addition, the springs were believed to prevent afflictions like palsy, beriberi, and lumbago. The social status of the hot springs may have changed over time. (Kenichiro Aratake)

 

June 18th, 2020
Meeting of the Kawakita Classical Document Study Group

Our research division holds classical document study group meetings as requested by students. Since we hold them on Tohoku University’s Kawauchi-Kita campus, we call the group the “Kawakita Classical Document Study Group.” In the 2019 academic year, we held the meetings during third period on Thursdays during class time. Students interested in deciphering classical documents applied themselves thoroughly in about 30 lectures throughout the year. The meetings are attended by students majoring in Japanese history in the Faculty of Arts and Letters at Tohoku University, as well as graduate students majoring in the history of Japanese thought and the history of Eastern and Japanese art, and international students in the Innovative Japanese Studies Department. We believe that the participants gradually came to understand the contents of kuzushiji via ongoing, weekly learning. Moreover, we were able to confirm that many people wanted to learn about it.

The study group reads texts together with students. We especially pick documents related to the samurai of the Edo period, as requested by students, and teach them so that they can grasp the content. For example, we have used texts such as the Shinmi Records, a classical document pertaining to guards in the Tokugawa shogunate that is stored in the Tohoku University library, as well as the letters of the Ōeda family, who were officials in the Sendai domain. In modern society, we can imagine what “Edo-period samurai” may have been like, but by reading kuzushiji while thinking about the kinds of lives they actually lead or the nature of samurai’s work, students can discover fascinating facts.

Students study classical documents like the one in this photograph, but they are not immediately able to read them. At first, they learn about using a kuzushiji dictionary and expressions unique to classical documents. We give lectures to enable them to understand the content, while focusing on the basic knowledge necessary for deciphering. The period when the samurai lived ended about 200 years before the present day, but once students can read the documents, we believe they may feel more familiar with that era.

The Kawakita Classical Document Study Group wishes to continue its activities in the hope of improving students’ abilities. We welcome new participants in this space to become familiar with classical documents. (Teiji Nomoto)

Kawakita Classical Document Study Group Text: Ōeda family document (Collection of the Yamamoto Local History Museum, Miyagi Prefecture)
Ōeda submitted a document regarding the renovation of a house granted by the Sendai domain.

 

July 4th, 2019
THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO 2019 Reading Kuzushiji Workshop held in the U.S.

From June 17th to the 21st, 2019, the “2019 Reading Kuzushiji Workshop” was held at The University of Chicago. This year was the sixth time our research division has collaborated with The University of Chicago. This time, Hiroyuki Fujikata made the trip to Chicago and gave a lecture on deciphering classical documents from the Edo to Meiji period. In addition to faculty and graduate students at The University of Chicago, a total of 19 people participated, mainly people who were studying Japanese at universities in the U.S. and Canada. This field of specialization is diverse, and the cohort included many specialists in Japanese art, history, and literature.

The workshop was divided into a beginner and advanced class for the first three days, which then joined together for the last two days as a whole class. Fujikata served as an instructor for the advanced and general classes, and covered texts about samurai marriage and inheritance in the Edo period. Dr. Nobuko Toyosawa, Research Fellow at the Oriental Institute at the Czech Academy of Sciences, oversaw the beginner class. Each participant had different goals, but all attended the workshop with enthusiasm, and we believe that by the end of the workshop, they achieved satisfactory results and discovered new challenges.

On June 22nd, the research symposium was held and after the greetings by the organizer of the workshop, Prof. Susan L. Burns (University of Chicago), Fujikata gave a keynote lecture on the topic of “Inheritance as Seen from the Daimyo Vassal’s ‘ie.’” Following that, there were five research reports from the participants of the workshop, and we were able to have more in-depth discussions on recent Japanese studies in the United States. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Professor Burns, and to the others involved, for giving me this valuable opportunity. (Hiroyuki Fujikata)