Re: Dating "Ehons"

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Posted by Colin Birch on September 05, 2002 at 02:28:21:

In Reply to: Re: Dating "Ehons" posted by D.J.M. on August 14, 2002 at 15:45:30:

Dear Fabienne,
D.J.M. is right to be cautious about information printed in ehons, but I feel he overstates the problem, especially for the Manga. The obvious first step is to read the date printed in the volume. I do not own any volume of the Manga myself, but every complete volume I have seen has included a date. The date is printed as an era, such as "Meiji" followed by a number in Japanese followed by the kanji for "year", i.e. the nth year of the era. There will then be another number (1-12) followed by the kanji for "month". You can expect to find such a date near the beginning of the back page of the book (Japanese ordering).

The other way that ehon are dated is by using Chinese cyclical dates. Chinese dates are in cycles of 12 represented by the zodiac animals. These zodiac characters are placed after a cycle of 10 other characters to generate a full cycle of 60 years. The last cycle started in 1984. These date characters are relatively simple and recognisable, so you can spot them in otherwise unreadable text. Again, a number followed by the kanji for "month" will often be at the end of the date. Usually, but not always, the cyclical date will be paired with an era to give a particular date. Otherwise you can usually guess to within 60 years! (But note my problem in a question I have recently asked.)

Finally, ehon frequently finish with adverts for other books. These book titles give you a good indication of the date your volume was printed. For example I have a small ehon with a title slip marked "zen" (complete), but it contains an advert for volume 2. Hence we can be sure that it is not a first impression, but dates from after the first impression of volume 2.

I recommend you invest in an introductory book to kanji. Names are often formed from simple kanji that you learn very early. In fact a foreigner knowing little Japanese, but interested in Japanese art, can often recognise artist names quicker than most Japanese. With an introductory text, Japanese numbers are no more difficult to read than Roman numbers. The numbers are the same as in a Mah Jongg set.

The kanji for eras and the Chinese zodiac can be found in the reference sections of kanji dictionaries. I imagine that they can also be found in English language references.

Finally, I think dates in ehon may often be reliable. First, the date will rarely be later than the book. Furthermore, publishers would also want to avoid advertising the fact that they were using very old blocks. A 10 or 20 year old block would not be a positive feature for a contemporary book buyer! I have seen volumes by Kono Bairei that contained dates just one or two years after the first edition.

Good Luck!

PS If you send me a scan of the back page, I will be happy to try and read a date, if there is one.

: The question of dating Japanese books is very complicated, and contrary to what is popularly believed, most books cannot be dated precisely--

: For Manga, the question can be reasonably resolved by the quality of printing and paper, as well as publisher and other internal evidence. For the early manga volumes, there are earlier Edo runs (18teens), later Edo runs (1850s) and Meiji (1875 and early 1900s) runs.

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