While I love Japan, the Japanese people and Japanese arts, technology and culture, I abhor Japan's (and Iceland's) whaling policy…

Iceland's 'scientific whaling' programme, like Japan's, is merely commercial whaling in disguise.
Commercial whaling was banned by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1982, but a loophole allows the killing of whales for research purposes. Iceland plans to sell the products of its 'research' to Japan, where whale meat generates four billion yen in sales annually.

Click on the Defend the Whales image above for further details.


The constituents necessary for the development of the book – paper, a system of writing, printing and a pre-book storage mechanism – were all developed in China.

Chinese calligraphy on bone and tortoiseshell dates back to 18–12th century BC. According to legend China's written language was invented by Ts'ang Chieh, who is said to have been inspired by observing the footprints of animals and the clawmarks of birds left in sand. The adoption of Chinese characters in Japan, kanji, occurred gradually from the end of the 4th century AD, and by the 7th century many Japanese scholars – especially Buddhist monks – travelled to China, thus hastening its use at home. It was eventually adopted as the official writing system of Japan because it was the instrument for the transmission of Chinese Buddhism.

Paper first appeared in China around the 2nd century ad, some 1000 years before the introduction of paper into Europe, and the Chinese were printing woodcuts as early as AD 868. Once paper and writing came together the scroll was a natural, almost inevitable, development in China as in many other civilisations. The rolled scroll (kansubon) was adopted in Japan, and indeed became the dominant book form from the 5th to the 10th century.

However, there are a number of disadvantages to the use of the scroll form, including:
• the paper or other medium is liable to be damaged by the constant unrolling and re-rolling;
• to locate any given passage it is necessary to spool back and forth through the scroll until it is found;
• there is a natural limit to the amount of written information that a single scroll can accommodate.

Whereas European bookbinders overcame the limitations of the scroll by developing the codex, the Japanese developed an intermediate solution, a simple concertina book (orihon), which evolved into a group of sub-styles.

The first real development into 'book-shaped' (though still not, strictly speaking, codex) books came with the 'butterfly' book (detchoso) which was so popular that it was still in use into the 17th century. All the above books were constructed with wheat-flour paste which, being a vegetable product, tended to encourage insect damage. This may have helped lead to the development of the multisection book (retchoso), the first Japanese codex bookform, which is entirely sewn. The multisection book is uniquely Japanese, without parallel in China.

After the 14th century all the above bookforms were virtually supplanted by pouch bindings (fukuro toji), a style so typical of Japanese books that it is sometimes thought of as the only Japanese bookform.

It will be observed that almost without exception the pages of Japanese books are of double thickness. This is because the fluid ink used for calligraphy and wood-block printing would bleed through the absorbent hand-made papers, and because the earlier frottage wood-block printing process damaged the reverse side of the paper.


Moulding hanshi.
The original caption reads: 'My hands are so cold I can't get this right'


Chinese ink sticks

Chinese calligraphic tools

The development of the book in Japan was closely linked to printing, which was virtually a monopoly of the Buddhists. Before 1600 most books were of a religious nature – woodblock-printed Buddhist mantras are thought to be the earliest printed documents (see figure 3).

During the Edo period, (see Appendix I: Chronology of the book in Japan) however, literacy increased, the papermaking industry flourished and works of literature, which previously would have had to be transcribed by hand, could now be printed. These factors jointly led to an explosion in the number of books available on many topics; works of philosophy, science, picture books and novels were suddenly available in quantity.

The Meiji period, however, saw the beginnings of the introduction of Western technology, including collapsible letterpress printing which required very different conditions from the traditional Japanese printing methods. Where wood-block printing required a soft, absorbent, hand-made paper which, because of its absorbency, could be printed on one side only, letterpress printing required a sized, harder-surfaced paper, which meant in turn that the paper could be printed on both sides. The pouch book was soon supplanted by the Western-style multi-section casebound book.


An early Buddhist print,
sumi on silk, dated 1421


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This page last updated: 12 January, 2008 15:46