Jellyfish and Ginger: Medical Books and the Abandonment of Movable Type in the Early Edo Period

Photo by Michael Schreiber.
Thursday, March 5, 2015 - 5:15pm to 6:45pm
Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
121 Wall St., New Haven, CT 06511
Wheelchair accessible
For centuries woodblock printing was the only alternative to manuscripts in Japan, but at the end of the sixteenth century, the technology of printing with movable type was introduced to Japan more or less simultaneously from two very different sources; the European tradition in the form of the Jesuits, who brought a printing press to Japan from Macao and used it in Kyushu, and the Korean tradition, when Hideyoshi’s troops brought printing equipment and artisans from Korea, where printing with movable type had been practiced well before Gutenberg perfected printing in Mainz in the middle of the fifteenth century. As a direct result of this technology transfer, in the early decades of the seventeenth century, many more books were printed with movable type in Japan than with woodblocks.  By the 1630s however, movable type was on the way out, and by 1650, nobody was printing with movable type any more. This seems like a technological reversion so why did this happen? Many explanations have been put forward, but in this lecture Kornicki shall put forward a new explanation that draws upon early medical texts for an understanding of the dynamics that led to the revitalization of woodblock printing.
Peter Kornicki was born in England to a Welsh mother and Polish father, and was educated in Malta, Aden and England, finishing with a BA and DPhil in Japanese at Oxford University. He taught at the University of Tasmania in Australia and then at Kyoto University, before taking up a position at Cambridge University in 1985.  Kornicki spent the remainder of his career there, finishing up as Head of the Department of East Asian Studies. In autumn 2013, he retired from Cambridge and is now emeritus professor of Japanese, but retains a close connection with his Cambridge college, Robinson, where he has served over the last seven years as Deputy Warden (deputy head). Kornicki’s current work is on vernacularization in East Asia: the process whereby classical Chinese was gradually displaced by the written vernaculars as scripts were evolved to write Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Manchu and Tibetan and the cultural confidence to diverge from Chinese norms grew stronger. He is also working on Japanese training in wartime Britain and on Hayashi Razan as a renaissance man.
Professor Kornicki's talk is the keynote address for Treasures from Japan in the Yale University Library, an exhibition on view at the Beinecke through April 2. 


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