12 columns per page, 21 characters per column. Text block: 233 x 170 mm. 28; 29; 40 folding leaves. Three vols. Large 8vo (277 x 192 mm.), orig. persimmon-stained wrappers (wrappers somewhat worn), new stitching. [Probably Kyoto]: according to Kawase, “mid-Genna”(ca. 1620).
One of the great rarities of Japanese movable type printing; according to Kawase, this is the second-earliest printing of Aesop’s Fables in kanji and hiragana characters. All movable type editions of this text are very rare; WorldCat lists no copy preceding the 1659 woodblock edition.
“Western books were first imported to Japan by Portuguese missionaries, who printed copies for use in Japan in the late sixteenth century. Some of the books they printed have survived, but the subsequent suppression of Christianity has erased all trace of any other books they might have brought with them. The one exception is Aesop’s Fables: a Japanese translation was published at Amakusa by the Jesuits in 1593 in the form of a transliteration into roman letters [the only surviving copy is at the British Library]. Later a large number of movable type and woodblock editions of this work were published in the early seventeenth century under the title Isoho monogatari. If, as is commonly thought, there is no direct connection between the Jesuit edition and the various Japanese editions, then some European edition, no longer extant in Japan, must have been imported.”–Kornicki, The Book in Japan, pp. 300-01.
According to Kawase, there are six movable type editions of the Isoho monogatari. Kawase gives priority to an 11-column, 22-character edition, which he dates as “Keicho” (1596-1614) to “mid-Genna” (ca. 1620). Our “mid-Genna” printing (12 columns, 21 characters) is Kawase’s second edition, and he cites our copy from the Otsuki family. The final movable type edition was issued in 1639 (“Kan’ei 16”).
“It was the moral purity of Aesop’s fables, taught by these easy to narrate short stories, which was essential to Christian missionaries. But later, in the beginning of the seventeenth century when Christianity had been forbidden in Japan and books from Amakusa had been censored, Aesop’s fables continued to enjoy popularity and were still frequently republished, this time in order to promote Buddhist virtues.”–Beata Kubiak Ho-Chi, “Aesop’s Fables in Japanese Literature for Children: Classical Antiquity and Japan” in Our Mythical Childhood…The Classics and Literature for Children and Young Adults (Brill: 2016), p. 191.
The Jesuit edition of 1593 was translated in a simple and colloquial language, enabling children coming to church to readily understand the moral principles of the stories. Our edition contains 94 chapters (or stories) and was written in a more demanding, literary language, in which the Japanese phonetic alphabet hiragana is mixed with Chinese characters.
Accompanying our three-volume “mid-Genna” edition is the third volume of the final movable type edition of 1639 (36 folding leaves). This copy is of the “I” issue with 12 columns and 21 characters per column. It has a colophon at end, giving the date “April 1639.”
PROVENANCE: Our three-volume set of Aesop comes from the library of the Date family of Sendai fiefdom (with seal) and, later, the Otsuki family (again, with seal). There is also an earlier seal of the Asakusa Bunko. There is a tipped-in note stating that our “mid-Genna” three-volume edition was exhibited at the Japan-British Exhibition of 1910, held at Shepherd’s Bush, London. Our 1639 volume was in the library of Yu Fujikawa (1865-1940) before entering the Otsuki family library.
Very good condition; all four volumes are preserved in a modern wooden box, commissioned by Joden (or Nyoden) Otsuki in 1928. Minor worming and staining.
❧ Kazuma Kawase, Kokatsuji-ban no kenkyu [Study of the Early Typographic Editions of Japan] (1967), Vol. I, pp. 604-05 & Vol. III, p. 181, no. 562 & p. 182, no. 566 for reproductions.
Item ID: 8400