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Reviewed by:
  • Listen, Copy, Read: Popular Learning in Early Modern Japan ed. by Matthias Hayek and Annick Horiuchi
  • Brian Platt
Listen, Copy, Read: Popular Learning in Early Modern Japan. Edited by Matthias Hayek and Annick Horiuchi. Leiden: Brill, 2014. 380 pages. Hardcover €125.00/$162.00.

The essays in this volume are set against the backdrop of a historical development that is essential to the history of early modern Japan: the dissemination, among broad segments of the Japanese population, of areas of knowledge that were previously the preserve of an exclusive circle of elites. Historians have long been interested in this development, but have focused their attention primarily on formal institutions of learning—schools—in which teachers transmitted knowledge to ever-growing numbers of students. This is an important topic, to be sure, but it can create the misimpression that learning is something that happens only in the setting of a formal [End Page 309] institution, typically via a hierarchical, unidirectional transmission of knowledge from teacher to student. Learning also takes place outside of such settings, of course, and this volume provides a rich sample of the kinds of learning through which early modern Japanese people acquired knowledge. The volume’s title refers to the three basic means by which this acquisition took place: listening to lectures, copying information from copybooks, and reading manuals and guidebooks.

The last two of these means speak directly to a phenomenon that is at the heart of this book, which is the extraordinary expansion in commercial publishing during the Tokugawa era. As a number of the essays point out, before the advent of commercial publishing, knowledge could be monopolized by elite families or other exclusive social groups and transmitted directly to initiates. Whether the knowledge in question was transmitted orally or through texts, these groups could control access to it—and indeed, their livelihoods and social status often depended on their exercise of this control. The growth of a market for printed materials during the early modern period eroded this paradigm, creating new mechanisms for the acquisition of knowledge and leading gatekeepers of knowledge to adapt to the new environment. As several contributors to the volume make clear, the growth of print did not mean that orality ceased to be important. Lectures retained their significance as a vehicle for transmitting knowledge, even as they moved away from a pattern of private transmission by a master to the members of an exclusive group and became, instead, increasingly public. In fact, they became part of a strategy for reaching broader audiences—a logic that had been dictated by the spread of educational materials via the commercial press. Among these three modes of learning, then, the one that was not dependent on print—listening—cannot be understood correctly outside of the context of the print revolution.

The editors organized the twelve essays in this volume into four sections. The first section includes essays on the “transposition” of knowledge from elite circles to commoners. (As we will see, though, almost all of the essays in the volume could have been grouped under this rubric.) The section begins with Tsujimoto Masashi’s essay on the Shingaku movement, which from its inception represented an effort to reach broader audiences with new knowledge. The movement’s founder, Ishida Baigan (1685–1744), had sought to bring moral knowledge—which had been pursued primarily through textual study of Confucian classics—to ordinary people with simple, everyday language. In contrast to most previous scholarship, Tsujimoto focuses not on Baigan but on subsequent generations of Shingaku teachers. He demonstrates that they adopted a different way of communicating with their audience: instead of a dialogue between teacher and students, they taught by means of a lecture to a mass audience, an oral performance designed to provoke an emotional response in the hearer. Unlike many of the chapters in this volume, which discuss how commercial printing created new pedagogical tools for mass audiences, the chapter by Tsujimoto sheds light on an effort to reach nonliterate audiences who were left behind by the print revolution.

Wakao Masaki’s chapter is on the reading habits and intellectual worlds of Kawachika Kashō (1636–1713) and Andō Shōeki (1703–1762...


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pp. 309-314
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