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Found this book at a shop recently - looks to be of Orihon style in accordion. Inside are eight prints, I'm not sure of what type (gravure, etc. - I doubt it's woodblock or of moveable type printing). The prints and front text appear to be attached onto the paper through a glue or some similar process. No text appears other than in the front. The paper appears to be older, with a slightly larger gaps in-between the fibers. Please excuse my inexpertise...

While I know this is obviously a very difficult item to date or obtain an exact grasp of without handling it, I would appreciate information on this style of book and an idea on what it is (story, etc.). If there is an easy way to date this book or determine the style of print please let me know. Translation of the front would also be greatly appreciated! 

The book measures 9" tall and 6.5" long, and extends to 4'. Each print is approx. 7" long and 5" tall

I can provide more pictures if needed.

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Replies to This Discussion

Knowing the group, I would first of all suggest that you take some more pictures in much better lighting so the distinctions and features that you mention can be viewed.   Size is also important.  What are the dimensions?  Show us as much as you can and we will help you as best as we can.

Thank you Molly! I updated the discussion and got some better quality photos :)

Here are more pictures: 




And I almost forgot the front! 


I have several of these Japanese books myself, and they are similar construction with images attached to the folded paper. Mine all have text on at least some of the images. I have never tried to get mine translated, so I’ll be watching this post with interest. A member named Michael may be able to translate the few characters you have on your book cover.

Books of this type were still being made in the 20th century, and that is when I think yours was printed based on the images. Although dressed in traditional kimono, the illustration style looks 20th century to me. Without any other text, I think that will be about all you will have to go on.

To see the images in sequence, turn the book in your last picture counterclockwise 90 degrees, and go from top to bottom. Maybe a story of home life?

I see you’ve updated and added pictures beyond the two original pics you had. Clearly not a domestic scene with the battle scenes you added. One of the pics shows a six story pagoda, which would be quite unusual in Japan and maybe could be used to locate where it takes place. I can’t tell what order the pics are in - can you see a logical story line? Maybe something like birth of child, grows up to be a great warrior, chases bad guy away, and looks like he gets the girl in the end.

Well according to Michael it is the Legend of the White Snake - which, the original legend at least, is about a boy who buys immortality pills and vomits into the river, in which a snake consumes it and gains magical powers for 500 years. A tortoise spirit is also mentioned, which correlates to the battle scene, in which you can see something that looks like a shell on the back of one of the warriors. Other than this and the marriage between the two, they look like a variation of the legend. I know Orihon was originally made in the Tang Dynasty in China, and later developed and associated of Japan, but I wonder if these are Chinese origin? I doubt they're from the Tang Dynasty.

Your story is the "Legend of the White Snake" and is a Chinese legend first put into writing during the Mind dynasty.

The title does not translate too well, if you try to translate it in a word by word basis.

- White

- Snake

- Biography (Pass, as in as pass on, convey, teach, hand down, it being a verbally shared story, until finally put it written form)

Too lengthy to go into great detail here about the storyline, but if you visit en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legend_of_the_White_Snake you will find more.

Thank you Michael! I'm surprised this is a Chinese legend - knowing Orihon is traditionally made in Japan and how the characters wear kimonos, as Jeff said. Is there a chance this was made in Japan even with the Chinese legend? Or are they proprietary of sorts?

I'll be very interested in Michael's answer too. I noticed that the furniture in the illustrations looked Chinese, but Japan borrowed so much from China I thought it must be Japanese. Japan also borrowed the pagoda architecture, and it appears that China has some six story pagodas - including a famous six story pagoda in China called Sakyamuni which looks more like the one in your illustration than any five story pagoda I have seen in Japan. Japanese clothing was also borrowed from China, and the clothing in the images looks more Chinese than Japanese. It seems likely then that your story is intentionally set in China and not Japan, using cues in the images that us westerners don't immediately pick up on.

So the question is whether your story is just set in China, or whether the book was also made in China as well. China first developed the Orihon style of book making, so that is certainly possible. If it turns out yours was made in China, then I have several that would appear to be made in China as well, since the construction is very similar to yours. I'll add some threads with pictures of mine when I get the chance to dig mine out since that may add to figuring this all out.

Thank you Jeff - it may come down to what sort of paper is used. I'm not very experienced in paper, and I don't have any definitive examples to compare this to. However the prints might be attached to washi, traditional Japanese paper. The paper is usually crisp and very durable, which would explain it's condition despite its many stains. The book still holds together well and has a crisp feel to it. If it is washi, my best guess would be of a thick kozogami variety. This would also date the book around the early 20th century.


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