Famine Relief

Biko somoku zu [Pictures of Plants Necessary for Famine Relief].

Edited by Hakugen Takebe Sugita. 98 full-page & 6 double-page woodcuts. 39; 37 folding leaves. Two vols. 8vo, orig. blue wrappers (wrappers a little wormed), orig. block-printed title labels on upper covers, new stitching. [Japan]: Tenshinro, 1833.

First edition of one of the foundational works of botany published in Japan. It is based on Takebe’s earlier Minkan biko roku [On Provision for the People in Case of Famine], published in 1756.

Takebe (1721-82), came from a prominent family of physicians that had for generations been in service to the domain of Ichinoseki. Following his medical studies with Jutetsu Matsui, physician to the domain of Ichinoseki, he went to Edo where he studied Western-style medicine with Jui Tominaga. Takebe soon thereafter became physician to his native domain. He was well acquainted with the famous physician Genpaku Sugita: both his third and fifth sons studied with Genpaku, who also adopted Takebe’s fifth son, Hakugen, the editor of this work.

Takebe wrote Minkan biko roku during a region-wide famine of great proportions in an effort to improve the food supply. That work had only a few illustrations. For the next fifteen years, he continued his researches on edible plants useful in time of famine. His collaborators and contributors sent samples and notes, which he gathered but never published. He also hired a well-known regional artist, Shimei Kitago (active 1771), to make drawings of the plants.

His son Hakugen, who studied under Sugita and was adopted by him as heir, took his real father’s notes and drafts and thoroughly revised and updated them, with the considerable contributions from many of the leading botanists and scientists of the day, including Ryukei Sugita, Ranzan Ono, Gentaku Otsuki, and his own adoptive father, Genpaku Sugita. The original illustrations were revised by Yoan Udagawa and Tairo Ishikawa, prominent scientific artists.

The result of their labors is the present work, a remarkable survey of the edible plants of Japan, none of which were cultivated as commercial crops. For each of the 104 species included, information is given about how to prepare and cook it for human consumption. The book begins with a preface written by the equivalent of the “surgeon general” of Japan, Sotetsu Ishizaka, along with introductory essays by the editor Hakugen, on the background of the creation of this book, and other contributors. The third preface is by Seian Takebe dated 1770.

Each woodcut image provides text giving the Japanese and Chinese names, instructions on how to prepare for human consumption, etc. The plants include dandelions, violets, Chinese bellflowers, loofah, acorns, iris, horsetail, burdock, dayflowers, lotus seed, wild roses, etc.

This work was published by Sugita’s own publishing house in response to the Great Tenpo famine of 1833-37.

Very good set. There is some worming in both volumes. It touches the images on about ten leaves of the first volume and nine leaves in the second.

Price: $5,000.00

Item ID: 6483