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Henry D. Smith: Japaneseness and the History of the Book Essay (Article Review)

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Updated: Jun 13th, 2022

The given essay is a review article written by Henry D. Smith to The Book in Japan: A Cultural History from the Beginnings to the Nineteenth Century by Peter Kornicki. The work written by Kornicki is a compendium of information from the books of Japanese history. The author made serious scientific research in different spheres of the book history in Japan both printed and manuscript. He researches provincial publishing, books printed in the Tokugawa period, as well as Edo books reprinted in the Meiji period. As a result, Kornickis work may be considered as a short encyclopedia of the history of Japanese texts of different topics. Kornicki paid special attention to the history of Japanese manuscript culture, emphasizing the fact that in the time of printing appearance, Japanese manuscripts did not linger, but continued to serve as a function of transmitting secrets. Most of them were not used for transmission for the next generations, but some of them served this very purpose. The author points out the fact, that among the huge amount of handwritten materials, only a small part is still extant, that is why they demanded special detailed research.

The author of this essay makes deep scientific research of the history of printing not only in Japan but also in China, as well as in Europe. He vents frustration, that in spite of the fact the first printed sources have appeared in China, the European researches of the printing history pay a tribute to Asia only for the invention of paper. In connection with this, the so-called Myth of Continents was proposed. According to this myth, the Old World had a dominant role in the history of printing in comparison with the rest. At the same time, the author pointed out the fact, that printing in Europe appeared rather late as compared to East Asia. However, in Europe, the invention of the printing press had more serious consequences, as it served not only for spreading information but also for the purposes of propaganda and religious expansion. In such a way, printing appeared in Eurasian civilization. It is necessary to mention, that printing in some of the Eastern countries was prohibited because of religious issues. In a certain matter, this fact gave birth to the Myth of Continents.

In his research, Kornicki investigated the influence of the separate movable type technologies of Korea and Europe on the history of printing in Japan, and the transition to block printing, which led in its turn to the production of books in the Japanese language.

Special attention is given to the relation between Chinese and Japanese books. Kornicki argues that the expansion of Chinese books in Japan points at Japanese orientation towards China. He pays special attention to the influence of sinology on the Japanese book. The author is sure that sinology predetermines the Japanese book’s appearance. The author gives a detailed survey of Japanese books of the Tokugawa and Meiji periods. At the same time, in his final chapters, he makes a distinct division of Chinese from Japanese books, giving special attention to such a notion as a national book.

In his final issue, Kornicki touches upon the subject of the problem of literacy.

He provides solid research of sources and thus makes rather a fundamental investigation, which would be rather interesting for specialists.

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IvyPanda. "Henry D. Smith: Japaneseness and the History of the Book." June 13, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/kornickis-the-book-in-japan-review-by-h-smith/.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "Henry D. Smith: Japaneseness and the History of the Book." June 13, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/kornickis-the-book-in-japan-review-by-h-smith/.

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IvyPanda. (2022) 'Henry D. Smith: Japaneseness and the History of the Book'. 13 June.

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