Re: Dating

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Posted by D.J.M. on September 06, 2002 at 04:19:49:

In Reply to: Re: Dating "Ehons" posted by Colin Birch on September 05, 2002 at 02:28:21:

Hi Colin,

I have to say firmly again, the dates printed in books are only a very rough approximation of when the books were actually made, and not always even that. This is no overstatement. A Manga with a Meiji 8 date may have been made in Meiji 8, 9, 10 etc. The publishers did not change the date unless they recarved the book. And print runs were generally limited, to be on the safe side, with new runs produced when the first sold out. I suggest you read Peter Kornicki's The Book in Japan for more details on how books were made and the problems of dates in them.

The advertisements you mention are a far more accurate way of dating books than the printed dates. I have seen books with early dates printed in them which are belied by the advertisements including later books. Of course it is difficult to pin down an exact date from this, but it gives a better idea of when the book was actually printed.

The dates in books give certain knowledge of only one thing: when the blocks for the book were carved. And sometimes this is not always the case either, as the extra collophons added to a later carving are often removed.

Once more, I would say that the best way to judge a book is to trust your eye. Early, well printed books will look like what they are: marvels of paper and sumi meeting in exquisite union (and the precise date will not matter to you in this ecstasy.) Later printings will start to smudge and look blurry, and give away their later date (whatever the date in the book--and often it will be the same.)

: 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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