Japanese Book History: A View from USC Libraries

An Embroidered Book of Poetry

Sanjūrokunin utaawase, (17--?) is an Edo period book of classical poetry (waka). It is a manuscript, with hand-brushed calligraphy on thick paper. Some pages feature underpaintings (shita-e) such as rabbits and grasses which are painted on the paper before text is brushed and add a decorative element to the book.

A further decorative element which makes the book stand out is the use of embroidery on the front and back covers. Two-colors of small flowers are embroidered in sections, with those on the back cover forming a pattern reminiscent of a river. Small sprays of gold on the cover further enhance its appeal and luxe appearance. 

It is made with multisection (tetsuyōsō) binding in which thin booklets of folded leaves (typically five leaves stacked together) are stitched together at the center fold forming sections which are then sewn together to form a single book. It was once thought that this binding style was only found in Japan, and it was thus also known as yamato-tōji (Japanese-style binding). We now know it also existed in China, although the format was in much wider use in Japan, particularly for books of Japanese poetry such as Sanjūrokunin utaawase

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