Jonathan A. Hill Bookseller has released Catalogue 217 Japanese Books, Manuscripts, & Scrolls. It is certainly quite uncommon to see an American bookseller present a catalogue devoted to Japanese material. America has traditionally been so Eurocentric that such material did not often register on American consciousness. Times are changing, between immigration and instantaneous connection over what we once referred to as the world wide web, collecting interests are becoming broader, as is the ability of collectors outside of the country to access material offered by American dealers. For most of us in America, the Japanese language is still a barrier (though many of these works feature much in the international language of art and images). Fortunately for us, the catalogue is written in English, titles are translated, and Hill opens the door to a new world, sort of as Commodore Perry did centuries ago with the aid of his gunboats. Here are a few examples of the Japanese material offered.
Speaking of Matthew Perry, the Japanese knew he was coming in 1853, though they were not looking forward to it. They wished to be left alone, but Perry's squadron of gunboats would convince them to change their mind. Item 18 was written in preparation for the possibility that there would be warfare: Kyuku tekiho (Military Medicine & Surgery) by Genryo Hirano, published in 1853. Perry had arrived in 1853 with his demand that Japan open itself to American trade, then retreated for a year (actually less than the year promised) while Japan decided whether to open their doors or remain closed and risk war. This book was created as preparation for war. It is one of the earliest works on military medicine published in Japan. It covers every kind of wound and illness an army might face, including "poison smoke," an early form of chemical warfare. Gunshot wounds, those incurred in hand-to-hand combat, prevention of blood loss, bandaging, heat stroke, frost bite and setting of bones are among the many topics discussed. Even psychological support is covered. Ultimately, war did not arise when Japan decided the American military power was too overwhelming and that acceding to some of their demands was the wiser course. Priced at $2,500.
Here is another book with military applications, though not the sort of issue that instantly comes to mind. Item 45 is Suiba senkin hen (How to Ride a Horse across a River). This was a serious concern for Japan's samurai. The country has a lot of rivers that need to be forded. Horses don't much want to swim them, particularly with riders on their back. Kobori, who previously wrote a book of instructions for human swimmers, taught warriors how to get their horses to do the same. His trick was various flotation devices that enabled horses to swim the waters without going under, even when their riders were wearing heavy armor and carrying weighty weapons. The riders could even engage in battle in the water while their horses floated like boats. $9,500.
The image on the cover of this catalogue comes from Cho senshu (One Thousand Butterflies) by Yukiyoshi Kamisaka, published in 1904. This is an artist's creation, not that of a zoologist. You won't find these creatures in nature, but rather they hatched from Kamisaka's imagination. In some cases, the butterflies do appear similar to ones found in nature, in others his imagination runs wild, though distinctive butterfly shapes are always present. Colorful geometric patterns regularly highlight the creatures' wings. Item 36. $7,500.
Item 31 provides another selection of beautiful patterns, but these were created with a practical purpose in mind. It is Story in Prints. December 1, 1946. For the Use of World Export Trade of Silk Fabrics. The war had recently concluded, and the Allies, together with the Japanese Board of Trade, were working to revive Japanese industries through foreign trade. Perhaps if the Allies realized how successful Japan would become in trade, they would have been a bit more reluctant. This item was used to promote Japanese textiles. It contains 102 numbered sheets. Each holds a large, hand-painted sample of a fabric pattern, with three smaller images below showing the same pattern in different colors. Each sample shows the name of its designer, and a list of principal textile manufacturers in Japan is provided as well. $3,000.
Item 1 is a first edition of a massive travel guide for Nara, published in 1791. The title of this guide produced by Rito Akisato is Yamato Meisho Zue (A Guide to Notable Sites of the Area around Nara, the Ancient Capital). Nara was indeed the capital of Japan, back in the Eighth Century. Akisato wrote several such guides, traveling around Japan with a group of artists who would depict scenes from each locale. Temples, gardens, landscapes, ancient ruins, are among the scenes shown, including some of people in daily life. Planting, harvesting, hunting, fishing, housekeeping, bathing, rituals and celebrations are some of the activities seen. A double-page illustration shows a group of men at a cafe throwing rice crackers to nearby deer. That tradition continues to this day. However, many of the landmarks depicted no longer exist, making this an invaluable historic resource. $6,500.