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Early Modern Japanese Literature Research Guide: Overview and Research Methods

created and maintained by William Fleming and Haruko Nakamura

Basics of Bibliography (Shoshigaku)

Titles and Authors


The first place to turn for information on book titles, authors, holding libraries, and reprint editions is the monumental Kokusho sōmokuroku, the print edition of which has been largely superseded by the online version hosted by the National Institute of Japanese Literature.  More detailed information on authors, including the proper readings of names, can be found in names dictionaries and other more targeted reference works.  Refer to the bibliography below for details on these and other reference materials.


Format and Genre


The size of a woodblock-printed book is known as the format (shokei 書型).  Formats vary over a wide range, as the following images illustrate:


from right to left: (1) goku-ōhon (goku-ōbon), (2) ōhon (ōbon), (3) hanshibon,

(4) chūhon (chūbon), (5) kohon (kobon), (6) mamehon (large), (7) mamehon (small)



Books may also be printed in landscape format; these are referred to as yokohon 横本.

Aside from its use as a general classificatory tool, format is important (among other reasons) because of its close relationship to content.  One might go so far as to say that format—or at least the material qualities of a book as an object, including not only format but the number of fascicles and the color and design of the cover—superseded the concept of genre in the early modern mind.  Indeed, the characteristic physical qualities of the various Edo genres survive in many of the genre names used today.  There is the colorful menagerie of pictorial fiction including the akahon 赤本 (“red-book”), kurohon 黒本 (“black-book”), aohon 青本 (“blue-book”), and kibyōshi 黄表紙 (“yellow-cover”).  Other genres, such as the sharebon 洒落本 (“fashion-book”), kokkeibon 滑稽本 (“humor-book”), and ninjōbon 人情本 (“sentiment-book”), were in their day most often referred to by format simply as kohon or chūhon, the latter encompassing both the kokkeibon and the ninjōbon.  Even genres whose Edo-period names conveyed something of their literary content, such as the dangibon 談義本 (“sermon-book”), were typically closely associated with a unique physical presence.  The close relationship between materiality and genre is seen in the following diagram, which illustrates the most common physical characteristics of given genres:



                                                                                         from Fleming, Ph.D. dissertation, 233




Early modern texts typically indicate dates—usually the date of publication or of the writing of apparatuses such as introductions or afterwords—using era names (nengō 年号), which for the Edo period run as follows:

Keichō 慶長        1596-1615

Genna 元和         1615-1624

Kan’ei 寛永         1624-1644

Shōhō 正保         1644-1648

Keian 慶安          1648-1652

Jōō 承応             1652-1655

Meireki 明暦       1655-1658

Manji 万治          1658-1661

Kanbun 寛文       1661-1673

Enpō 延宝          1673-1681

Tenna 天和          1681-1684

Jōkyō 貞享          1684-1688

Genroku 元禄        1688-1704

Hōei 宝永             1704-1711

Shōtoku 正徳        1711-1716

Kyōhō 享保           1716-1736

Genbun 元文         1736-1741

Kanpō 寛保           1741-1744

Enkyō 延享           1744-1748

Kan’en 寛延          1748-1751

Hōreki 宝暦          1751-1764

Meiwa 明和           1764-1772

An’ei 安永                        1772-1781

Tenmei 天明          1781-1789

Kansei 寛政           1789-1801

Kyōwa 享和          1801-1804

Bunka 文化           1804-1818

Bunsei 文政           1818-1830

Tenpō 天保           1830-1844

Kōka 弘化             1844-1848

Kaei 嘉永              1848-1854

Ansei 安政            1854-1860

Man’en 万延         1860-1861

Bunkyū 文久         1861-1864

Genji 元治             1864-1865

Keiō 慶応             1865-1868

Specific years are typically indicated by some combination of the era name and year number and/or the stem and/or branch from the Chinese hexagenary (sixty-year) cycle corresponding to that year (e.g. 天明七年, 天明七丁未, 天明丁未, 天明七未, or 天明未 for 1787).  A sample cycle is given below; the subtraction or addition of multiples of sixty allows the determination of stem-branch combinations for years not shown (e.g. for 1787, refer to 1847 instead):

Sixty-Year Cycle of Stems and Branches



The orthography of Edo-period books comprises an enormous range of forms and styles.  Chinese text appears in unannotated form or with reading marks (kunten 訓点) indicating Japanese reading order.  Furigana glosses are often present to provide guidance regarding Japanese pronunciation and meaning.  Some texts, such as most Edo children’s books, are written entirely or almost entirely in kana.  Most common is some variety of kanamajiri-bun 仮名交じり文, Japanese text featuring Chinese characters mixed with hiragana and/or katakana.  The characters themselves can appear in original or variant (often simplified) forms, the latter known as itaiji 異体字.

