Illustration of plants and medical book


Igaku/kagaku/hakubutsu (Medicine, Science, and Natural History: The World of Pre-modern East Asian Books)


456 pages, A5 format, hardcover




February, 2020



Published by

Benseisha Publishing Inc.

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Pre-modern Japanese books emerged while the country embraced the culture of China and the Korean Peninsula. They continued to evolve and develop in diverse ways through cultural contacts with China and Korea. Thus, a thorough understanding of East Asian book culture is essential when trying to grasp the characteristics of pre-modern Japanese books. Otherwise, some critical facts in the relationship with East Asian book culture might be overlooked. On the other hand, while pre-modern Japanese books have much in common with the book culture of China and Korea, they also enjoy many unique characteristics and a distinctive history born from Japan’s own social and cultural environment. Therefore, when examining the context of pre-modern East Asian books, we must also take into consideration the distinctive features of pre-modern Japanese books. Unfortunately, in the current academic system, the scope of research is generally defined by country or region, and even the studies of pre-modern East Asian books are conducted in several different fields, making it extremely difficult to cross the boundaries. Particularly since the modern era, the great division between subjects under humanities and social science and natural science has made it even more challenging to gain a comprehensive grasp of knowledge.
With this in mind, a joint research project was carried out with scholars from various fields on the theme of “Japanese Pre-modern Texts within a Broader Asian Context: A Closer Look at Medical, Scientific, and Agricultural Manuals.” This project compares pre-modern Japanese books with the book culture of China, Korea, Vietnam, the Ryukyu Islands, and other regions. It investigates issues related to the production, distribution, and consumption of pre-modern Japanese books and reexamines their characteristics in terms of contents and form. This book is one of the research accomplishments.
This book has four parts. “Part 1: Medicine” consists of seven articles on medical books and their exchange among Japan, China, Korea, and Vietnam. “Part 2: Science” contains four articles on the reception of Western scientific knowledge, such as astronomy, calendrical calculation, and geography, as well as the production of maps and pictures of famous places.“Part 3: Natural History” features four articles on Japanese and Chinese knowledge about natural science and herbology. Finally, “Part 4: People and Books” includes four articles on the production and distribution of books, covering topics such as authors, writing, publishing, collecting, and consumption.
In planning this collection, we were acutely aware of the interconnection between pre-modern East Asian books and Japanese book culture. Our objective was to conduct a multidisciplinary study of pre-modern books incorporating the fields of humanities and social sciences, medicine, science, and natural history. To achieve this, we encouraged the authors of the articles to go beyond their respective areas of expertise and explore the unique attributes of pre-modern Japanese books while also considering the broader context of pre-modern East Asian books. Each article presents new findings within the author’s specialized field. Moreover, regarding the approaches to common issues of pre-modern East Asian books, such as the production, copying, publishing, collection, and consumption of books, as well as the exchange of knowledge and information accompanied by the travel and communication of both people and books, these articles offer new perspectives that transcend national, regional, and disciplinary boundaries. This represents another noteworthy aspect of the book. In this respect, this book endeavors to examine the world of information transmission and cultural exchange in East Asia in a comprehensive and interdisciplinary way that has never been attempted before. We hope that through this publication more people will join us in advancing our research.

(Written by Chen Jie, Professor, Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology / 2023)

Related Info

Interview Article:
From China to Japan (and back), researcher follows path of traveling books |UTOKYO VOICES 082  (The University of Tokyo  April 23, 2020)

Related Info:
NIJL-led Collaborative Research: Japanese Pre-modern Texts within a Broader Asian Context: A Closer Look at Medical, Scientific, and Agricultural Manuals  (Project Period: April 2014 – March 2017)

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