Resource: University of Pennsylvania’s Japanese Juvenile Fiction Collection

Image from the UPenn juvenile fiction collection.

Image from the UPenn juvenile fiction collection.

Today’s resource is just a quick glance at a database for those literature-minded folk interested in modern Japanese literature or, more specifically, juvenile fiction in Japan. In recent years, the University of Pennsylvania has digitized a sizable collection of Japanese juvenile fiction from the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taishō (1912-1926) periods. The collection:

is a snapshot of early 20th century Japanese publishing history. These 188 small books (roughly 12.75 cm high by 9.25 cm wide) largely contain tales of bravery and adventure: reimagined samurai swashbucklers, ninja-turned-heroes, fantastic journeys, and wars of glory. The romanticized bygone days of the post-medieval Edo period (1600-1868) provided a wealth of material for young urban readers.

The juvenile fiction collection has been fully digitized in high quality for public browsing from the webpage, with easy access to each page via drop-down menus. There are full-page spread and zoom options for ease of viewing, as well as “more information” tabs that provide detailed information titles, publishing, and related works.

Many of the works are from such famous series as the Tatsukawa (Tachikawa) Bunko series. As described in this article on the collection by Mike Williams, a specialist at the UPenn library:

The stories that formed Tatsukawa bunko and enthralled their readership trace their origins back to the spoken-word performance art of kōdan in the latter half of the 20th century. Kōdan featured stories of heroism and wars, delivered in a dramatic and colloquial but certainly professional style. These tales eventually formed the basis for a genre of literature called sokkibon, or to use J. Scott Miller’s term, “phonobooks”. Stenographers of kōdan used newly-imported Western techniques for shorthand (sokki) to transcribe the narratives of performers into readable texts. These printed stories, written with a decidedly oratory style, proved to be hugely successful in the greater Osaka area. With the proliferation of sokkibon as a literary genre, authors familiar with the kōdan and sokkibon penned their own stories in the same vein, conflating the functions of both storyteller and transcriber.

The works in this collection are of great historical significance in literary and publishing history, some of which may not exist elsewhere in the world, let alone in digital format or with a chance of reprinting. If you want to learn more about the genres represented in the collection and its history, see Williams’ article here. Otherwise head over to the collection and check it out at your leisure!

About Paula

Paula lives in the vortex of academic life. She studies medieval Japanese history.
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