Dynamic Scribal Culture in Late Seventeenth-Century Japan: Ihara Saikaku’s Engagement with Handscrolls

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


This article investigates the characteristics of scribal culture in early modern Japan and its relationship to print culture. I focus on the intersections between the activity of Ihara Saikaku (1642–1693) and the representative scribal format of the handscroll (makimono). In his artistic production, Saikaku engaged with all aspects of handscrolls: their materiality, production, use, and social significance. I analyze Saikaku’s works from two complementary perspectives that structure this study: as meta-textual and visual references to the uses and meanings of scribal formats, and as artifacts with distinct material profiles. The article shows that the meaning and use of early modern texts were intertwined with the materiality, affordance, and social context of text-bearing artifacts. This was a dynamic and palimpsestic process: scribal formats preserved echoes of authority and cultural capital while accommodating contemporary usage. While making full use of the material connotations and established uses of the format, Saikaku negotiated and innovated its meanings. Saikaku can thus be reassessed as an astute practitioner of a range of scribal practices and a versatile producer of scribal artifacts who developed a side practice of commercial publishing. Saikaku’s aesthetic identity emerged from within the scribal culture and aesthetic networks of his time. For a better understanding of the dynamics of this process, the history of early modern literature needs to be recentered on the relationship between various media.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-100
Number of pages24
JournalJapan Review
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2022

Scopus Subject Areas

  • History
  • Literature and Literary Theory
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts

User-Defined Keywords

  • Early Modern Art and Visual Culture
  • Japan
  • early modern
  • scribal
  • manuscript
  • makimono
  • affordance
  • handscroll
  • materiality


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