One also encounters styles such as seal script (tenji 篆字) and the abbreviated calligraphic forms known as kuzushiji 崩し字.  Edo works were not published in standardized, uniform typeface, as modern editions are.  (The moveable-type Saga-bon are an important exception, but even these sought to emulate the flowing ligatures of handwritten script.)  While the forms for katakana were more or less as they are today, hiragana drew on a much larger body of character-derived abbreviations than the standardized forms now in use.  The great profusion of such variants, known as hentaigana 変体仮名, is seen in the following table:

Variant Kana (Hentaigana)


Historical Kana Usage and Pronunciation


Whatever script is used, the kana usage in early modern materials follows the historical conventions known as rekishiteki kanazukai (lit. “historical kana usage”), which differ from present-day conventions (gendai kanazukai).  The major differences lie in the representation of vowels and may be summarized as follows:


 short vowels

i may be represented by , , or      u may be represented by or

e may be represented by , , or      o may be represented by , , or

ji may be represented by じ or      zu may be represented by or

sho is represented by しよ, cho by ちよ (likewise for sha, shu, cha, and chu)

jo may be represented by じよ or ぢよ (likewise for ja and ju)

may represent ha or wa


 long vowels

ō may be represented by おう, /わう, あふ, /をふ, or おほ

    similarly, for (likewise for other consonant + ō): こう, かう, かふ, こふ, or こほ

may be represented by よう, えう, えふ, やう, or よふ

    similarly, for kyō (likewise for other consonant + ): きよう, けう, けふ, or きやう

    not to mention shō (likewise for chō): しよう, せう, せふ, or しやう

    and : /ぢよう, /でう, /でふ, or /ぢやう

may be represented by ゆう, いう, いふ, or ゆふ

    similarly, for kyū (likewise for other consonant + ): きゆう, きう, or きふ

    not to mention shū (likewise for chū): しゆう, しう, or しふ

    and : /ぢゆう, /ぢう, or /ぢふ


It should also be noted that premodern texts often leave out voicing marks, so it is up to the reader to determine from context whether, for example, かふ indicates , , kafu, gafu, kabu, or gabu.  As this suggests, in determining how to pronounce historical kana, particular attention should be paid to syllables in the ha column (i.e. はひふへほ).  Unless appearing at the beginning of a semantic unit, these are not pronounced as in modern Japanese.  Rather, the following rules apply (leaving aside the possibility of absent voicing marks):


is read wa (not ha)            ex. = aware (not ahare)

is read i (not hi)                ex. さぶら = saburai (not saburahi)

is read u (not fu)               ex. わら = warau (not warafu), becomes warō (see below)

is read e (not he)             ex. = aete (not ahete)

is read o (not ho)             ex. = iori (not ihori)


That is, in all of these examples the initial consonant is not pronounced and the kana is simply read as a vowel.

            Further changes in pronunciation take place when the vowel u (represented by or ) is preceded within a semantic unit by the vowels a, e, or i, as follows:


 a + u = ō

 e + u =

 i + u =


Thus, for we have, for instance:


笑ふ(わらふ)= warō (not warau)

従ふ(したがふ)= shitagō (not shitagau)

与ふ(あたふ) = atō (not atau)

給ふ(たまふ)= tamō (not tamau)

逢坂(あふさか)= Ōsaka (not Ausaka)

かうして = shite (not kau shite)


Exceptions occur in certain cases where appears in the middle of a word.  For instance, we read:


仰ぐ(あふぐ)= not ōgu or augu, but aogu

倒る(たふる)= not tōru or tauru, but taoru


For we have the following examples:


今日(けふ)= kyō (not keu or kefu)

どうせう = shō (not dō seu)

憂ふ(うれふ)= uryō (not ureu, even though this is how it is read in modern Japanese)


And for we have the following:


            言ふ(いふ= (not iu)

九(きう)= kyū (not kiu)